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.
What is Scandinavian Design?
When talking about Scandinavian design, it is important to understand exactly what is classified as Scandinavia. Traditionally, only Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are considered to be Scandinavian, however, Finland, Iceland, and Greenland are also recognised by some people as being part of this region. Regardless of geography, this style embodies the idea of incorporating clean lines, longevity, and functionality to create Scandinavian furniture and architecture. The key players of Scandinavian design such as Arne Jacobsen, Alvar Aalto, Hans Wegner, and Poul Henningsen all created a sense of harmony with nature through their designs, which has become a pillar of this creative style.
My Scandi Home - Get The Look:
Our obsession with all things hygge has got us hooked and many people have turned to the clean lines and practical beauty associated with this look to decorate their living spaces. Incorporating elements of Nordic design into your home is easy. You can get the look by:
Whitewashed walls - keep the walls white to maximize the light in your home
Keep it neutral - using a neutral heavy palette leaves a blank canvas to use as a base
Use pops of color - for bold attention-grabbing accents
Stay clear of curtains and carpet - use natural materials only such as light wood floors.
Accessorize with warm textiles- use blankets to create a cozy feel
Tidy up! - Keep homes clutter-free for the ultimate Scandinavian design home
It’s all about form and function - does your space work for you?
Lighting is key - choose warm, simple, modern lighting and candlelight
How Did Scandinavian Interior Design Begin?
Traditional Scandinavian interior design can be categorized into architecture, furniture design, and home furnishings, and each category is a world of its own just waiting to be explored. Just like any good story, there is always a beginning, a middle, and an end; and the story of Scandinavian design is no different. The radically changing social philosophies at the end of the 1800s created a sense of unease in society and people began to question their surroundings, including their home. The industrial revolution at this moment in time took hold of Europe, with an iron fist, and the emergence of machines made it easier, and cheaper than ever before for people to improve their standard of living.
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.
Did you know?
The Arts and Crafts Movement gave way to Art Nouveau which then became the forerunner for Modernism.
Turn of the Century Nordic Design
The Scandinavian design movement first emerged around 1915 when ‘The Society for Decorative Arts’ in Denmark decided to create a magazine to promote local craftsmen and their work. Skønvirke (Graceful Crafts) magazine, as it was named, sparked a revolution amongst Danish makers as they unified to rival the ever-growing Art Nouveau with their Scandi style. Both world wars soon put a stop to creative endeavors and the societal changes that resulted from the aftermath of war changed the artistic dialogue forever.
The once-popular Art Nouveau and Art Deco were quickly deemed to be ostentatious against the new backdrop of famine and poverty and Modernism seemed to offer the perfect antidote to a totalitarian society. Each country developed its version of Modernism, with Bauhaus evolving in Germany, Constructivism in Russia, and what is later to be known as ‘Scandinavian Design’ in Scandinavia.
Key Events in Scandinavian Design:
- In 1926, Danish-born, Poul Henningsen created his iconic PH Lamps
- The Lenning Prize was launched in 1951 by Frederik Lenning awarding prestigious Scandinavian designers for their work. It is considered to be the Nobel prize for Scandinavian artists.
- In 1954, the Brooklyn Museum launched its ‘Design in Scandinavia’ exhibition, recognizing nordic artists as a collective for the first time, thus giving their work the name ‘Scandinavian Design’.
- The world-famous ‘Egg Chair’ was designed in 1958 by Arne Jacobsen
Scandinavian Design Furniture
Furniture was a key product for nordic designers thanks to its relative ease to produce and the newfound demand for stylized interiors that boasted clean lines and practicality. Scandinavia is known for its harsh climate which means that home interiors are even more important and need to be durable as well as visually appealing. Designers such as Arne Jacobsen played on the concept of comfort and hibernation to create his iconic ‘Egg chair’ in 1958 while Børge Mogensen took a more stark approach with his ‘A Hunting Lodge’ collection that features harsh lines and solid wooden frames. Some art critics felt that the Scandi design furniture added a naturalness and normality to Modernism that, in other mediums, had been long forgotten.
“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
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
Mogensen approached furniture design from a completely different perspective to Jacobsen, choosing to favor traditional craftsmanship over modern frivolities. His work can be held accountable for putting Nordic furniture on the world stage with his collections such as ‘This is Where We Live’ and ‘A Hunting Lodge’ forming what is now an instantly recognizable aesthetic. In 1948, Mogensen participated in a MoMa competition titled ‘Low-Cost Furniture’ which pushed him to explore new and creative techniques with materials such as plywood. This led on to him producing ‘A Hunting Lodge’, debatably his most revolutionary collection which caused Mogensen to question and rethink the way people use their living spaces. The solid wood frames provided a welcome juxtaposition to the soft saddle leather used to create this medieval Spanish inspired collection. Wide, hardwood armed chairs - perfect for resting a glass or ashtray upon - made the use of side tables redundant, and the low hanging seats of the chairs created a never seen before relaxed vibe, far away from the stuffy styles presented previously. The dedication to using natural materials married the Scandinavian design principles to the beauty of aging allowing these designs to catch a delicate patina over the years making them stylish classics for design lovers.
Architects and Scandinavian Home Design
With so many interesting and new designs for furniture being created, it is rightly so that architects working during this period began to take note of the changing shift in living conditions. This can be seen through the work of prominent architects such as Edvin Engström and Alvar Aalto who were trailblazers of Scandinavian design during their careers, transforming homes and public places into odes to nordic design. Due to the isolated location of Scandinavia, designers were called upon to be creative and resourceful, creating a unique and iconic aesthetic that is still championed today.
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:
Flat sheet-metal roofs
Curved balconies with metal work detailing
Alvar Aalto’s Villa Mairea
One of the most famous examples of Scandinavian architecture from this period is Villa Mairea by Finnish modernist Alvar Aalto. Designed to be a guest house and rural retreat for the Finnish elite, this project gave Aalto the freedom and creativity that he felt that he lacked in his earlier work. The 250 meters squared building embodies the open-plan, continuous flow style of Modernist architecture which is believed to represent Aalto’s metaphor for the continuous flow of nature. Many natural motifs can be seen across his design such as the abundance of natural materials used to construct the villa and the marriage between the past and the future - referencing Finland’s agricultural past and embracing the technological changes of the future. Villa Mairea beautifully brought the Scandinavian design aesthetic to the attention of the Finnish and satisfied the craving for a design that ‘just works’. The construction of this building was made possible thanks to the advancements in technology in the early 20th century which allowed for a more emotional and decorative style of architecture to be created.
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.
Poul Henningsen - A New Nordic Decorating Style
Henningsen set out on a mission to find a warm, glare-free lighting style that could be used in Scandinavian homes. This led to the creation of the PH Lamp in 1926 and additional versions of the lamp later on in the 20th century. Using light reflectors and spiral bulbs, he envisioned a lamp that included downwardly concave shapes that danced between the rays of light at angles less than 45º so that the reflection didn’t cause glare. His most iconic versions of the PH Lamp were created in 1958, the PH5 and the PH Artichoke Lamp. The Artichoke lamp, as you can imagine, depicts the form of an artichoke with laser-cut leaves layered together and fastened using aircraft wire. The positioning of the leaves has been carefully thought through to avoid glare and provide an even cast of light.
The PH5 lamp is a classic design that is still in production today. Originally designed in response to the ever-changing sizes of lightbulbs produced at the time, this ceiling lamp is a space-age wonder of design that uses concentric shapes to reduce glare and reflect light evenly. It was given its name by Henningsen due to the 50cm diameter sized light shade that forms the main body of the lamp.
Scandinavian Design and RAMSIGN
So, after this brief history lesson on the who’s-who of Scandinavian design, it is time to turn our attention to what elements have inspired RAMSIGN. Our handcrafted, personalized porcelain enamel signs invite onlookers to stop and reflect on the passion and skill that goes into creating our everyday objects. For us, we interpret the Scandinavian style as being fresh, understated, and functional using clean lines and luxurious natural materials to tell a story and add warmth to the home. Our signs are made from 100% natural materials which have been used in ways that not only provide a visually appealing design but also add functional benefits such as strength, weatherproofing, and anti-tarnishing.
Enamel in Scandinavian Design
Scandinavian designers were no strangers to using enamel in their work, in fact, it was often used to add a shot of color to brighten up objects such as lampshades. They chose enamel as it met their principles on sustainable design and provided a useful alternative to paint which required regular maintenance to keep it looking nice. Before WWII, enamel was a popular choice for manufacturers but due to the demand for metals, the demand for enamel also reduced. However, it continued to be used up until the 60s when plastic began its world domination. The real supporter of enamel was Denmark’s first industrial designer, Knud V. Engelhardt. During the 1930s he incorporated enamel into the production of his house numbers and street signage as he believed that not only was it the most practical option but that it also showed off his typography design in the best way; an opinion we also share.
Scandinavian Design Today
While the Scandinavian design movement has long had its golden age, it is still a BIG business, in all aspects and is highly valued in the design world today. The human desire to make the mundane special along with a craving to connect with nature are still principles that echo through our society in everything from entertainment to design and even music. At RAMSIGN we pull upon our Danish heritage to channel the work of the great Scandi designers of the past in order to create hand-stenciled enamel signs that have been personalized by the user themself. Natural materials and traditional methods of craftsmanship are the key ingredients used in creating the perfect RAMSIGN sign and each of our creations offers the user functionality with a conscience. Discover our range of signs and play with our design options to create a truly unique heritage piece to be loved and treasured for generations.