Thinking of traveling abroad to learn about Scandinavian style? We can save you the airfare. Here’s what you should know about Scandinavian design.
You love the meatballs from Ikea. Your dream vacation spot is an ice hotel. You love cozy and minimal interiors. If all of these things are true, then you might be a fan of Scandinavian style. Let’s explore the stylistic elements of true Nordic style as we unpack the history, ideas, coziness, and functionality of Scandinavian style.
We’ll also give you some tips on how you can add Scandinavian home style to your space without assembling your own furniture with tiny hex tools.
The story of Scandinavian style starts in the mid-19th century. Between World Wars, the countries that make up Scandinavia produced designers who were inspired by modernity and innovation. They created designs that, while practical, were not devoid of aesthetics.
At the same time, in the United States, the mid-century modern style movement was emerging. Different yet similar, this style, too, focused on both function and form, retaining a minimalist feel that was similar to the Scandinavian-based designers’ ideas.
Even so, it wasn’t until 2017 that the style was mass-consumed by Americans and became a staple of design inspiration for living rooms, bedrooms, and other living spaces. The popularity of large-scale Scandinavian decor stores has made honing the design principles of this style more accessible.
Simplicity and comfort reign supreme in a style that gets its cues from the homes in Nordic countries:
The cultures in these countries believe in intention and practicality but never in a design style that feels cold or unapproachable. One of the most important elements of Scandinavian style is its focus on locally grown, produced, and crafted elements. The natural materials that give this style its neutral color palette and help invite the outdoors in are traditional, especially in the Danish hygge (pronounced HOO-gah) style.
Hygge is the pursuit of coziness (sign us up). It makes sense that some of the coldest countries with the longest winters were the ones to develop these decor ideas that naturally keep you feeling comfortable and your interiors inviting.
In addition to natural elements, certain other features give Nordic design its attractive simplicity and oh-so-cozy-from-our-heads-to-our-toesies vibes.
The coffee table shows off practical decor, holds games or books, and doubles as a quick spot for dinner. The wardrobe has space for storage of next season’s attire. The light fixtures mimic the natural light of the sun so that during cold, dark winters, the interior feels warm.
Elements of style that are practical and useful are foundational to Scandinavian style. You won’t find unnecessary tchotchkes or uncomfortable, impractical sofas in homes located in Scandinavian countries. As such, you won’t incorporate them into this style, regardless of your location.
From wall art to the natural wood floors, you’ll appreciate the clean lines of Scandinavian style. While ornate filigrees may be appropriate for some design styles, they're intentionally missing from the minimalism of Scandinavian style.
Scandinavian furniture, in particular, is crafted with straight, neat lines and outfitted in low-profile finishes that give understated charm to any space. Like modern furniture, these pieces are created to serve a purpose, focusing on craftsmanship instead of flourishes. Basically, think of the Palace of Versailles’s 100,000 gold leaves and then do the opposite of that.
One of the most desirable elements of Scandinavian style is its ability to bring the outdoors in. Fresh greenery gives a refreshing pop of color to a neutral color scheme — hello, plant wall. Go for textiles like faux sheepskin or mohair on your couch or bedding.
The muse of Scandinavian designers has always been nature, and we think they’re definitely on to something.
One of the most surprising elements of Scandinavian style is its focus on lighting. Due to the many months of long, dark winters, you’ll find that a main focus of Scandinavian style is on creating the look and feel of sunlight inside the home.
Although everyone can appreciate the cost savings of energy-efficient LED light bulbs, to truly capture the elements of Scandi-style, you’ll want to opt for bulbs that provide a warm, saffron glow. If you have access to large windows, uncover them. Trade out your room darkening curtains for light, ethereal drapes that allow for the maximum amount of natural light.
If Danish hygge style encompasses all things cozy, then Swedish “mys” style takes it to the next level. Hyper-focusing on ultra-comfortable elements, you’ll find it ripe with soft throw pillows, snuggly throw blankets, and fabrics that beg to be touched.
Before you think this sounds a lot like farmhouse style, remember that some styles have overlapping elements. While both farmhouse and Scandinavian style focus on comfort and functionality, Scandinavian is much more minimalist. It doesn’t feature the galvanization of (basically) everything you find in some farmhouse homes.
It’s sometimes impossible to decide on a color scheme, but choosing Scandinavian style makes it easy. Your color palette will be neutral and include a range of light colors that blend perfectly from room to room.
Anything but boring, neutral colors make for a calming home space that helps you feel relaxed and never forces you into a corner in terms of wall paint colors. Undecided about your walls? Leave them painted white.
You want the look of a minimal, functional, cozy design but without the trip to that big box store. We’ve got you covered. No matter your current design style, we’ve got a few easy ways to bring the look and feel of Scandinavian style to your home decor.
One of the founding ideas of Scandinavian design is natural lighting. You can’t do much to bring in additional light in a room with small windows or windows that face foliage or other obstruction, but you can maximize the light you do have and create light where it is needed.
Start by removing blinds and heavy curtains, cleaning windows, and removing screens. Clearing your windows will allow the most natural light inside. Instead of curtains, opt for sheer panels or no window coverings at all.
To add natural light, consider switching out your fluorescent bulbs for natural, warm light bulbs. Your room will instantly gain a warm, inviting feel and lose any semblance of an office aesthetic.
Take a look around your home. If you just came out of your gem-tones era, you might be surrounded by brightly colored accent walls or entire rooms painted in bright colors. To harness a more Scandinavian style, repaint the walls with a neutral shade of white, cream, or beige. The lighter you go, the lighter the feel of the room.
Avoid stark or bright white walls, which can give a cold, clinical feel to a room that is the opposite of charming and inviting. It’s also fun to experiment with shades of neutral colors, which can add depth to rooms and make them feel more comfortable.
Everyone has a collection of figurines that’s been passed down from loved ones or perhaps given to them to signify an important life event, like marriage or graduation. Sometimes we find ourselves hanging on to items we don’t love simply because we feel guilty about getting rid of them.
If you need permission to let go of items that no longer serve you, here it is. Eliminating excess is foundational to modern design, and it’s the perfect way to elevate your space with Scandinavian design principles.
These days, buying furniture sets is less popular than choosing intentionally created pieces that are well-made and long-lasting. Instead of buying a five-piece bedroom set, opt for handcrafted pieces that complement one another and offer simple practicality.
The bonus of buying Scandinavian style furniture is that it is designed to last for decades. You’ll upgrade your furnishings while updating your style, a move that is very “I have my stuff together” and very on-trend.
Think neutral, always, with Scandinavian style. When color is in question, the answer is never bright jewel tones. Many people find this neutral color palette much easier to work with than other design styles because it’s very hard to mess it up.
When choosing accent colors, you’ll almost always look for darker shades of the neutral colors you already have in your home. For extra pops of color, living plants perfectly accompany your style. Or, if your green thumb is responsible for the untimely deaths of a few succulents, decorate with small notes of muted greens (think throw pillows or area rugs).
Scandinavian style is inspired by nature. If you see it naturally occurring outside, try it inside.
It’s easy to go overboard on anything, even minimalist styles. Here’s how to avoid common styling mistakes and ensure your Scandinavian style cues are authentic.
Yes, white is a neutral and foundational color in your neutral style color palette, but overuse of white creates a sterile look that is anything but Scandinavian in style. Avoid using one shade of white or only decorating with white.
Instead, bring in creams, browns, some green, wood colors, and even gold.
Wood (especially wood furniture) naturally lends itself to the Nordic style. However, natural fibers like jute, faux animal skin, cotton, marble, granite, and metals are also naturally occurring and can easily fit into a Scandinavian-styled home. Limiting yourself to wood only can create a cabin-like feel, which, although arguably cozy, may not work for your particular home style.
There’s minimalism, and then there’s large spaces that look like they need a rug or a piece of furniture. Embracing minimalist design doesn’t mean you can never have a spare throw pillow on your sofa or are limited to countertops that are completely barren.
The idea with Scandinavian minimalism is to ensure that the pieces you do keep are intentional and functional. For instance, a decorative centerpiece for your dining table might consist of a large bowl filled with fruit or a set of heirloom candlesticks to help bring light to your evening meal.
Part of Scandinavian design is adding elements of nature that surround you. If you live in the northeast, this could mean adding elements of green pine or the warm, faded color of a red maple in your space.
On the coasts, add touches of pastel blue and the crisp color of tan sand dunes to your space. Whatever you see outside, find a way to bring it inside, and be true to your environment. You’ll capture the essence of Scandinavian style without a single trip overseas (though you should totally take one for “research” as you raise a glass in Stockholm’s ICEBAR).
Not sure what your personal style is? We’ve got an entire article about learning how to define your style and make it exclusively your own. If you want something quicker, take our free interior design style quiz.
Photo Credit (Left): IMPRINT HOUSE
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