What is Scandinavian Design and Its Furniture?

Hygge and Lagom. These two words are the perfect definition of Scandinavian design. Hygge is a Danish term, pronounced as hog-guh which has no direct English translation but is the Danish idea of coziness. Lagom, on the other hand, has just risen to fame early this year and it is a Swedish term meaning not too much, not too little. Hygge and Lagom – cozy, functional and practical interiors but never overly adorned are the hallmarks of Interior Design.

While Scandinavian design or also known as the Nordic design has recently spiked in popularity in homeowners, it's not a new concept. The style has been popularized in the early 1930s where the style peaked after various Scandinavian designers showcased their works in exhibits throughout Europe and North America. The end goal was to appeal to the masses and therefore everyone should have access to beautiful and functional design.

Moreover, the style is influenced by the long harsh winters experienced in the Nordic countries and its territories (Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Greenland, and Faroe Islands). During winter, people were forced to spend most of their times at home hence the call for a house where coziness, style, and function are all present.

Characteristics of Scandinavian Design
Light, Bright and White – The dark and gloomy winters have emphasized the need for bright and airy interiors. As such, the style relies heavily on both natural and artificial light. Windows were emphasized in huge proportions to allow the generous amount of natural light to come in. White, gray, pastels and neutral colors are favored yet the more contemporary and modern Scandinavian designs explore the use of brighter pops of colors and bold patterns.

Minimalist Designs – Stripping a room down to its bare minimum is a trademark of Scandinavian styles. Designs are never busy and yet the room is still stunning. Scandinavians highly prize functionality which is why unnecessary clutter is, yes, unnecessary. Accessories are scaled down where functional items like books serve as d├ęcor.

Abundance of Wood Elements – Typically passionate lovers of nature, Scandinavians use a lot of wood in their homes. Floors and accent walls in light wood tones are often preferred. Stains and varnishes are minimized to keep the wood's color light.

Coziness – Scandinavians were never a fan of wall to wall carpets and yet their rooms still exude comfort and softness. Their use of sheer drapes, floppy pillows, soft throws and blankets and cozy rugs all work to create the concept of hygge.

Form and Function in Scandinavian Furniture
When it comes to Scandinavian furniture, the furniture giant, Ikea always comes to mind. More than just Ikea, Scandinavians are never out of furniture designers to brag about: Alvar Aalto, Eero Arneo, Verner Panton, Paul Henningsen, Hans Wegner and the list goes on. They are all household names whose works became recognized and are now considered iconic designer pieces. While their works remain globally known, there are trademark characteristics of Scandinavian furniture that any Scandinavian style enthusiast will recognize at first glance.

Characteristics of Scandinavian Furniture
Simple and Clean – Less is definitely more even with their furniture. Scandinavian furniture is characterized by clean lines, simple angles and soft curves while the decorative details are kept to a minimum. Yet, even with its simplicity, it is never boring and it can be integrated into different design styles. Notice Eero Aarnio's Pony chair. While the design is meant for children, the style is still subdued using simple geometry to define the shape. Even Verner Panton's chair, although curvy is still simple and pleasing to look at. Designs are never bulky and details like splayed wooden legs or thin metal legs are sometimes used to prevent rigid and boxy looking furniture.

Functional – Again, Scandinavians are never one to make designs simply for the sake of visuals. Their designs are meant to make lives easier. This also means that their furniture serves more than one purpose. Ikea became popular not only because it was affordable but because it came in flat packs that can be transported with ease and comes with easy to follow instructions. Platform beds with drawers underneath are examples of multi-functional furniture. It also makes use of the slat system which disposed of the need for a box spring. Functional furniture also means not taking up too much space as the Scandinavians value the less is more approach.

Perhaps the best example of functional furniture is Arne Jacobsen's Series 7 chair. It's lightweight, stackable and is offered in two options: with armchairs or with castors.

Spacious and Cozy – While most of their furniture is never bulky, socializing plays an important part in their culture so cue in long wooden tables that are good for discussion amongst huge groups. Although rectangular tables identify more with the principles of the style, many Scandinavian furniture designers also make use of ellipse and roundtables or round edged tables. With small spaces in mind, extendable dining tables and drop leaf tables are also commonly used.

Comfort is not to be taken lightly as seen in their wide use of soft textiles. Natural fabrics like wool, cotton, linen and wool in subdued colors are often used. Wood is a favorite material. Bent plywood was used during the outbreak of World War II when wood was scarce. Due to the long and drab winters, emphasis on brightness and airiness is played throughout the use of light-toned woods. Teak and oak are preferred where minimal usage of varnish and stains are applied to reduce the yellowness and redness of wood. Scots pine which is a species of pine wood is native to Scandinavia hence it is also commonly used in furniture. Industrialization played a key part in Scandinavian furniture designs and thus, the use of plastic and metals became more prominent.

Although the style has evolved into the experimentation on use of different materials and a dip into the world of brighter colors, the principles of hygge and lagom still remain. It's all about creating a warm and delightful atmosphere, enjoying the simple pleasures of life – a brisk walk, time spent with family or just sitting and reading a good book. Furthermore, Scandinavian style is about finding the balance in life, not less and not more but just the right amount of everything. Whether it's a design style or a lifestyle, one could learn a thing or two from the Scandinavians' way of life.

- Donnelly, Marian Card. Architecture in the Scandinavian countries. Mit Press, 1992.

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Last review and update: August 27, 2018

About the Author

Patty Benjabutr is an interior design enthusiast. She loves to write about actionable home decor knowledge because she believes interior design content is something much more than a collection of beautiful photos. You can contact Patty via e-mail.