How to Master Trendy Scandinavian Style

Interior Design >

A few year ago, the literary and cinematic success of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" sparked immense interest in the people and color of the Svandinavian Peninsula, building on America's recent obsession with all things Scandi. 

But while the film’s themes are dark, Scandinavian design is anything but. Characterized by clean lines, soothing color schemes and airy spaces suffused with light, the Scandinavian aesthetic is taking hold in America as the trend in residential design moves toward simple elegance.

Low-cost mass production is another Scandinavian specialty, which helps explain its popularity of late. “Scandinavian design is meant to be very functional and accessible. It’s been called ‘democratic design’ — it’s not something only the rich can afford,” says Janice Simonsen, a Philadelphia-based IKEA spokesperson and lead writer for the blog “Design by IKEA.”

The Scandinavian color palette is straightforward, consisting mostly of grays, whites, beiges, pale blues and “shots of red as an accent to prevent it from being too dull,” Simonsen says.

Unlike some modern pieces, which can look cold and uninviting if arranged by inexpert hands, Scandinavian-inspired elements are easy to pull together to achieve the expected results.

“It’s not complicated. A lot of people who think they have just a general idea of Scandinavian design are dead on — all the stereotypes are applicable,” says architect Sven Neumann, owner of Gallery L7, a Los Angeles shop specializing in vintage European lighting, furniture and accessories.

Those unmistakable hallmarks are simplicity, minimalism, functionality, and sustainability. “The philosophy of Scandinavian design is that it’s functional, it’s practical and you only use what you need in terms of materials,” Simonsen says.

Scandinavian design is inspired by nature. It captures and reflects natural lighting however it can because it hails from an area in Northern Europe where an “endless winter” invokes people to “pile on the animal skins and woolens” and “load up on candles,” writes Heather Smith MacIsaac in her book “Lars Bolander’s Scandinavian Design” (Vendome Press, 2010), a celebration of one of Sweden’s best-known designers. 

Indeed, Scandinavian design “might be very stripped-down, but there’s always something warm and fuzzy on the furniture or floor,” Simonsen adds.

Window treatments are minimal; light fixtures and candle holders, though unfussy, rise to the level of art; and wood tones (birch, beech, rosewood, teak) have a “light-catching quality” for added warmth, MacIsaac writes.

Entering into a relationship with Scandinavian style is not an all-or-nothing proposition. It’s easy to incorporate elements into an existing design.  

“You can always add a couple of iconic pieces like a side table or chair,” Simonsen suggests.

IKEA offers the POANG chair ($69 and up), made from layer-glued bentwood and available in “very typical Scandinavian textiles,” she says, including wool-like upholstery or a leafy print.

The chair was inspired by Finnish architect Alvar Aalto’s 1935 armchair by Artek, now a collector’s item. Gallery L7 recently came by one with the original finish and yellow-green upholstery and is offering it for $3,800.

In the middle in terms of price, Room & Board bills its Hans Wegner Wishbone chair (starting at $849) as one the Danish modernist’s “most identifiable designs.”

For those looking to pare down without parting ways with a preferred style, it’s easy to embrace both the Scandinavian aesthetic along with modern or traditional elements.

“If you like a contemporary, minimalist look, you can incorporate Scandinavian design without it looking cold,” Simonsen says. “If you like a more traditional type of look, you might find that ‘Scandinavian country’ is a look that’s very easy to incorporate.”

Whitewash, patchwork, and natural fabrics with simple checks or sprigged florals are Scandinavian country hallmarks.

The ubiquity of IKEA on the one hand and the collectability of original pieces on the other — rare Finn Juhl chairs sell for tens of thousands of dollars — demonstrate the broad appeal of Scandinavian design. Perhaps more important, Scandinavian design stands the test of time. As evidenced by their mass-produced lookalikes, original designs from 70 years ago seem as fresh and modern today as they did back then.

Tags: Scandanavian, Danish, modern, trend