What Is Scandinavian Design?

Spruce floorplan by Pacific Lifestyle Homes in Vancouver, Wa,

Spruce floorplan by Pacific Lifestyle Homes in Vancouver, Wa,

There is so much more to Scandinavian decor than what you’ve learned from IKEA. Scandinavian or Nordic style usually refers to the minimalist design approach that came out of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden starting in the 1930s. 

Like all great design styles, Scandinavian interior design goes far beyond color schemes and picking the right furniture. Rather, it stems from a philosophy, a way of life. Major principles that drive Scandinavian design include the following: 

Functionality
Simplicity
Harmony with the natural world
Sustainability — things are meant to last, not be replaced
Finding balance
Living unencumbered or clutter-free

Nordic living and thus, Nordic design, is about the balance between beauty, calmness and livability. It embraces the clean, the simple and the functional in a way that also reflects and respects the natural environment. The look is high quality, yet accessible and affordable. Scandinavian design is anything but opulent.

Liesel Rickert, a sales associate at Chilton Furniture in Freeport and Scarborough, Maine, says of Scandinavian design: “More value is placed on the memories of friendship and laughter developed in a space, rather than the ornateness of the space itself.”

How to Do Scandinavian Design in the Home 

The Swedish word lagom means “just the right amount” and it captures the Scandinavian design approach perfectly. How does this principle make its way from your mind to your living room? These five tips include perennial approaches as well as some newer trends.

Neutral with Pops of Color

Scandinavian spaces are notoriously white-washed. But you’ll also see monochromatic and neutral schemes that include shades of gray, black, tan or unfinished light wood grain. 

You can add color to a blank space with framed prints or a graphic poster. Blue is the new favorite for adding bursts of color.

Natural Lighting

Natural lighting takes center stage in Scandinavian design. Those northerners are all about bringing the natural world indoors (and taking advantage of the sun when possible). Use large picture windows, floor to ceiling windows or sliding doors to bring more light in. 

When it comes to non-organic lighting, hanging lights and string lights are a great way to add coziness to your space. All kinds of pendant lights are welcome in your Scandinavian living and dining rooms, bedrooms or kitchen. Don’t make the mistake of thinking Nordic interiors must be sterile. Lighting is the perfect way to infuse a bit of whimsy and charm.

Clean and Simple Furnishings

Remember, it’s all about balance. Rustic or unfinished wood furnishings create simplicity, while soft, buttery leather invites you to relax. Worn leather and vegan leather are also showing up more recently. High quality is paramount, as Scandinavian style embraces things that will last (sorry IKEA). A classic Eames chair and a good leather sofa will get your Scandinavian living room off to a great start. 

Storage-as-decor is a perfectly Scandinavian way of “finding balance.” Some fun examples include a ladder-turned-bookshelf, exposed garment racks and open or floating kitchen shelving. 

Cozy and Warm Textures

To create a serene environment, you can bring in some wooly sheepskin throws, chunky knit pillows or a few fuzzy blankets. Light some candles and don’t forget the hot cocoa. For lighter fabrics, think soft linen or organic cotton.

Natural Elements

The Scandinavian style also focuses on adding a nature-inspired element to every space. Natural materials like stone, leather, hemp and wood bring the outside world into your home. Plants, faux feathers and wave motifs are great for accents, and recently, scallop or fish scale tile is making an appearance in Scandinavian-style bathrooms. 

Rebecca Rosenberg is an international digital media consultant and freelance writer.

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