A Crash Course in Scandinavian Design

Everything you need to know about the origins of Scandinavian design.

Whitewashed walls, natural fibers, and soft, light furnishings are iconic staples of Scandinavian design. Perhaps most famously associated with Ikea, Scandinavian design embodies a functional yet beautiful aesthetic that has won fans from all corners of the world. However, there is so much more to this Nordic style than flat-packed furniture on a budget. Scandinavian design manages to be refreshing yet classic and fits in with almost any interior design style chosen for your home. While it is highly coveted today, Scandinavian design dates back to the 1800s when Romanticism was in decline and the world craved a stripped-back, minimal approach to design.

Scandinavian design: Light wooden furniture arranged in a room

What is Scandinavian Design?

My Scandi Home - Get The Look:

Scandinavian design: A wooden rattan chair in a white room

How Did Scandinavian Interior Design Begin?

Scandinavian design: Woman placing a booklet onto a wooden table next to two vases


The Rise of Scandinavian Design

Aristocratic and upper-class styles such as Romanticism quickly became unpopular as people demanded a more inclusive style to welcome in the new century. The rise of the machine age also sparked fear amongst people who were troubled by the speed at which the changes were occurring. In the UK, William Morris championed the Arts and Crafts movement and pleaded with people to embrace nature in one last attempt to hold on to the romantic notions of the past. This was a message that was also echoed by the Scandinavian designers who took the elitist designs of Art Nouveau and created beautiful, simple everyday objects from natural materials which were then sold at affordable prices.

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Did you know?

The Arts and Crafts Movement gave way to Art Nouveau which then became the forerunner for Modernism.

Scandinavian design: Society of the decorative arts in Copenhagen

Turn of the Century Nordic Design

Key Events in Scandinavian Design:

Scandinavian Design Furniture

“One might, in fact, argue that much of what the modern movement stands for, would have been lost or simply forgotten if Scandinavian designers and architects like Arne Jacobsen would not have added that humane element to it.” -Author: R. Craig Miller - Design 1935-1989

Scandinavian design: Egg chairs by Arne Jacobosen

Arne Jacobsen - The King of Scandinavian Sofas

Jacobsen was a trained architect and furniture designer who despite his wide repertoire of work, is perhaps most famously known for his chair designs. He clung to the notion of comfort and protection; a reaction to the turbulent post-war landscape around him, and this was reflected heavily in his work. In 1958, Jacobsen was called to commission a new chair design exclusively for the Radisson SAS hotel in Copenhagen, Denmark. The ‘Egg Chair', as this commission was known, drew inspiration from Eero Saarinen’s ‘Womb’ chair which cocooned the user in a single form structure to represent the sanctuary of the womb. The steel frame was covered in plush fabric which created a smooth uninterrupted covering for the curved, high-backed, winged armchair, all adding to a feeling of shelter for the Radisson guests.

Børge Mogensen - Scandinavian Minimalist Furniture

Scandinavian design: Bellevue theatre Copenhagen

Architects and Scandinavian Home Design

Scandinavian design: Scandinavian architecture at the turn of the century

Edvin Engström and his Garden City

Swedish architect Edvin Engström was inspired by the ‘Garden City’ movement in the UK and saw how it had successfully addressed the needs of the influx of people fleeing the cities in search of greener pastures. His desire to recreate this in Sweden resulted in the creation of ‘Södra Ängby’,  a residential neighborhood in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1938. Each house was visually inspired by cruise liners and was designed in a uniform way. Over 500 villas were constructed, making Södra Ängby’ the largest example of functionalist villas across the globe. 

Some iconic features of Edvin Engström’s Swedish interior design include: 

Cubic forms

Flat sheet-metal roofs

Curved balconies with metal work detailing

Alvar Aalto’s Villa Mairea

Scandinavian Decorating with Home Furnishings

Due to the aftermath of war bringing with it limited job opportunities and for some exile from dictatorial regimes, architects such as Arne Jacobsen were forced to use their creativity in new ways. Many Scandinavian designers started their careers in one field before switching to something different such as interior design. When it comes to discussing home furnishings, there is only one designer that we consider to be the king of Scandinavian design. If you venture into Scandinavian furniture stores, you will see the work, or replicas of the work, of one designer in particular - Danish-born, Poul Henningsen. His iconic PH lamps have made him a household name amongst design enthusiasts and provided a glare-free lighting solution for people’s homes.

Scandinavian design: PH Lamp

Poul Henningsen - A New Nordic Decorating Style

Scandinavian Design and RAMSIGN

Enamel in Scandinavian Design

Scandinavian design: Design tools on a workbench
Scandinavian design: Three black enamel signs with plant shadow

Scandinavian Design Today