My list of coffee shops was short. A month before I left, I had spent hours trying to find the very best interiors Copenhagen had to offer. I came up pretty empty, which nauseated me to no end. I had no real plans to visit anything outstanding, just a few coffee shops scribbled on to a piece of paper. Berlin gave me much better luck, and nothing was catching my eye in Copenhagen.
So after my trip I sat trying to figure out where I had missed the mark. Did Copenhagen miss the mark? Was it just me? I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t over the moon with any of the coffee shop interiors I saw, despite being obsessed with Scandinavian design. Maybe I’m being too picky, I thought. Thinking about it sort of led me to this revelation about Copenhagen’s coffee scene: Maybe I was trying to fit in to my idea of perfect, rather than seeing it through the eyes of Danish culture.
I began to realize that coffee shops in Denmark served a purpose far greater than that of their design. Danish design in my opinion had always been about the simplicity of design working for you and your home, rather than creating a (distorted) sense of style from inanimate objects. Quite frankly, there is no style in Copenhagen. There is merely an agreed upon way of living.
Danish design is about functionality, interest, and minimalism. And of course you cannot forget about hygge; the idea of ‘coziness’. As I thought about all these aspects of design in Copenhagen, it all began to make sense to me. The coffee shops would never be what I wanted them to be. I only wish I had the chance to appreciate this fact of life before my departure.
To make up for it, let’s go through the functionality, interest, minimalism, and hygge in Copenhagen coffee shops. Let’s talk some design, and what I think is really at the forefront for Danes and their coffee shops.
Having great functionality is a staple of coffee shops in Copenhagen. While we may be talking about coffee shops here specifically, functionality is a marker of all Danish design really. The functionality of a coffee shop to get you from point A to point B is sometimes not the prettiest to look at. The is one of the reasons I found it incredibly hard to photograph a lot of the coffee shops I came across. I consider myself an intermediate photographer, and I was totally stumped by almost all the shops I had visited, rendering multiple sub par photos. Functionality doesn’t mean pretty, especially when it works properly.
One thing I found particularly interesting too, is a lot of coffee shops ask you where you want to sit before you receive your coffee. I found this created a lot of unnecessary backed-up traffic (deemed ‘functional’), with some coffee shops even asking that you pay after you drink your coffee. Let’s just say, there were lots of trips to the bar. This functionality, again, isn’t always pretty. In fact, it makes for a lot of photos of people (yay!). The fact that functionality seems to be so high on the list, is just the Danish way.
I remember walking in to one coffee shop where there was no bar. The space was so small, that it actually made sense to go bar-less. I totally understood why they did it. Yet it made for a terrible photographing experience. But, the functionality in design was there. A bar would have caused the space to feel claustrophobic and not flow properly. These people aren’t worried about what @coffeenclothes or @baristadaily thinks, they only care about designing something useful (and brilliantly) within the constraint of little space.
There is a great quote from Darryl Carter about his own design philosophy, where he says good design is based on “interest not ‘instant’.” Basically meaning that good pieces are collected over time through personal interest and attachment to the object. If you furnish your home based on instant gratification and easily accessible items, then you won’t come to truly love it. It’s actually a pretty bold statement, considering most home decor and design companies are just that: instant.
When I think “interest not instant,” I immediately think of Copenhagen coffee shops. Don’t get me wrong, at the end of the day it’s still a business, and you have to furnish it. There are I assume a lot of generic pieces. However, it’s not like in the states. I can tell you that the last three coffee shops I’ve been to have had white walls, light wood accents, and marble counter tops. There’s a sort of new general standard on what good coffee shop design is now in the states, and it definitely falls short of interest.
In Copenhagen, interest is one of the minor (but important) aspects that complete a coffee shop. I visited several that had seemingly unique pieces. I think interest can be sort of abstract as well. For instance, a bar-less coffee shop creates interest. It’s definitely not for Instagram and not the prettiest to look at, but you can’t help but have interest. Antique vases and chairs create interest. A local designer’s piece creates interest, which I saw in Atelier September. Luckily, interest isn’t going anywhere in Copenhagen, but I still love the consistent American designed coffee shops just as much.
This is one of the most difficult aspects about photographing Copenhagen coffee shops. Even if you’re not an Instagrammer or blogger, I promise you you’ll take one photo you think is on point, and a ‘what the f*ck’ face will ensue. Minimalism in design can be tricky. I even have the proof.
After I got home from my trip, I took a look back through my Instagram photos under the analytics area. Basically, I wanted to see what photos got the most likes, and what photos got the least likes. I noticed something really interesting, which wasn’t at first clear to me. I had to screen shot the nine least liked photos and the nine most liked photos, and then compare them side by side to notice. What I noticed was that my minimalist photos, the ones that were focused on a single object with more negative space, did the worst. The photos that were busier (but not too eclectic, as those don’t do well either) got the most likes.
Minimalism in Copenhagen was difficult. I found myself not really wanting to photograph any coffee shops I came across. But maybe that was the beauty of it? Once again, there’s this theme behind good design in Copenhagen. It’s about the simplicity of design working for you, and for other Danes. I kept trying to fit these coffee shops in to my idea of the perfect write up for Coat + Coffee, or the perfect Instagram photo. And it doesn’t work like that in Copenhagen. As someone who is such a huge fan of Scandinavian design. I just missed the pure profundity of it.
Hygge is sort of the concept of Scandinavian coziness. It’s a word that doesn’t translate to English, so that’s the best I can describe it. It’s that feeling on a cold rainy day of being bundled up with a knit blanket and a few candles, while sipping on a warm drink and reading a book. You can hygge pretty much anywhere (I think it’s also used as a verb). The coffee shops in Copenhagen all had their own little slice of hygge (a noun here).
Hygge isn’t necessarily pretty or photograph-able, and I think that’s also the point. One of my favorite coffee shops that gave me this feeling was The Coffee Collective in the Norrebro. They had this particularly cute corner where the window sills were big enough to be made in to seats, due to the foundation being below grade. Naturally, these smart Danes made them in to hygge perfection. I sat in the window enjoying my coffee for an hour or so, and a few pillows helped to give the feeling of coziness.
When I went to photograph The Coffee Collective, I found myself exhausted with the bar-less minimalist coffee shop. How on earth would I even capture this? What I was feeling though, was the most important part. It was the thing that couldn’t be captured on film. No matter how hard I tried to envision the moment in my head in the form of a perfect photograph, I couldn’t physically create one.
Being back from Copenhagen now, I realized I missed out on more hygge opportunities than I thought I had. I spent my time trying to photograph what I thought was the epitome of Danish design. But Danish design is created for the people that it serves through functionality, interest, and minimalism, and not for some magazine or home style book.
I now understand why my list wasn’t very long. Maybe I shouldn’t have even had a list in the first place. The coffee shop design I so longed for didn’t exist, at least from what I was able to tell. I made up how everything was supposed to be in my head, rather than immersing myself in Danish culture. Either way, it makes for some really great reflection. If you ever get to visit Copenhagen, don’t look for design. Live in it.