In a heritage building at the intersection of Fernwood and Gladstone Roads, across from the historic Belfry theatre,Pam Lewis has carefully curated Moonrise Creative, an inspiring space for creative workshops. Scandinavian in essence, with simple shapes and a cozy minimalism, the commercial unit in the 100-year-old, red brick building, was designed with a sense of hygge (pronounced heu-gah) in mind. A nebulous cultural concept that doesn’t translate easily into English, hygge is credited for helping Denmark become the ‘happiest country on Earth’ by the United Nations.
Despite Denmark’s subarctic temperatures, hygge is manifested in multiple ways as both a noun and verb and refers to all things related to comfort. Think coziness, connection, firelight, good conversation, safety, warm tea, candles… the list is infinite and dependant on which Dane you speak to.
In a country where the sun often sets late in the afternoon, there had to be a secret to their bitter bliss. Drawn to this ethos, Lewis sought to embody this concept in order to infuse Moonrise Creative with a Scandinavian sensibility. After researching various pockets of the city, what better place to generate hygge than in a former bakery in a heritage building, in the heart of a creative, forward-thinking neighbourhood.
With exposed electrical wires, unfinished concrete floors, and irregular drywall, the unit in Fernwood Square was in a state of disrepair. Despite the roughness, Lewis could see the potential and credits Martin Scaia at Green Island Builders for bringing her vision to fruition.
“We envisioned creating a space that had a feeling of comfort, character and inspiration and I knew Scaia’s knowledge of reclaimed resources and materials would help create the Scandinavian hygge feel we wanted to emulate.” Scaia built a small, functional kitchen for making hot drinks and small bites. Reclaimed wood open shelving above the sink warms the minimal space and creates more storage.
“As a space for intimate workshops, I knew I needed to create a simple design that wasn’t overly defined.” Hosting a variety of creative workshops, from fibre arts to photography and writing, it was important to Lewis that the small space enhance openness and opportunity. “Our main goal was to create a warm space where people could feel comfortable,” explains Lewis.
Having just returned from Berlin, Scaia was inspired to capture the classic, aged and rustic, character of European architecture and design. “My hotel in Berlin really embraced its history and boldly enhanced the rough-around-the-edges appeal. We wanted to maintain the heritage status of this building and strengthen the patina for a simple, creative space. Pam’s creative vision really drove the design, so our goal was to transform the 300-square-feet to enhance openness for the creative process. The design sensibility in Berlin really inspired my use of materials, they really know how to reuse and redefine simple objects,” says Scaia.
“Lighting was a really important element for fostering the hygge feel and Martin was a great resource for unique retailers in Victoria,” adds Lewis. Scaia used Waterglass Studios for their custom lighting expertise and antique appeal. “It certainly was an authentically creative process with creative solutions,” laughs Lewis. To work within their firm budget they even turned to Pinterest for unique lighting ideas and built a mason jar sconce as a warm, homey, lighting solution.
Cultivating a sense of hygge is about milieu and relies heavily on the type of materials used in a setting. “Scaia‘s network of connections in Victoria is a creative group and he has expertise in working with recycled materials which was very appealing for this project,” says Lewis. Lewis wanted to foster warmth and character that could be echoed in the materials used.
Pulling out notes from one of her Sparkfly events, Lewis defines hygge as, “the art of building sanctuary and community, of inviting closeness and paying attention to what makes us feel openhearted and alive. It’s more of a philosophical explanation of space, but in it’s simple, every day form, it translates to a warm cup of tea, a bear-skin rug, and candle-light.”
The exposed brick wall coupled with reclaimed natural wood, painted white-wood floors, and antique furniture creates a rich, textured, industrial-modern appeal. Organic vignettes of feathers, rocks, shells, and driftwood bring an affection and comfort from the natural world to complement and calm.
Deepening the sense of hygge, the vignettes give ordinary organic objects a special context, a spirit and warmth, and a place to make them extraordinary. They create a mindful pause, an intentional appreciation and connection. Akin to the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, hygge can refer to an aesthetic that welcomes comfort, and a subtle spiritual component, into a space. It is not a decorating style, per se, but a mindset. An authentic wabi-sabi or hygge space must remove the excess and find satisfaction living in the moment.
Finding comfort in imperfections, the Queen Anne style sofa, in pomegranate, anchors the room and beckons guests to come in and rest with a hot cup of tea. The sofa’s ornate, curved wood detail adds ornamentation to the room and neutralizes the brisk white walls.
“We had to design and build the space in four weeks for an approaching photography workshop with Sara Hembree. Needless to say, decisions were made quickly and inspiration was pulled from Pinterest and Instagram.Scaia was open and flexible and worked with the image bank I provided from these online sources.”
“I wanted an industrial-style table, built with reclaimed wood, so we could move it around the space for workshops.” Backed by 25-years of building experience, Scaia was incredibly efficient and built a custom table, a beautiful custom bench, functional shelving units, and bookshelves based on online images in a matter of a few weeks.
Fortunately, the pint-sized proportions of the unit are counterbalanced by the generous ceiling height and large front window, offering a spacious and airy feel. “This space has higher ceilings than most of the other units in the building because 100-years ago, this was where the delivery trucks would come in to dump flour for the bakery,” adds Lewis. The gallery-white walls echo the Scandinavian minimalism and are kept free of clutter for creative opportunity during workshops.
“The building is undergoing heritage restoration so I was thrilled to work with, and match, the existing style; I love working with the character of a building, so this unit was a real treat to work on. I put a lot of care into the work I do, the quality of the product is very important to me,” says Scaia.
A self-proclaimed nut for systems of organization, Scaia completed this project in just under four weeks, start to finish, while still emphasizing handcrafted details. Not to mention it was all done after his regular work-hours and weekends.
Just four weeks after he started deconstruction, Scaia attended Moonrise Creative‘s first photography workshop. “It was definitely a benefit to see the success of the space in action. When you work at something for years, you gain a certain degree of fluency, whether it’s in adventure guiding (Scaia’s other passion) or building, or whatever it is that you do, your passion is embedded into the work. It translates into the energy that you get out of something like a house or building,” smiles Scaia. For Lewis this energy has been translated into hygge and you can feel it emanating already.