What is Scandinavian Style, Anyway?

Scandinavian Style sometimes gets mashed in with Mid-Century Modern style, especially in the ongoing revival in MCM design. Although the style did emerge at roughly the same time as MCM, it is completely its own concept. So what is Scandinavian Style, anyway? Let’s take a look.

Baker Sofa and Cheiftain Chairs by Finn Juhl

The History of Scandinavian Style

Scandinavian design style originated in the 5 Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden in the 1930s and experienced great popularity during the 1950s.

Finn Juhl of Denmark was well known for bringing Danish design to the American market. In 1951 Juhl debuted his work at the MoMa in New York to rave reviews. His Chieftain Chair and Baker Sofa are some of his most popular pieces and are still produced today.

Greta Grossman of Sweden produced the Grasshopper Lamp a perfect symbol of the minimalist, functional approach of Scandinavian Design. Grossman lived much of her life in California and opened a second Scandinavian-Modern design store on Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles. Other major designers and designs of the era include Hans Wegner and his Wishbone Chair and Arne Jacobsen and his Egg Chair.

The Grasshopper Lamp by Greta Grossman

A series of events brought about global awareness of the design aesthetic, including the Triennale di Milano popular Italian design exhibition in 1947, award of the Lunning prize to Scandinavian designers throughout 1951-1970, and the Design in Scandinavia exhibition, which travelled across the U.S. and Canada 1954-1957 and from which the design style acquired its name. These events not only showcased the design style to the world but also helped shape the design itself, defining the principles and tendencies of the aesthetic. Although the design style continues to evolve with the ongoing works of current Scandinavian designers, many of the original principles still hold true in their designs.

Light and bright Scandinavian Style seating area

Scandinavian Design Principles

The design principles of Scandinavian Style have roots in the Nordic region and culture in addition to response to popular design in other cultures. The Nordic countries experience long, dark winters during which most of the waking hours are spent indoors. Therefore, Scandinavian Style intuitively favors light, bright interiors and warm, natural materials. White or off-white walls are ideal as they create a bright, clean backdrop. The design style took inspiration from the Nordic environment’s characteristics such as organic shapes and color pallet. Scandinavian designers also incorporated sustainability and affordability into their designs, choosing natural materials that were inexpensive and sourced with care.

Scandinavian Style principles in a living room

The minimalist and function-focused aesthetic of Scandinavian Style resulted in response to the opulent and extravagant European interior design trends. Clean lines and simple design was the new motivation. While Scandinavian Style came in conflict with European culture, it was influenced by ideas from other cultures. For example, Hans Wegner created a series of chairs drawing inspiration from portraits of Danish merchants posing in Ming Chairs.

Scandinavian design coincided with the Mid-Century Modern movement and carried many of the same concepts including minimalism and a focus on clean lines, organic shapes and simple designs.

Minimalist Scandinavian dining area

Tips for Incorporating Scandinavian Style

To incorporate Scandinavian Style in your space, start with paring down on your décor. Minimalism is the goal. If that doesn’t sound fun, consider it like a shopping trip within your own home. Bring all your décor off the shelves and tables, then place them somewhere safe to sift through. Then “shop” for items to display, placing individual pieces or groups of 3 on shelves. Stagger the pieces and don’t worry about putting something on every shelf or bare surface. Focus on items made of natural, unfinished materials or rustic ceramics.

Consider painting your walls a white or off-white color. This step will set the tone, literally, for your Scandinavian conversion. Incorporate blankets, warm rugs and pillows for a cozy effect. Mix in rustic elements where possible such as fur rugs or throws. Aim for muted textile colors for the most part and then mix in colorful, modern prints. For more color, bring in potted plants or, if you don’t have a green thumb, put fresh or dried branches in a simple vase for décor. Let as much light in as you can, the brighter the more Scandinavian your space!

Blending Scandinavian and Modern Design

Play up all the unfinished wood furniture you can in your home. If possible, consider purchasing furniture that matches the aesthetic from local thrift stores, furniture dealers or even off of Craigslist. Look for pieces with unfinished wood, leather and organic shapes matched with clean lines. You can get inspiration from a simple Internet search for “Scandinavian” along with the type of furniture you are looking for.


Looking for the right place to get your Scandinavian on in? Get in touch today so we can help you find your dream home!

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