The love affair with Scandinavian interior design remains very much a hot topic in our homes. Here’s how to nail this refined style.
Have you recently invested in a wishbone chair or a tulip table lookalikes for your living spaces? What about these cosy minimalist cushions you recently got from Ferm Living or that uber classy GUBI beetle lounge chair with its subtle touch of French Art Deco vibes that is all over your Instagram feed? I bet you or someone you know has splurged a little on a table, a chair, or some trinkets on your last trip to Ikea. Well, congratulations for joining the select club of Scandinavian design lovers.
The Scandinavian arts and design movement that emerged in the 1930’s in Nordic countries before seducing the rest of the world decades later with its simple, clean, yet sophisticated lines continues its Renaissance, courtesy of eco-conscious Millennials and Gen-Z.
To understand Scandinavian design’s deep connection to nature, before heading to your favourite design hotspots in Stockholm, take a trip to Tiveden National Park on your way to Gothenburg to enjoy breathtaking mountains, green land, tall trees, and blue lakes. Alternatively, catch a train from Helsinki to Wild Taiga in Finland to be awe-struck by its forests’ raw beauty, scenic views, clean air, and pristine landscape whose eco-friendly materials and soothing colour palette are reflected in Scandinavian design aesthetic.
From architecture and interior design to arts and culture, fashion, furniture, and lighting, “Scandi design”, as commonly coined now, touches so many aspects of our daily lives.
Whilst you may still be contemplating whether to fall head over heels in love with Nordic design, let’s take a look at the key elements that define Scandinavian design and pin down what makes it so endearing, especially to those aspiring to a simple, clutter-free lifestyle.
Then, we will share a few design and styling tips you can lean into to emulate a few aspects of Scandinavian design at home that embody your personal taste for a timeless abode.
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What is Scandinavian Design?
Scandinavian design focuses on delivering an uncluttered approach to living rooted in Nordic countries’ nature. A simple, minimalist yet cosy aesthetic with clean lines, light and airy spaces that subtly blends beauty with function embodies this design style.
In Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Iceland, Scandinavian design is more than a design movement. It is an art-de-vivre that has a huge influence on architecture, interior design, furniture making, artworks, lighting, ceramics, textiles, and even electronics.
The beautiful natural landscape and climate prevailing in Northern Europe with their emphasis on sustainability has greatly impacted the Scandinavian design movement.
Harsh winters, limited daylight, vast forests, and breathtaking landscapes have shaped the design sensibilities of the people, emphasising the need for creating cosy and functional living spaces that are connected to nature.
In the 20th century, the modernist movement heavily influenced Scandinavian design. Bauhaus principles, such as “form follows function,” were embraced, resulting in clean lines, minimal ornamentation, and a focus on practicality.
As Scandinavian design continues its ascendency, there are a few characteristics that have enabled the design movement to stand out over time. Some of Scandi design prominent features include:
Simplicity and minimalism: adopting Scandinavian design is about creating a clutter-free and calming home environment with understated elegance in architectural details.
Functionality and practicality: in Scandinavian-inspired homes, furniture pieces and decor accessories are carefully chosen for their durability and versatility.
Many people prefer to invest in quality over quantity, as a lot of craftsmanship goes into designing items that can weather the wear and tear of daily home living in order to be passed down to the next generation. Hence, the slightly expensive price tag that is sometimes associated with Scandinavian home furnishings.
The versatility of Scandinavian design pieces make them easy to mix with bohemian, transitional, or modern farmhouse decor styles, to create a unique and personalised home.
Natural materials: a lot of real wood, especially light-toned varieties like birch and pine is prevalent in Scandinavian furniture and flooring, bringing warmth and texture to interiors.
In addition to that, natural materials such as jute, cotton, hemp, sisal, clay potteries and ceramics are intrinsic elements found in Nordic design.
Neutral and earthy colour palette: many Scandinavian styled homes make use of neutral colours like white, grey, and beige complemented by soft pastels, sage, olive, earthy tones of brown and terracotta.
In addition to that, people add occasional pops of bold patterns and vivid colours by drawing inspiration from some designers such as legendary Swedish architect and designer Josef Frank to brighten a dark room corner.
Light and airy spaces: large windows found in many Scandinavian home interiors allow for ample natural light to flood the rooms, enhancing the overall sense of openness.
Hygge – the cosiness factor: Scandinavian design embraces the Danish concept for creating a warm and inviting home by incorporating soft textiles, plush rugs in seating rooms and bedrooms.
Eco-friendly approach: many Scandinavian architects and furnishings designers are increasingly using eco-friendly materials and implementing environmentally conscious practices to better respond to people’s needs to address climate change in their homes.
Scandinavian Design Home Essentials
Below is a curated collection of Scandinavian design inspired home furnishings you can browse through. This will give you a sense of what this design aesthetic might look like within the confinements of your own home.
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The Origins of Scandinavian Design
Scandinavian design can be traced to the early 20th century at a time when people were looking for simpler and more refined ways of decorating their homes in response to the ornate and heavy design styles of the time.
In 1914 in Denmark, at the onset of the First World War, the Society for Decorative Art launched a new design magazine, Skønvirke, meaning “Graceful Work,” to promote local handcrafted furnishings that were more affordable and simple in design for the masses.
It gave birth to a new Danish design style that was named after the publication title and rose in prominence to dominate more established design trends such as Art Deco and Art Nouveau, whose luxurious and overly ornate design products were generally more accessible to the well heeled.
A key figure during this revolutionary arts and crafts period was Carl Larsson (1853-1919), a Swedish artist known for his watercolour paintings and interior designs. Larsson’s works showcased the charm of his own family’s simple, rustic living, becoming an early inspiration for the Scandinavian design movement.
Another pioneer of Scandinavian design was Alvar Aalto (1898 – 1976), a Finnish architect and designer whose organic modernist approach brought a harmonious blend of functionality and nature into his works. Aalto’s furniture designs, such as the iconic Paimio Chair, exemplified the essence of Scandinavian design philosophy that started to grow in popularity in the 1930’s.
The influence of the German Bauhaus movement on Scandinavian design cannot be overlooked. Many Scandinavian designers studied at the Bauhaus school, which instilled in them the principles of simplicity and the union of form and function.
The mid-20th century witnessed the rise of Scandinavian design on the global stage with the creation of the Lunning Prize, which was awarded to many eminent Scandinavian designers between 1951 and 1970.
During that period, renowned Scandinavian architects and furniture designers such as Josef Frank from Sweden, Arne Jacobsen from Denmark, and Maija Isola in Finland, started bringing more innovative buildings and furniture pieces to the market.
By using Scandinavian design emphasis on functionality, simplicity, and connection to nature, they were able to create iconic pieces such as the egg chair and the swan chair that are still revered today.
Embracing Scandinavian Design at Home
Bringing Scandinavian design to life in the heart of your home will require that you explore some important design principles Scandinavians follow to decorate their homes. Feel free to borrow some ideas from them to put together a home that showcases your unique style.
1. Go for Simplicity and Minimalism
At the core of Scandinavian design lies simplicity and minimalism. To emulate this aesthetic at home, be comfortable embracing the “less is more” approach to home living.
Whilst this does not mean having totally empty white boxes as rooms (though some purists do), it does mean that you need to focus on clean lines, clutter-free spaces, and creating a sense of openness when decorating your home.
Furniture and decor items are chosen with a purpose, and every element serves a functional or aesthetic role. This simplicity not only creates a serene atmosphere but also enhances the functionality of the space.
2. Make Use of Natural Materials
Wood, particularly light-toned and pale woods like birch, beech, and pine, takes centre stage in Scandinavian furniture and flooring. The use of natural materials in Nordic homes is a great way to bring a touch of warmth and cosiness into people’s spaces.
Make sure to invest in a solid hardwood flooring with pared back decorative elements. Plank, herringbone, or a chevron parquet wood floor style in medium to light tones will add depth and visual interest to your floor without being too showy.
As for furniture pieces, throw in high quality Scandinavian-inspired wood dining and coffee tables, chairs, a console table, and a few dressers.
You will also find lots of gorgeous natural materials such as cotton, wool, linen, leather, jute, and hemp in many Scandinavian homes to add texture and much needed comfort all year round.
A jute rug, a few leather accent chairs, some plush wool sofa and bed throws, and insanely soft cotton throw pillows and bedsheets are worth splurging on to achieve the Scandinavian design aesthetic the right way.
3. Choose a Neutral Colour Palette
The Scandinavian colour palette is dominated by neutral tones such as whites, greys, and muted pastels. These understated shades set the scene for the natural light to easily bounce off surfaces and create an airy ambiance.
Neutral colours also contribute to the overall calming and soothing effect of Scandinavian homes, making them ideal for people seeking to create a calming atmosphere in their living spaces.
In addition to that, earthy tones of terracotta and shades of brown paired with sage, olive, and black are present in Scandinavian homes’ furnishings, walls, and decor accessories to break the monotony of neutral shades and add a touch of nature inside.
For the most daring one, vivid hues and bold patterns are infused into room interiors via rugs, accent chairs, and artworks.
Curate a main neutral colour palette for each room that you are seeking to decorate. Then, pick and choose the accent colours you wish to add here and there in your furnishings to warm up your space.
4. Adopt Functionality and Practicality
In Scandinavian design, furniture pieces are built with usability in mind, offering both comfort and purpose. Multi-functional furniture, like storage ottomans and convertible sofas, are commonly found in Scandinavian-inspired interiors. This ensures that every aspect of the space serves a meaningful purpose.
Opt for a few multipurpose furniture items and accessories for your home such as a sleek storage coffee table or a storage bed to maximise the use of space.
In compact living spaces, consider having foldable chairs and dining tables that will make it easier to accommodate lots of people when needed and use your room with greater flexibility. Installing a banquette in lieu of traditional dining chairs when your space is tight can also be another way to make clever use of a room corner.
5. Embrace Natural Light
People who have spent some time in Denmark, Sweden or Finland are very familiar with the long, dark winters in that part of the world. This is why many Scandinavian homes are built and decorated to capture natural light. Large windows are often featured to maximise daylight, and window treatments are kept minimal to allow light to flood the room.
So, when choosing your blackout curtains and blinds, make sure they can easily blend in with your chosen colour palette and decor accessories to ease the flow of light. For long winter seasons, add a few more desk lamps and floor lamps in your main living spaces to increase the luminosity.
As for dark corners like your wardrobe, the bedrooms, or your home exteriors, invest in battery operated lights to benefit from energy-efficiency lighting. The use of mirrors is also common to reflect and amplify natural light, making spaces appear brighter and more inviting.
6. Play with Lots of Cosy Textures
Scandinavian designed homes include lots of cosy textures. Consider adding soft throws, plush rugs, and cushions in many living spaces, especially the living room and the bedrooms, and the lounge to add warmth and comfort to your home interiors.
These much needed textiles add texture and help create a welcoming atmosphere in your home, encouraging relaxation and a sense of well-being.
Make sure you invest in high quality fabrics such as wool, jute, cotton, and faux sheepskin to mix textiles with different textures, helping you to create a layering effect in your rooms.
7. Bring Nature Inside
The connection with nature is a prominent theme in Scandinavian design. When styling your rooms the Scandinavian way, nature-inspired decor elements, such as botanical prints, landscape artwork, and organic shapes should form integral parts of your interiors.
They bring a sense of harmony with the natural world and a touch of outdoor beauty to your indoor spaces.
8. Emphasise on Hygge
Hygge, a Danish concept that refers to a feeling of cosiness and contentment, is an essential aspect of Scandinavian design.
The inclusion of soft lighting, candles, and comfortable seating areas alongside cosy textures help create in your home an ambiance of hygge, making the space a sanctuary of relaxation and happiness.
9. Invest in Sustainable and Eco-Friendly Design
Many Scandinavian designers prioritise using environmentally friendly materials and production methods.
This commitment to sustainability is an ode to simplicity, longevity, and mindfulness towards the environment Nordic design exemplifies. Wherever you can, choose to upcycle vintage Scandinavian furniture pieces you’ve found at thrift stores into new items for your home.
If you can afford to, it is best to purchase Scandinavian furniture, including replicas, made out of real wood or leather in light of their longevity. You can always find good bargains that might end up being great investments.