fritz hansen header.jpg
Industry insights

5 Lessons We Can Learn From Scandinavian Design

February is an exciting month in the world of Scandinavian design. If you’re heading out to experience Stockholm Design Week and the Furniture and Light Fair, you’ll no doubt be on the look-out for new trends, products and innovations from the most forward-thinking region in Europe.

Emerging from a post-war era, the Scandinavian founders of Modernism were well and truly making names for themselves creating solutions for a new world, where design was simplistic, functional and most importantly for everyone.

Designers such as Alvar Aalto, Hans J Wegner, Arne Jacobsen and my personal favourite Børge Mogensen continue to influence the way we utilise our homes with many of their designs still in production today - take a look at the Wishbone chair and the Stool 60 for example. With signature clean lines and simple forms, it’s hardly surprising then that its versatility continues to lend itself so well to other styles, be it Japanese Wabi-Sabi, Bohemian or eclectic.

So what lessons can we learn from Scandinavian design that we can translate into our own projects and at home? I’ve highlighted five key pointers that just scratch the surface of this rich design heritage…

Considered, Functional Rooms

There’s something effortless about the look of minimalist, clutter-free interiors. If there’s one thing the Scandinavians know how to do well it’s utilising space, using great design to enhance quality of living. Often overlooked in British homes, storage is key for a visually soothing and functional living space.

Built-in shelving painted the same colour as the walls gives an interior a seamless flow with a few carefully curated treasures on display. Wall mounted cupboards keep bulk off the floor to extend that feeling of space and customisable open units provide a home for carefully organised books and magazines. A new, flatter style of shelf like Muuto’s powder-coated ‘Folded’ design encourages you to organise regularly used items in the kitchen, home office or bathroom without taking up a large footprint.

Folded green shelf by Muuto
Kaari shelf and desk by Artek
Folded green shelf by Muuto
Kaari shelf and desk by Artek

With many living in small scale apartments, rooms are often multi-functional, perhaps with the kitchen doubling up as a small dining room and the living room as a workspace. Artek’s Kaari wall shelf with desk is a perfect example of integrated furniture, designed to be adapted for use.

The Swedish word ‘lagom’, roughly translated as ‘just enough’ aptly describes how homes are left with room to breathe, resisting the urge to fill every available space with something. You might find select groupings of artwork or a large scale mirror but on the whole, negative space is used to give way to a more harmonious and balanced interior.

Invest In Quality Craftsmanship

A well lived in look of blending old, inherited furniture with the new, contemporary models sum up the Scandinavian style perfectly.

Thanks to the considered, ethical design processes that go into producing furniture, it’s easy to find timeless pieces that mature with their surroundings.

Choosing the ‘quality over quantity’ approach over fast and throwaway culture, furniture is chosen for its endurance. It might need the odd repair due to wear and tear over the years but ultimately its ability to transcend generations makes for a good, solid investment. Designs that, despite being introduced some 60 years ago are still being celebrated and reissued today.

Frederica Spanish Chair. Image by Tiffany Grant-Riley
Frederica Spanish Chair. Image by Tiffany Grant-Riley

Showing the hallmarks of true craftsmanship, classic pieces such as Borge Mogensen’s Spanish Chair have been revived by Fredericia in different finishes and colour-ways to appeal to a 21st Century market. The olive green leather edition introduced late in 2018 for two month period celebrate the chair’s 60th anniversary.

Light oak and birch shows no sign of diminishing in popularity following the heavy use of darker woods like walnut and teak in the 1950s and 60s. Not to say that it won’t enjoy a revival though as we begin to see ‘brown furniture’ emerge once more.

Enhance The Light

Scandinavians are masters in making the most of the light. There’s a reason why candles are a must have in any home. With limited day light hours during the winter months, every surface is used to bounce as much around as possible. Walls tend to be painted in a lighter palette of white or grey, perhaps opting for moodier shades if fully embracing the low light and floorboards are left exposed, covered with one or two large scale rugs to provide comfort and warmth. Windows are more or less bare, save for a thin voile for privacy if feeling exposed.

Flexible lighting achieved by layering floor and table lamps provide ambiance and can be moved around in favour of the static ceiling light which might instead provide greater use extended into a corner to hang above an occasional table. A popular look, organic, globe shaped lamps made from blown glass can be grouped together as a statement above the dining table or hung singly in a hallway. To continue the sense of space, designs have slender forms with metal struts - take a look at ‘Harrison’, designed for Menu as part of the Tribeca series.

Use of slightly opaque shades of paper or slatted wood give a sculptural appearance, directing and diffusing the light accordingly.

'Harrison' light by Menu for their Tribeca Collection.
'Harrison' light by Menu for their Tribeca Collection.

Tactility

I’m not one to jump on a bandwagon, but I’m afraid I’m going to use the word ‘hygge’ here. Yes. You might be sick to the back teeth of hearing it, but that ‘hyggelig’ feeling of comfort and connection are the foundation of any Scandinavian home. The antidote to the harsh winter landscapes, home is a sanctuary to feel cocooned in.

Fritz Hansen Objects Collection.
Fritz Hansen Objects Collection.

A refined and pared back interior highlights the quality of the furniture, drawing inspiration from organic forms and materials in nature. Introducing a range of textures in a neutral setting adds depth and dimension to that.

Warm wood flooring underfoot meets thick looped, woven wool rugs. Natural fibres such as linen and bamboo create a connection to the outdoors whilst contrasting smooth marble and coloured glass exudes understated luxury.

Sheepskins are draped across dining chairs, a well worn leather armchair sits in the corner and throws await a good evening’s worth of sofa lounging.

New translations of objet d’art, of which artist Kristina Dam has some beautiful examples, encourage touch. Crafted from a variety of tactile mediums, be it turned wood, smoothly sculpted marble or small mirrored shapes, these little treasures celebrate simple forms.

Kristina Dam Studio 'Mirror Table and Wooden Sphere.
Kristina Dam Studio 'Mirror Table and Wooden Sphere.

Responsible Sustainability

At a time in which society is facing environmental turmoil, the subject of sustainability couldn’t be more relevant. Far from using it as a buzzword to boost sales, many Scandinavian brands have had eco-conscious values and highly detailed sustainability processes built into their businesses from day one. From using FSC forests for wood supply, to reducing wastage and monitoring the impact of production on the locality, the Scandinavian countries have been leading the way for years. Many have built in CSR (corporate social responsibility) regulations which they comply to in order to monitor and adjust their practices. Another great way to spot an environmentally sound brand is to look for the Nordic Swan Eco label which is only awarded to companies who fulfil rigid environmental criteria.

Design House Stockholm 'Air Sideboard'.
Design House Stockholm 'Air Sideboard'.

The revival of cane seated furniture has supported the continuation of Danish wicker craft and leather upholstery produced by traditional vegetable tanneries like Sørensen and Tärnsjö Garveri continue their high quality, handcrafted methods which set machine, chemically processed hides at a lower grade.

Other sustainable materials such as cork are given a new take on its 1970s popularity - Swedish Ninja’s Notebook Bench designed by Maria Gustavsson with its bright flecked cork seat is a great example. Once considered a low cost construction material, plywood furniture is continually reinterpreted as high end thanks to modern finishes such as matt lacquered surfaces. New, recycled materials as seen in Muuto’s Fibre chair (a mix of 25% wood fibre with plastic) pave the way for innovative, conscious design.

'Notebook Bench' by Swedish Ninja.
Muuto 'Fibre Chair'.
'Notebook Bench' by Swedish Ninja.
Muuto 'Fibre Chair'.

The influence of Scandinavian design is far-reaching and whilst the simplistic, minimal style isn’t suited to everyone, it’s foundations built on honest, slow design built for life is an ethos that can be applied to any project or home environment.

Tell me more about Curate and Display

c+dlogo.jpg
tiffany photo.jpg

Tiffany Grant-Riley is a freelance interior stylist, design writer and blogger based in Chatham, Kent. Established in 2014, her blog Curate and Display is a destination for minimalist, Nordic design and the slow living lifestyle. Combining her experience as a former stage manager and editorial stylist, Tiff is slowly renovating her Edwardian terraced home, blending contemporary style with original features. Her style is pared back Nordic with a muted colour palette and a shot of black.

Her work has been featured in various publications including Stylist Magazine, BBC Homes & Antiques, 91 Magazine and popular Dutch interiors magazine, VTWonen.

With over 6,000 products from Scandinavia available on eporta, there is no better time to discover great Nordic design for your project.

More from Industry insights
Headshot of Scarlett.jpg
Industry insights
Paving the way to Modernism
Modernism Thumbnail.jpg
Industry insights
The Fundamentals of Modernist Design
Ibride stand at Maison&Objet 2019, the full spectrum of orange.
Industry insights
Eight takeaways from Maison&Objet 2019
More epic reads
Thumbnail Diary
Edits
2019 Dates for the Diary
Kia workstations.jpg
Interviews
The technicolour dream! Kia Stanford's first steps into workplace design.
eporta thumbnail.jpg
Interviews
A world away from bland