LESS IS MORE
Simplicity and function are the guiding principles that have shaped the design sensibilities of Nordic Europe, resulting in spaces suffused with light, airiness, serenity and a feeling of oneness with nature.
The simple chic of this fuss-free Scandinavian style has won converts the world over.
Scandinavian home decor took the world by storm after the 1947 edition of the Triennale di Milano, a popular design exhibition in the Italian city of Milan. Furniture, glassware and home accessories from the Nordic countries were a sensation at the show and became a rage around the world soon after.
Capitalising on this new popularity, the Design in Scandinavia show travelled across the U.S. and Canada from 1954 through 1957. Fascination with Scandinavian design ideas grew even more as a result.
It’s interesting how differently Scandinavian trends evolved from design in the rest of Europe, which generally favoured opulent and ornate décor inspired by the luxurious lifestyles of aristocracy and royalty. The Nordic people charted a different design course, preferring the practical to the plush, picking function over frills.
Life in the region was primarily responsible for shaping Scandinavian design. Long, harsh winters with very few hours of daylight kept people indoors for many months. Besides, most people lived in small houses. So it was imperative to make homes feel cosy yet airy, with every object in it reflecting as much ambient light as possible.
Quite like the people, the emerging design sensibility was egalitarian, shunning the ornate and celebrating simple elegance that seemed accessible to all. The result was a style that masterfully combined beauty with practicality.
Though the popularity of Scandinavian design waned somewhat in the 1980s, it soared again in the following decade when the style was reinterpreted. The 1990s saw designers in Scandinavian countries treating every object they fashioned for use in décor as individual units of design, creating bold and unique statement pieces.
Less is definitely more. A one-word definition of Scandinavian decor would be minimalism.
Simplicity really is the mantra of modern Scandinavian design. The key principle is prioritising function without sacrificing aesthetics. Cases in point are best selling furniture pieces around the world that sport simple, clean lines that exude sophisticated elegance but do not compromise on comfort.
The best example is the ubiquitous Arne Jacobsen 7 chair that has made its way into millions of dining rooms, kitchens and offices around the globe. Surprisingly sturdy given its simple yet delicate lines, this chair with timeless appeal takes up very little visual space and is a boon for compact living or work spaces.
Keeping the gloom of the long winter out means relying heavily on light in Scandinavian décor. Natural light is amplified by any means necessary. Windows are generously proportioned. Window treatments, if used at all, are kept sheer or translucent. Mirrors are placed strategically to visually expand the space and reflect any available ambient light. The dominant colour palette is generally a light-reflecting neutral.
Electric fixtures are also designed with simple lines and forms, creating light without adding visual clutter. And candles are widely used, lending softness to the décor with their flickering flames.
Serene, muted neutrals – with bright white being the star – dominate Scandinavian design. These calm colours make rooms appear bright and spacious even on a dreary day. Timeless white walls, trim, cabinets and countertops appear to recede visually, making rooms feel much larger than they really are.
Preference for sober colours doesn’t, however, mean that Scandinavian design is devoid of vibrancy and vitality. Accent pieces like pottery, rugs, cushions and art in bright hues inject spaces with life and character. In fact, they stand out more dramatically in a space designed this way.
Ardent lovers of the outdoors, Scandinavians believe in celebrating nature even when inside their homes. That’s why natural wood is a predominant feature of Scandinavian interior design characteristics. Wood is the preferred choice of flooring.
Pine, beech and ash are by far the favourites. Stains and varnishes are generally kept light in order to maintain a feeling of airiness. Potted plants are also commonly used in interior décor to mimic nature within the home.
A space designed in the Scandinavian style isn’t visually weighed down by a lot of heavy fabric. Textile accessories are used sparingly, but for maximum impact – for instance a colourful rug defining the lounging space and a couple of cushions with prints of bold chevrons or stripes warming up a light-coloured love seat; a knitted throw on the couch; sheer drapes on the windows; and maybe some patterned place mats and napkins on the dining table. Natural fabrics like cotton, wool and linen are preferred over synthetics and blends.
All these principles of design work together to achieve the Scandinavian ideal of “lagom”, a Swedish word meaning just the right amount – not too little, not too much. They create spaces that are simple, uncluttered and efficient, yet warm and welcoming.
Scandinavians like nothing better than to have family and friends over for a meal. The kitchen table, often with expansion leaves, becomes the heart of the home where everyone gathers. The bright, inviting homes make it easy to live the Danish dream of “hygge”, which is essentially living the good life surrounded by loved ones.
Scandinavian interior design is as egalitarian as it is utilitarian. There are as many high-street boutiques selling Scandinavian décor essentials as there are affordable stores, bringing it within everyone’s reach.
And because Scandinavian interiors are minimalist, most can adopt them without breaking the bank. Just changing a few accent pieces now and then is enough to refresh any space.
I’m sure that after you’ve read about its principles and characteristics, you now know what is Scandinavian design and, most of all, you know how to use it.