Hailing from the beautifully rugged Nordic countries, Scandinavian design has gained global recognition for its timeless charm, impeccable craftsmanship, and harmonious aesthetics. Rooted in simplicity, functionality, and a deep connection to nature, this design style has captured the hearts of design enthusiasts worldwide.
The style embraces minimalism, clean lines, and a neutral color palette, creating spaces that feel calm, inviting, and effortlessly stylish. It celebrates the beauty of natural materials such as wood, leather, and textiles, incorporating them into furnishings, accessories, and architectural elements. The result is a timeless and sophisticated aesthetic that seamlessly blends with modern and traditional elements.
Now, you may be wondering how you can bring the allure of Scandinavian design into the rooms of your own home. Whether you're seeking to transform your bedroom into a cozy retreat, revamp your living room with a touch of Nordic elegance, or infuse your kitchen with functional beauty, we have you covered. Get ready to embrace the timeless charm of Scandinavian design and create a home that exudes simplicity, sophistication, and a deep connection to nature.
What Exactly is Scandinavian Design?
Scandinavian design emerged in the 1950s, coinciding with the rise of Mid-Century Modernism in the United States. While sharing similarities, Scandinavian design has its own distinct characteristics. It embodies a sense of timeless appeal and has remained a popular interior design style among Americans to this day. Its enduring popularity can be attributed to its ability to create inviting and functional spaces that prioritize both beauty and practicality.
Scandinavian design is characterized by its clean lines, functionality, and minimalistic approach that still prioritizes the concept of beauty. The use of natural light is integral to this design style, as it seeks to maximize the illumination of spaces and create a sense of openness due to long winters. Neutral colors dominate Scandinavian interiors, contributing to a serene and harmonious atmosphere, however, Scandinavian designers do incorporate splashes of color to contrast and add visual interest to the space.
Additionally, craftsmanship is highly valued, with a focus on creating heirloom pieces that are built to last a lifetime. Distinct textual elements, such as rugs and throws, organic, curved wooden furniture pieces, and unique lighting fixtures are often incorporated into Scandinavian design, adding warmth and texture to the space. The style seamlessly blends different influences without appearing overly calculated, resulting in an effortless aesthetic. It exudes a sense of warmth and coziness, which complements the simplicity of the overall design.
The Cultural Concept of Hygge
Though emerging in the 20th century, Scandinavian’s core or kernel aesthetic DNA could be considered “hygge”, a Danish and Norwegian word that literally means “to give courage, comfort, or joy”, and has come to be more used by others to describe a “quality of coziness” or more precisely the psychological feeling of being safe, warm, and cozy in the 21st century.
This concept, while not explicitly a part of Scandinavian design, during the late 2010s the word “hygge” grew to become lumped with the design, and from there, many an essay, blog post, book, or think-piece revolved around how to incorporate “hygge” into one’s daily life and routine.
Activities like baking, relaxing by the fire, enjoying a nice book in a sun-filled room, or simply being comfortable wrapped up in your bed’s blanket all began to fall under this concept of “hygge”, though if you ask any Danish person “hygge” simply just means “cozy”.
1914 saw a magazine in Denmark called Skønvirke (meaning Graceful Work). This magazine title became the name of the then-emerging Danish arts and crafts movement that closely aligned with other emergent art movements like Art Deco and Weimar Germany’s Jugendstil. Skønvirke also promoted democratic designs and local crafts when compared to more continental art trends.
While emerging like other styles in the aftermath of WW1, it wasn’t until the 1950s where Scandinavian designs reached “critical mass” and were known throughout the world as opposed to just a regional design aesthetic.
The first to elevate Scandinavian design was the Lunning Prize which ran from 1951 to 1970 and focused specifically on designers from the region and helped bolster the trend. The second event that put a spotlight on Scandinavian design was the 1954 exhibition of “Design in Scandinavia”; an exhibition held at the Brooklyn Museum that showcased furniture from the area to the United States.
Art Deco, a prominent artistic style of the early 20th century, played a significant role in shaping emerging Scandinavian design. It originated in France in the 1920s and quickly spread throughout Europe, including Scandinavia. Art Deco was characterized by its geometric shapes, bold colors, luxurious materials, and stylized motifs inspired by modern industrial and technological advancements.
In Scandinavian design, Art Deco had a profound impact, particularly in architecture, interior design, and decorative arts. The clean lines and geometric forms of Art Deco resonated with the Scandinavian design ethos, which emphasized simplicity, functionality, and craftsmanship. Scandinavian architects and designers embraced Art Deco's elegance and incorporated it into their work, blending it with their own regional influences.
Jugendstil, also known as Art Nouveau, was an artistic style that emerged in the late 19th century, primarily in Germany and Austria. It was characterized by its organic forms, curvilinear shapes, and intricate decorative details inspired by nature. Jugendstil sought to integrate art into everyday life and emphasized craftsmanship and the use of natural materials.
In the early 20th century, Jugendstil had a significant influence on Scandinavian design, contributing to the development of a distinct Scandinavian variant and magazine known as "Skønvirke." Skønvirke combined Jugendstil's organic aesthetic with the traditional craftsmanship and simplicity of Scandinavian design. This fusion resulted in a unique Scandinavian interpretation of Art Nouveau, which incorporated natural motifs, delicate curves, and meticulous attention to detail.
Bauhaus, founded in Germany in 1919, was a revolutionary school of design that aimed to bridge the gap between art and industry. It emphasized the integration of fine arts, crafts, and technology, promoting functional and minimalist design principles. Bauhaus rejected excessive ornamentation and instead embraced rationality, simplicity, and mass production.
The ideas and principles of Bauhaus had a profound impact on Scandinavian design, particularly in furniture, home decor, and product design. Scandinavian designers admired Bauhaus's emphasis on functionality, clean lines, and the use of new materials and manufacturing techniques. They adopted and adapted these ideas, combining them with their own design sensibilities, resulting in the development of a distinct Scandinavian modernist style.
Russian Constructivism, a movement that emerged in the early 20th century, rejected traditional forms of art and sought to create a new visual language based on geometric abstraction, industrial materials, and social and political ideals. Russian Constructivists aimed to integrate art with everyday life and revolutionize society through their creations.
While Scandinavian design was not directly influenced by Russian Constructivism, the movement's ideas resonated with Scandinavian designers who shared similar ideals of functionalism and social progress. Scandinavian designers appreciated the use of geometric forms, industrial materials, and the focus on practicality and accessibility in Constructivist works. This alignment of principles further fueled the development of Scandinavian modernism, which emphasized simplicity, functionality, and democratic design.
In summary, the artistic styles of Art Deco, Jugendstil, Bauhaus, and Russian Constructivism all influenced and shaped emerging Scandinavian design in the early 20th century. Art Deco brought a sense of luxury and geometric elegance, Jugendstil contributed organic forms and attention to detail, Bauhaus inspired functionalism and minimalism, and Russian Constructivism aligned with the principles of practicality and social progress. These influences ultimately led to the development of a distinctive Scandinavian design aesthetic that combined elements from various artistic movements while retaining its own unique identity.
Regional differences in Scandinavian design can be observed through the incorporation of local materials and an emphasis on the natural environment, distinguishing it from the Mid-Century modern style prevalent across the Atlantic. While Scandinavian design still adhered to the ideals of affordable and sleek furnishings, it deviated by embracing materials that were indigenous to the region. This change aimed to foster a stronger connection between the design and the local surroundings.
Unlike the mass-produced materials such as plexiglass and metal often associated with Mid-Century modernism, Scandinavian designers opted for materials that reflected the natural beauty of their environment, such as wood and stone. By utilizing these materials, they sought to evoke a sense of authenticity and harmony with nature.
The climate of long, cold winters in Scandinavia also had a profound impact on the region's design aesthetic. In response to the need for warmth and coziness during these harsh seasons, designers began incorporating brighter colors into their creations. This deliberate use of vibrant hues was intended to counterbalance the external environment and create a sense of interior warmth.
By introducing pops of color in textiles, furniture upholstery, and accessories, Scandinavian designers brought a lively and inviting atmosphere to their spaces. These bursts of color not only added visual interest but also contributed to a welcoming ambiance that provided solace and comfort during the extended winter months.
Icelandic design stands out as a bit of an outlier within the realm of traditional Scandinavian design. Due to its lack of forests and relative geographic isolation, Icelandic design has developed its own avant-garde character. Despite facing challenges such as vast export distances, the country's artistic community has embraced its unique circumstances and transformed them into strengths.
Icelandic designers have created vibrant and young artistic expressions, featuring items like paper lampshades, ceramic containers made from sulfur, and other innovative designs sourced from unconventional materials. Notable figures in Icelandic design include Einar Sveinsson, Reykjavik's lead designer, as well as Hogna Sigurdardottir and Garðar Eyjólfsson, known for their sulfur containers.
In proximity to Sweden, Norwegian design shares a similar emphasis on function, but it also places a high value on simplicity and nature-inspired aesthetics. Norwegian designers prioritize clean, nature-inspired designs that incorporate bright colors to counterbalance the long winters.
Prominent Norwegian designers include Jac Jacobsen, Ingar Relling, and Else Marie Jakobsen, who have made significant contributions to the country's design landscape.
Swedish design is heavily influenced by minimalism, characterized by clean, angular lines and a strong dedication to functionality. Sweden's commitment to affordability and democracy in design is exemplified by the globally recognized IKEA.
Notably, Swedish design has witnessed a prominence of female designers who have made significant waves in the industry. Figures like Anna Petrus, Sylvia Stave, and Stig Lindberg have contributed significantly to Swedish design, cementing the country's reputation for minimalist elegance.
Finnish design revolves around the use of natural materials and explores the relationship between individuals and the larger natural world. With a focus on organic and fluid designs, Finnish design reflects a deep connection with nature and seeks to harmonize human living with natural surroundings.
Renowned Finnish designers such as Alvar Aalto, Armi Raita, and Tapio Wirkkala have set the precedent for contemporary Finnish designers, shaping the aesthetic and philosophy of Finnish design.
Danish design is characterized by a blend of functionality and sophisticated elegance. Danish designers tend to indulge in luxury while maintaining sleek lines and clean aesthetics. Danish design is particularly renowned for its iconic chairs.
Figures like Børge Moregensen, Hans Wegner, and Arne Jacobsen have played pivotal roles not only in Danish design but also in shaping the broader landscape of Scandinavian design. The Danish approach encapsulates a harmonious fusion of functionality, refined aesthetics, and high-quality craftsmanship.
Midcentury Modern vs Scandinavian
While both styles emerge in popularity in the post-WW2 world, Scandinavian interior design styles differs from the American Mid-Century Modern interior design aesthetic in a few subtle, but key, ways.
Scandinavian design chooses to emphasize the use of natural and local materials when crafting its furniture in an attempt to illustrate one’s connection to nature. In contrast, Mid-century modern relished the dynamism and mass-production capabilities of the new American century by choosing to craft pieces that used plexiglass, metal, and plastic.
Similarly, Mid-century modern also favors a bolder color palette; bright oranges, yellows, rich blues, and vibrant greens. Whereas, Scandinavian tends to favor muted colors; greys, sage, sky blue, and the like.
There is also a prevalence or favoritism for natural light in Scandinavian design that is lacking within Mid-century modern, which is most likely due to geographic factors more than any conscious design choice. This is due to Scandinavia’s long winters, so any attempt to make the room brighter either via color or natural light is favored.
Minimalism vs Scandinavian
Minimalism laid much of the groundwork for other modern styles to emerge from it; one of these being Scandinavian design which took some of minimalism’s core principles like clean lines, organic forms, and muted color palettes.
Scandinavian style differs in its incorporation of more cozy elements like textured handicrafts like throw rugs, blankets, and pillows. It also incorporates more natural elements into its design, whereas minimalist design favors a lack of naturalist ornamentation in its furniture.
Additionally, minimalism also prizes or rather elevates empty space as part of the interior space rather than an “active lack”. Such a concept doesn’t exist within Scandinavian design aesthetics or philosophy.
How to Achieve a Scandinavian Aesthetic for Your Home
Achieving a Scandinavian aesthetic for your home allows you to embrace the essence of simplicity, functionality, and natural beauty. Whether you're revamping your living room, dining room, kitchen, or bathroom, incorporating Scandinavian elements will help you create an inviting and harmonious space that balances both style and comfort. From minimalistic furniture to cozy textures and an emphasis on natural light, each room can be transformed to reflect the timeless charm of Scandinavian design.
To achieve a Scandinavian aesthetic in your living room, prioritize clean lines and simplicity. Opt for minimalistic furniture with sleek designs, avoiding excessive ornamentation. Choose a light color palette, such as whites, creams, and soft neutrals, to create a bright and airy atmosphere. Incorporate natural materials like wood, which can be showcased in furniture, flooring, or accents.
Enhance the space with cozy and textured elements, such as knitted throws, woolen rugs, and plush custom pillows. Embrace the use of natural light by keeping window treatments simple and allowing sunlight to flood the room. Lastly, add a touch of warmth with carefully selected decorative items like candles, plants, and artwork.
In the dining room, simplicity and functionality remain key elements of Scandinavian design. Opt for a minimalistic dining table and chairs, preferably in light wood tones or white finishes. Consider open shelving or a display cabinet to showcase your collection of tableware and ceramics.
Lighting should be understated yet impactful, with pendant lights or minimalist chandeliers. Choose natural textiles for window treatments, such as linen curtains or woven blinds, to add texture and warmth. Complete the look with a large statement rug that combines comfort and style.
When creating a Scandinavian aesthetic in your kitchen, focus on a clean and uncluttered layout. Choose white or light-colored cabinetry, preferably with handleless designs, to maintain a sleek and seamless look. Incorporate open shelving to display your favorite kitchenware and add a touch of personality.
Opt for light-colored countertops made of natural materials like marble or quartz. Consider adding a kitchen island or a dining nook to create a cozy gathering space. Illuminate the kitchen with a combination of recessed lighting and pendant lights, emphasizing functionality and providing a warm ambiance.
In the bathroom, simplicity, functionality, and a touch of spa-like tranquility are key. Choose a white or light-colored color scheme to create a clean and fresh feel. Opt for minimalist fixtures, such as wall-mounted sinks and floating vanities, to maximize space and promote a streamlined look. Incorporate natural materials like stone or wood in accents such as countertops or flooring.
Emphasize natural light by using frosted or sheer window treatments. Add warmth and texture with soft towels, natural bath accessories, and soothing plants. Finally, consider incorporating elements of Scandinavian hygge, such as scented candles or a cozy bath mat, to create a serene and inviting atmosphere.
In conclusion, Scandinavian design stands as a testament to the power of simplicity, functionality, and harmony in creating beautiful living spaces. Its enduring appeal lies in its ability to adapt to different styles and seamlessly blend with various design elements. From its clean lines and minimalist approach to its use of natural materials and warm color palettes, Scandinavian design continues to inspire and captivate individuals seeking a tranquil and timeless aesthetic.
Beyond its visual appeal, Scandinavian design fosters a way of life that prioritizes comfort, well-being, and the appreciation of nature. The emphasis on hygge, or the cozy feeling of contentment, encourages us to create spaces that are inviting, warm, and conducive to relaxation. By incorporating elements of Scandinavian design, we can transform our homes into sanctuaries that rejuvenate the mind, body, and soul.
Moreover, Scandinavian design serves as a reminder of our connection to the environment and the importance of sustainable choices. The use of natural materials, such as responsibly sourced wood and eco-friendly textiles, aligns with the principles of environmental consciousness. By embracing Scandinavian design, we contribute to creating a more sustainable and mindful future.
So, whether you are drawn to the clean lines and functionality of Danish design, the warm and cozy atmospheres of Norwegian interiors, or the understated elegance of Swedish aesthetics, Scandinavian design offers a wealth of inspiration and possibilities for creating spaces that are both visually pleasing and deeply comforting.
Incorporating elements of Scandinavian design into your home allows you to cultivate a sense of tranquility, simplicity, and timeless beauty. So, go ahead and explore the world of Scandinavian design, experiment with its principles, and let your creativity flow as you transform your living spaces into havens of Scandinavian charm. Embrace the essence of Nordic design, and may it bring you joy, serenity, and a profound appreciation for the art of creating harmonious environments.
So, go ahead and explore the world of Scandinavian design, experiment with its principles, and let your creativity flow as you transform your living spaces into havens of Scandinavian design.