Charlotte Highbury likes brown warmth.
Sitting in her apartment next to a full bookshelf and a lovely cardamom candle (which she thoughtfully blew out after watching me cough twice), she turned her heat up on a Sunday afternoon.
The 30-year-old social media coordinator says she felt far too suffocated in Columbia, where her 25-minute commute was made longer by the gaps between shopping centers and the empty space that filled them. “The feeling was just not there at all,” she told me over a picture-perfect cappuccino that cooled in the table between us as she swiped through VSCO filters.
“I was basically pushed out,” she said. “You’d make a change too if your way of life was so blatantly disrespected.”
Charlotte is one of dozens of daring hyggenauts making the sometimes life-threatening trek to Charleston. (“Have you ever had to stop for dinner on the highway? I never knew Golden Corral was a real thing until now.”)
These meticulous life curators are leaving jobs, families, and vast expanses of asphalt behind for the comforts of a city known for its cultural insularity. As devout adherents of the cryptic Danish-based, British export of “hygge,” people like Charlotte place consumerist conviviality above all else. She and her girlfriend, Alice McDonough, used to share an apartment in Columbia for $1,000 a month. They’re now paying almost double that for a studio on the peninsula, which Charlotte insists is worth the financial hit.
“I already feel so much better,” Charlotte said. “My drive to my new job is almost an hour with traffic, but there are more than enough cafés on the way if I feel like I need to recharge my spirit.”
The coziness of Charleston’s downtown streets and the number of art galleries per square foot called to her like the cry of an ancestral spirit, which she swears she heard once after visiting a medium shortly after college.
During a late afternoon stroll on Broad Street, a popular congregational spot for many of Charleston’s newly-arrived hyggenauts, Charlotte spotted 29-year-old self-described entrepreneur Steven Hammergren, a native of Washington, D.C.
“I’m an artist,” he responded the second time I asked what kind of art he makes.
Steven, like Charlotte, says he was inspired by the aesthetic of the Holy City to take the plunge into the South. In keeping with hyggenaut tradition, he saw Charleston as a solution to the tiresome, often combative discourse around him.
“I was over my friends fighting about what they think about Trump, the administration, or institutional racism,” he said while sitting on a bench under the Calhoun monument at Marion Square. “A place like Charleston — it just doesn’t have any problems like that.”
Steven and Charlotte get together every Friday night for a storied hyggenaut observance: the ceremonial breaking out of the fuzzy socks. Once a week they put together a near-legendary spread of comfort food, watch two movies, and retreat into the comfort of Charlotte’s very beige couch, away from the perils of the outside world.
“I feel pressured to go out and socialize because of my age sometimes, but I really don’t like strangers,” Steven shared, completely unwarranted.
Last week, the friends were flipping through channels when the screen momentarily landed on news of another impending government shutdown, with no deal for DACA recipients in sight. It was quickly turned to a censored broadcast of Clueless on TBS.
The night’s conversation bounced from topic to topic much like a pebble skipping across a pond without ever being swallowed by the water, except the water in this case was Methodical Coffee’s Heirloom blend.
Steven spent 10 minutes describing the “oatmeal” cashmere V-neck he had his eye on while Charlotte crocheted under a blanket. I did my best to avoid destroying the array of carefully placed succulents on the living room table when Alice walked in.
I fanned myself with my notepad as the temperature inside crept up to 85 degrees and asked Alice what she thought of her recent exodus.
“Wow, you’re the first person to ask my opinion in months,” she revealed. “For starters, I fucking hate nutmeg.”