Scandinavian design is everywhere right now, and if you’ve ever nodded your head at a dinner conversation like, “oh yeah, I love Scandinavian decor!” but in reality have no effing idea what it actually is, you wouldn’t be alone. But you’re probably more familiar with it than you realize because it’s all over social media, design blogs, and your favourite magazines. Let’s break it down, so you can do less smiling and nodding and more finding cool ways to work it into your home.
Scandinavian design is minimal, but not minimalism
While Scandinavian design and minimalism do share some nuances, the two do have their separate characteristics;
Minimalism refers to the use of industrial materials and geometric forms in a flowing, open-concept space favouring black and white colour schemes. It emphasizes strict simplicity and function in furniture and architecture.
Scandinavian design, on the other hand, often refers to the use of natural materials, simplicity, light colours, and minimalist shapes in open interiors that capitalize on what sunlight the wintry northern region actually does receive. A style which has its roots in the early 20th century. The modern Scandinavian style flourished in the Nordic region of Denmark, Norway and Sweden in the 1950’s.
The heart of Scandinavian design
Nuances aside, at it’s most basic level, Scandinavian design is minimal, with a focus on simplicity and functionality. There’s not a lot of clutter, and it focuses on functionality, using natural materials, and taking a “democratic approach” to design, says the author of Lagom: The Swedish Art of Living and the blog My Scandinavian Home, Niki Brantmark. “Scandinavian design has a tradition of striving to ensure everyone has access to good design, not just the elite”, she explains. “This is why you’ll see beauty in everyday pieces. IKEA is a good example of this.”
“The simple aesthetic means it can fit seamlessly with almost any style and era.”
Inspired by nature and climate
Scandinavian design emerged in the 1930s, though really grew to popularity in the 1950s. A design show travelling through the U.S. and Canada in 1954-1957 promoted works by Nordic designers emphasizing simple designs inspired by nature and the climate of the region. “The style was well received, and people appreciated the ‘beauty in the everyday’ aspect,” Brantmark notes.
– Scandinavian Nature
Makes use of the resources
At its core, Scandinavian design seeks to improve everyday life. Nordic countries get as little as seven hours of daylight in the winter, so lighting is key. You won’t find wall-to-wall carpeting, as hard-wood natural or white floors help the room seem brighter. Furniture is functional, doubling as storage, and window treatments are nonexistent, or sheer at most, in order to maximize the light that comes in.
Textures add life and warmth
Whereas minimalism is often considered cold and stark to critics, Scandinavian design creates warmth through textiles, rather than cluttering things with a lot of decorative items. Soft textiles, such as sheepskin, wool, and mohair, are a necessity in cold climates and keep the aesthetic paired down, but add some visual interest. Their rationale: Anything added should have a practical purpose.
– Adding some hygge
Neutral palettes with a splash of colour
Neutral colours are at the foundation of Scandinavian design since natural light can be rare in Nordic homes. Colour is used as an accent, though still in earthy tones—dark blues, greens, greys, and browns. The nature-inspired shades can aid in creating a cosy space.
Hygge is a feeling, not a setting
Since 2016 put hygge on our radars, the devotion to the concept hasn’t seen any slowdown, but don’t subscribe to the common misconception. The Danish word often associated with cosiness isn’t a design style at all, but rather, a state of mind. You can seek to create it with your decor, and in large part, much of Scandinavian design does, but the two are not interchangeable.
“Hygge isn’t a design style at all, but rather, a state of mind.”
Not too little, not too much
Similarly to the idea of hygge, Sweden uses the word lagom, which means not too little, not too much—basically, finding the balance. “In my home, I like to find a balance between minimalist and cosy. I love to mix and match old and new, and try to ensure no two items are the same for a relaxed look,” Brantmark says. That means adding lots of textiles in the form of sheepskins, linen cushions, and layered rugs to boost the curl-up-and-relax factor while keeping furniture and decor minimal and streamlined.
The beauty of Scandinavian design is that it’s incredibly versatile. The simple aesthetic means it can fit seamlessly with almost any style and era. You could deck your space out completely in Scandinavian-inspired decor, or you could incorporate pieces sparingly if you just want to dabble with the design. Just make sure to find lagom and add just the right amount of hygge.
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