Design Trends, Ideas + Inspiration

The Enduring Influence of Scandinavian Design

The Dining Chair by Mater. Notice the neutral color palette, wood tones, warm glowing light and clean lines with comfy touches like leather upholstered seating and textile wall treatments.

After several decades, Scandinavian design is as popular as ever. The pure lines, material quality and craftsmanship of pieces from the likes of Arne Jacobsen, Alvar Aalto and Verner Panton continue to resonate…strongly. In fact, such classic design tenets inform a wide array of new furniture and lighting designs.

Let’s explore a bit more about why mid-century Scandinavian design still appeals after so long.

What is Scandinavian Design?

If there was a starting point for Scandinavian design as it recognized today, it was probably in the 1950s after World War II, when social democracy was at its height in the Nordic countries of Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden.

Organic shapes play a large role in Scandinavian design, here they’re rendered in glass vases by Alvar Aalto. Aalto Duo Set by Alvar Aalto from Iittala.

In response to expensive, unapproachable pieces, the new design style was based on the thought that functional, simple, modern and beautiful everyday objects should be affordable for all—not for just the well-to-do. The availability and mass production of more affordable materials such as sturdy plastics, pressed wood and enameled aluminum also helped to fuel the Scandinavian design movement.

So, how does this translate to things today?

A Simple Way of Living Philosophy

Rhonan Pendant from Tech Lighting. These simple and asymmetrical white pendants bring Scandinavian style and balance to this dining room.

Today, Scandinavian design is mainly about demonstrating life balance and individuality, minimalism, and ergonomic function—translating to a simple way of living. A perfect example of Scandinavian influence on American design would be the Pedestal Armchair (nicknamed the “Tulip” Chair) designed by Finn Eero Saarinen. He designed it for the Knoll company in 1956—and it remains a true classic to this day.

Grossman Grashoppa Floor Lamp by Greta Grossman from Gubi. A classic design element of Scandinavian design is taking elements of nature and giving them a modern twist.

Often confused with mid-century modern design (think Mad Men), there are some distinguishing cornerstones to Scandinavian design. One of the most prominent differences is in the room colors and lighting. Mid-century modern interiors reflect darker shades and oftentimes lower light conditions, whereas Scandinavian interiors usually reflect brighter shades and have an abundance of bright light in a room. (With the shorter days and challenging snow and ice climate during the winter months in the Nordic countries, this “bright” philosophy came out of necessity.)

Scandinavian Integrates Well With Other Design Styles

Brynne LED Pendant Light by Feiss. Embracing Scandinavian design, the simple lines of this pendant mixes well in the overall farmhouse look of this kitchen.

Happily, Scandinavian design has such simple features, it’s easy to mix it with other interior design styles, including modern, farmhouse, industrial, country and transitional.

How should you get started integrating Scandinavian design?

Lose the Clutter

Brummel Pendant from Tech Lighting. This pendant is a perfect complement to this clean and minimalist living and dining space.

Scandinavian design should have a clean look. When decorating with accessories, keep them at a minimum—better yet, make sure they serve a dual purpose—and think about large mirrors to reflect and enhance light as much as possible.

Have You Heard of “Hygge?”

Milo Suspension Light by Tech Lighting. These pendants follow the Scandi elements of: clean, monochromatic, and give off a warm hygge glow.

Hygge (pronounced “hoo-guh”) is one of the latest buzzwords in design, which is specifically from Denmark. Similar in its purpose as overall Scandinavian design, it refers to creating a feeling of contentment and coziness. As our world gets busier and more hectic, hygge should generate a zen atmosphere—an “I love living here” vibe that calms stress levels.

Slightly different than pure Scandinavian design, the hygge style is furthered by textures (such as plush knit cushions and cashmere throws), wood finishes (such as natural oak or warm walnut), and lighting that can be dimmed.

CH25 Lounge Chair by Hans J. Wegner from Carl Hansen. The woven cord adds a textural design element to your lounging.

The Future of Scandinavian Design

The recent resurgence of Scandinavian design in the Nordic countries is currently having a major impact on the international design scene, much like it did in the middle of the 20th century. With the increasing need for calm spaces, functional furnishings and simple lines, there’s a strong likelihood that Scandinavian style is here to stay.


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