Sailboats moored at the edges of Nyhavn’s canal rock beneath a sentinel of 17th-century townhouses whose brightly colored facades only heighten their fairy-tale geometry. Café tables jamming the promenade are packed with people soaking up the sun, salty air, and nautical vibe, with a view of Paper Island and Inner Harbor in the distance. Founded by the Vikings and established as a fishing village, Copenhagen is as modern and forward-thinking as it is well-preserved and rooted in its storied past. Few cities have morphed from charming capital to international culture destination as quickly as Copenhagen, which has built a new metro system, a Jean Nouvel–designed opera house, and a five-mile, cable-stayed bridge to Malmö, Sweden, since the turn of the 20th century alone.
Bicycles are everywhere, meandering past bakeries and shops as easily as the summer sun lingers in the night sky far past children’s bedtimes. Visitors from afar are here to explore the town’s world-class architecture, museums, and hygge, the homespun Danish concept of coziness that’s gone viral just as the world finds itself on shifting geopolitical ground. Or they may just be here to find out why the city always tops perennial lists of the world’s happiest places. However dubious the distinction, it invites further study.
Our guide is designer Josephine Akvama Hoffmeyer, whose Zen sensibility could hold some answers to that question. The Danish native, who began her career as a singer, shifted focus after moving to Italy and being struck by the beauty of local handmade tiles. “I fell in love with them,” she says, “but I didn’t really like the patterns of grapes and olives.” So she did what any obsessive creative would and, in 2001, launched her own line using 120 muted, sensuous colors. “In Scandinavia, we have a simple, strict sense of patterns and a Japanese aesthetic of textiles. Mine are infinite in all four directions, across all tiles.” Made a Mano Italy was born, and four years later a Copenhagen offshoot followed. These days, Hoffmeyer is busy with a new venture, the studio File Under Pop, which launched in 2015 and added paints and “wallpaper” – handcrafted movable sheets that are typically hung a few inches in front of a wall – to complete her surface-focused arsenal. Hoffmeyer’s subtle interiors are deceptively complex, with swatches of tribal patterns appearing alongside Rothko-like resonances. Among her recent clients is Claus Meyer, a co-founder of the acclaimed Noma restaurant. Of her hometown, Hoffmeyer says, “Copenhagen has the vibe of a village. You can bike all over town; it’s easy and simple and a great place to grow up.” Here are some of her of favorite places.
Housing massive halls that once stored the paper for Copenhagen’s print media, this centrally located island in Inner Harbor is home to a panoply of temporary residents, including Experimentarium, a hands-on tech museum, and Copenhagen Street Food, a collection of international stands selling sustainable, from-scratch street food that can be eaten at waterside tables or inside the cavernous reclaimed buildings. You could be treated to a music or art event over lunch. “The sun is always out at Paper Island, in a way. The kids love it and the food is amazing,” Hoffmeyer says.
“Finn Juhl is one of my favorite Danish architects,” says Hoffmeyer of the eclectic 20th-century creative best known for his midcentury modern craftsmanship. “I love his private residence full of his furniture, crafted ceramics, and art pieces, decorated with oppositional colors, sometimes even four different colors in one room — and you hardly notice it,” she says. The house, though occupying its original site, became part of the Ordrupgaard Museum complex in 2008, thanks to an unexpected private donation.
Kratvænget 15, 2920 Charlottenlund
“The hip area of Tullinsgade and Vaernedamsvej is absolutely amazing,” says the designer. “I feel like I am in Paris and an Aesop is around the corner, too. It brings me happiness. “One of her favorite shops there is Thiemers, a cozy bookshop with a diverse array of contemporary lit, children’s books, art books, and a cherry-picked selection of Nordic masterpieces translated into English for the sake of foreign visitors and residents.
Tullinsgade 24, 1618 Copenhagen V.
“It’s is the most magnificent museum of modern art overlooking the coast and Sweden,” says Hoffmeyer of the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, about 25 miles north of the city, featuring an exceptional collection of works by modern masters like Pablo Picasso, Louise Bourgeois, Alexander Calder, and Philip Guston. “You get it all: art, landscape, and archi tecture at the same time. I often like to stay there for half a day by myself. Everything is so subtle and silent up there, as you let beauty simply overwhelm you.”
Gl Strandvej 13, 3050 Humlebæk
Drop by Hoffmeyer’s showroom in Frederickstaaten to peruse her aesthetic via handcrafted tiles, wallpaper, lava stone works, and an exclusive line of paints. “I really use music a lot, because colors work together like notes,” says former singer Hoffmeyer. “One color doesn’t say anything. It’s only when you put the colors together that they happen to have a connection.” The wares can be purchased on-site, so consider taking home a few as an inspiration-packed gift for your abode.
Frederiksgade 1, 1st floor, 1265 Copenhagen K