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So, what actually is Scandinavian design?

What are the characteristics of Scandinavian design?

For those of us who like to spend our free time perusing Pinterest and interior design Instagram accounts, endlessly mood boarding our next interior design choices, then you've probably heard of something called Scandinavian design. Maybe the extent of your knowledge is your local IKEA's showroom, or maybe you're already a bonafide fan of the design genre – but either way you're certain to have come across the ubiquitous design style in your day-to-day life.

To get you familiar, we've rounded up all the characteristics and things you need to know about the Scandinavian design style, below.


What are the elements of Scandinavian design?


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The most common characteristics of Scandinavian design are simplicity, functionality, natural materials (like woods, leathers, wools and linens) and a focus on craftsmanship.

Other elements of the style include:

  • clean lines
  • understated design
  • light and natural colour schemes
  • light wood furnishings (like beech, pine, oak and ash)
  • natural textiles (like jute rugs and linen blinds)
  • brass and copper accents
  • focal artworks
  • statement lighting and lamps
  • greenery inside the home (like hanging pot plants).


What is Scandinavian design inspired by?


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The style is largely influenced by the Nordic region's cold and short winter days – which created a desire for cosy and bright interiors. Scandinavian style has a long history, traditionally marked by simple designs, clean lines, bright whites and natural wood tones, as well as colour-washed furnishings and folk ornamentation. It can be characterised as clean and minimalist.


How did Scandinavian design begin?

The design aesthetic emerged in the early 20th century in the Nordic region – countries including Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Iceland. Denmark was the centre of the movement, in particular, the Danish architect and furniture designer Kaare Klint, who headed up the furniture school at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. Klint is often referred to as the “father of Scandinavian design.”

From the 1930s, designer like Alvar Aalto, Arne Jacobsen, Hans J. Wegner and Verner Panton helped to bring about a golden age of Scandinavian design. By the 1950s it was known around the world.

Despite its long history, the style has seen a renewed spike in interest in the 2010s through the dominance of multination furniture companies like IKEA.


What makes Scandinavian design good?

The underlying philosophy or ethos of Scandinavian design lies here: a 'Less is more' approach that emphasises the important of combining beauty and functionality in design. As a result, there's a real focus on quality and craftsmanship in much of Scandinavian design, and of course, a prioritisation of sustainability in design.


Is Scandinavian design timeless?

Considering it's been around for much of the last hundred years, it's pretty safe to say that Scandinavian design is timeless. The style's focus on light, airy spaces and simplicity, functionality and minimalism make for inviting and comfortable spaces that will likely be embraced by design lovers for decades (or perhaps even centuries) more to come.


How can I achieve the aesthetic?


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There are a couple of easy design choices you can make to achieve a Scandinavian-inspired interior in your own home:


1. Keep the walls light:

Scandi interiors are all about keeping things light and bright inside (to combat those dark and overcast winter days). Painting your walls a light, neutral colour is a great base for your Scandinavian-inspired interior design.


2. Source a statement lamp:

A good statement lamp – be in a floor lamp, table light or wall sconce – is a great way to add some Scandi flair (and a point of interest) to your spaces. We suggest investing in a warm-toned lightbulb to keep your space feeling cosy throughout the evenings.


3. Look for wood furnishings:

Natural materials are at the core of the Scandi style, so investing in some wood furnishings – like dining chairs, coffee tables or book shelves – is a great way to ground your space. Look for light woods – like beech, pine, oak and ash – that won't make your space feel dark or cluttered.


4. Pare back your decor:

Minimalism and simplicity are two philosophies at the heart of Scandinavian design, so it's a great idea to declutter your space, or find ways to hide the clutter from view. Invest in multifunctional storage ideas, or floating shelving to keep the floor space looking tidy.


Where can I shop for Scandinavian design?

1. HAY Shop

Located in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and online, HAY is a Danish furniture and homewares store, perfect for achieving that distinctly Scandinavian flavour. Their block-colour stackable crates are a fun way to incorporate storage into your spaces, and their range of whimsical lamps and pendant lights are a fun way to add colour and personality to your space.


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2. Marimekko

Finnish house design is at the core of what Marimekko do – brightening up your home through colourful prints and timeless homewares for the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and living room. They have multiple Australian retail locations and stockists, or you can purchase from them online.


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3. Cozoni 

Furniture store Cozoni are lovers of simple, clean lines, geometric angles, and timeless modern design. We'd sink our teeth into their selection of fun and colourful stools, curved wooden dining chairs and plush leather and upholstered sofas. These guys are online only, so you'll have to check their range out exclusively on their website.


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An obvious choice, but what kind of roundup would this be without mentioning the Scandi design juggernaut that is IKEA. There's one located in most major cities in Australia, or you can get just about anything shipped to your door. They're cheap, they're accessible and who doesn't love spending an afternoon getting lost in their walk-through showrooms, or scoffing down a plate of Swedish meatballs.


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5. Finnish Design Shop

If you're after the real-deal Danish, Finnish and other Nordic-designed furnishings for your space, then Finnish Design Shop is the go. They stock just about all the big players in cool, modern design – from Panton to Kartell – and often have sales that make some of those investment pieces just a little more accessible.


For more inspiration, see our list of Scandinavian interior Instagram accounts to follow.


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Cover images: one, two.