Design Style 101: Scandinavian

Dala horses in a Scandinavian dining spaceabove: House & Home via Bright Bazaar

If you've been on the internet lately, you'll know that Scandinavian design is having a moment. And it's easy to see why! Traditional Scandinavian style is simple, clean, cheerful, and very achievable for basically any budget. When you think about this style, usually lots of white springs to mind, but the reality is that Scandinavian design can also have lots of vibrant color and fun patterns.

Rustic Scandinavian dining roomabove: promotional image from retailer Gudruns Joden / below: Sandra Freij

Marimekko covered sofaSCANDINAVIAN PATTERNS

The patterns you'll find in traditional Scandinavian designs are typically simple, botanical illustrations in a symmetrical style. Animals are also common themes, such as the traditional dala horse (as seen in top image), most commonly seen in a poppy red hue. Modern Scandinavian patterns usually have bold colors and graphic, high contrast styles, like the oversize prints and patterns from the Finnish company Marimekko. (above sofa upholstered in Marimekko fabric)

Marimekko patternsabove: Marimekko fabric

Marimekko and Josef Frank patterns in interiorsabove: unknown with Marimekko wallpaper / unknown via homedit

A favorite Scandinavian designer is Austrian born Josef Frank whose patterns exhibited the folk-style traditional to Scandinavian style, but with a mod flair. You can purchase Josef Frank wallpaper and fabric for your home these days, but be ready to pay a pretty penny! Sometimes just investing in a yard or two will give you the perfect pop of pattern in a pillow or chair cover.

Josef Frank wallpaper in a kitchenabove: La Maison d' Anna G. / below: Josef Frank prints available from Svenskt

Josef Frank patterns traditional Scandinavian kitchensabove: Anna Kern for Svenska Dagblaet / Sweet Paul Issue 2

Dutch bedroom and hallwayabove: House to Home / image from the book Scandinavian Design by Lars Bolander

Scandinavian style has a long history, traditionally marked by simplicity, bright whites, natural wood tones, folk style ornamentation, and color washed furnishings and trims. Hues of medium blues, bright reds, and pleasant greens, pinks, and yellows are common throughout Scandinavian design. In old Dutch homes, folks used to build their beds into warm, closet-like spaces, and to save space, would hang spindle-backed chairs on the walls when they weren't being used. The modern version of Dutch and Scandinavian design isn't always about efficiency and space-saving solutions, though it is still both practical and beautiful. A lot of modern, Scandinavian-style homes showcase a mix of the traditional style of almost rustic simplicity alongside the sleek designs of forward-thinking designers who emerged in the 20th Century.

   Classic Scandinavian pieces for modern interiorsSCANDINAVIAN MODERN CLASSICS

A lot of iconic modern designs came from Scandinavian designers in the 1900s, and above you'll see some of the most popular pieces. 

1. Wishbone chair by Hans J. Wegner (knock-off linked to down below)
2. Panthella lamp by Verner Panton
3. Artek stool by Alvar Aalto (knock-off available at Ikea)
4. Egg chair by Arne Jacobsen
5. PH5 hanging lamp by Poul Henningsen
6. Tulip side table by Eero Saarinen (knock-off linked to down below) 

Happy Scandinavian living room interiorsabove: Better Homes and Gardens/ flodeau

How to get the Scandinavian lookGET THE LOOK

Want to add some Scandinavian style to your home but don't know where to begin? These things are a great start, and are pretty affordable too!

1. Bentwood pendant light
2. Flip clock (knock-off of the Karlsson Big Flip clock)
3. Marimekko teapot
4. Candle holder
5. Marimekko cereal bowl
6. Mongolian fur pillow
7. Panton floor lamp
8. Tulip side table
9. Wishbone chair
10. Grid pillow cover
11. Dala horse ornaments

Scandinavian dining room and bedroomabove: House & Home / Anna Kern for Svenska Dagblaet

Simple Scandinavian dining room with lots of white and touches of green and blackabove: Nordic Days

STYLE TIPS

Paring down the color palette in your home and utilizing pops of color amidst a more neutral background is a great way to get the Scandinavian look if you can't really afford to do much redecorating. Instead of dark wood tones, try natural wood colors or painted wood instead. Combine sleek modern pieces like the iconic Panton chair with soft, rustic elements for the effortlessly chic looks shown here. Or it might be easier for you to find an old spindle-back chair and paint it a glossy black for a touch of Scandinavian charm. A classic windsor alongside streamlined pieces (think Ikea if your budget is anything like mine!) is a look that works wonders.

Feminine Scandinavian interior styleabove: Real Living / Martha Stewart / below: Dust Jacket

Modern Scandinavian kitchen in blue and whiteIf in doubt about how to go Nordic, your best bet is to just keep it simple! There is always elegance in simplicity, and I think that's really what we all love about Scandinavian style. –Mandi

Credits // Author: Mandi Johnson. Images: Noted individually.

  • I love this series! So glad I checked in to read this on a Friday afternoon. So pretty! Such a a treat to read!

  • Oh Mandi, how I love your design taste and knowledge! This series of yours is simply amazing. I can imagine how much work you have to put into an article like this so I just want to let you know that it is greatly appreciated!:) Natalie

  • So interesting to see what other consider to be Scandinavian style.

    You won’t find any of those colorful patterns in my home – nor my friends. I think in our corner of Scandinavia, white, grey, black, beige and pale wood are most common colors used in home decor.

    But I would like to invest in the egg chair someday.

    Greetings from Denmark

  • Good post, but Finland is not a Scandinavian country. 🙂 Just a small tip. 😉

  • I’m one of your Danish readers, maybe the only one? It so nice to see a post featuring scandinavian style from your perspective, and I really like it! And I’m also a sucker for the scandinavian style – and I got a bit flattered to see danish design in the post 😉

  • I love to see my home country Finland featured here – but please just don’t promote cheap copies of classics like the Ikea made Alvar Aalto stool. I am so against direct copies of design classics – they should always be original. I do however like Ikea, but only for products that are not directly copying classics. Just a note.

  • Hi, nice to see you include Scandinavian design. I’m a Swedish girl, with Danish parents, and I’m currently living in the Netherlands with my Dutch fiancé.
    I have to correct you on a few things;
    – Finland is not Scandinavia, the correct therm is the Nordics.
    – The retail designer (from Sweden) is Gudrun Sjöden, not Gudruns Jodin.
    – The newspaper you quoted twice is Svenska Dagbladet, not Svenska Dagblaet.
    – To all of the sudden start talking about Dutch design and beds makes no sense as their way of design and styling is completely different from the Scandinavian design and isn’t even a Scandinavian, or Nordic, country. Dutch design and style barely have any similarities to that of the Scandinavian home.
    – I wish you had maybe focused a bit on the differences between the Scandinavian countries as the style and design is very different in Sweden and in Denmark too, in an interesting way. They do class under the same design style though, but it’s still interesting since for instance a lot of the famous 50s style furniture come from Danish designers.

  • Oh so fun to see how other people look on the scandinavian culture. I feel so proud over Sweden now. I would just say that birch is probably the most common wood we use in interior design and ib the 70s was pine which seems to get a small revival. I get alot of inspiration from Sundborn myself. Ps. Finland is not scandinavian, nordic would be a better word

  • Thanks for sharing this post about Nordic design. I just love this style and with Swedish and Norwegian heritage this has always had such a familial affinity. My work is very much inspired from the simplicity and design of home and Nordic art. Thank you so sharing!

  • great article! what a joy to read and look at all these beautiful images! I love scandinavian design!

  • Yes, the Nordic countries (“Norden”) comprise of Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark and Iceland. Scandinavia is Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

    Thanks for featuring us!

  • I love that you’ve included bold colours as well! Being a Scandinavian, I’m always annoyed when I hear people say you need to go all white to achieve the Scandi style. A glimpse into historical archives and you quickly realise the typical Scandinavian interior is actually full of bold colours and brave patterns. Thanks for sharing!!

  • I’m from Sweden and I had no idea that scandinavian design was a thing at the moment. Or that it could look this nice. I am from dalarna and wisited the place where they make the dala horses a few time as a kid. I love marimekko too but have seen it like a bit old lookin. But these pictures are great and makes me see scandinavian design in a whole new light. <3

  • i’m an american expat living in finland this was a lovely post.
    marimekko is so much fun isn’t it!

    scandinavian design can be very modern and quite stark or earthy, rustic and warm so i’m so glad you showed examples of all.
    i used to be put off by scandi design because i only knew people with the modern stark look and that’s not for me personally.

    we’ve been renovating our flat in helsinki for 5 yrs now.
    we’ve been fighting over the flooring the whole time. we have engineered wood flooring that has went that 80’s oakie orangey color (so shitty) at that point it was either rip it out and replace or live with it. 5 yrs was enough!

    my husband was gone for work for 2 weeks so made a decision and painted the floor!!! SURPRISE! hahahaaaa
    it is fabulous! i’m thrilled and my husband was ecstatic. phewwww!
    it was that last thing that tied all our hard work together for such little money.
    for sure painted floors are so very scandi-nordic.

    *’nordic design’ is the politically correct term for finland but it’s lumped into scandinavian so much that i’ve heard finns even refer to finland as scandinavia. shugs.

  • I’ve really been loving modern/scandinavian furniture so much more over the last few years. Those wallpapers you picked were gorgeous, and I love all the clean lines.

  • I see that a few others have already pointed out the fact the Finland is not a Scandinavian country, but a Nordic country – so let me just say that I like your take on our traditional home decor! I’ve always liked the bright and clean, yet patterned and playful style of my native Norway and the countries that surround it. How fun to see it featured here!
    Also: Happy November! Thank you for all the inspiration!

  • Yes 🙂 Nordic countries include Finland and Iceland. Scandinavian only Sweden, Denmark and Norway. I didn’t know the difference until I moved to Finland. 😀