When Scandinavian design comes up in conversations, most people will imagine sleek, clean interiors with stylish and comfortable furniture. They will visualize Scandinavian furniture stores full of chairs with organic and dynamic curves made with lightly finished wooden frames. They will see in the minds furniture shops full of tables with an almost monolithic quality to them that somehow never seem too intimidating or imposing. Almost universally, people will agree that Scandinavian furniture has an intrinsically appealing nature to them, and rightfully so. Their simplicity, minimalism, and artful functionality has made Scandinavian furniture some of the most sought-out and acclaimed interior décor pieces in the world.
Form-wise, the furniture is always innovative and yet still embraces the concepts that have defined the genre since it first took off in the mid-1900s. With their materials, they are often made of beautiful, polished wooden frames with pastel paint finishes in some parts. This aesthetic and materiality originally came from the Nordic countries of Sweden, Iceland, Norway, Finland, and Denmark. Colloquially, these five countries are known as Scandinavia, hence the name of their popular design movement.
The main driving force for the development of their design tastes was the ideology that well-designed, aesthetically pleasing, and functionally useful articles of furniture and objects should be available to everyone, not just the elite and wealthy. This is further supplemented by the Scandinavian approach to democracy – one that is rooted in a deep sense of communal availability through low-cost materials and means of production.
Although quite easily recognizable as a style, there are subtle intricacies about Scandinavian design that needs to be covered and discussed to be able to appreciate the style fully. To truly understand the style, let’s take a look at a brief history of how Scandinavian design and furniture came to be.
Scandinavian design is a movement that came to be in the 1930s. It rose to prominence and experienced its peak of popularity at around the 1950s to the 1970s. The term “Scandinavian Design” was actually from a travelling design show of the same name that went through North America during the 1950s. Its simple yet bold take on furniture design resonated with the post-World War II ideologies of the time; they wanted good, useable furniture to reinvigorate their home life, but with the economic state still recovering, shouldn’t be able to break the bank with their prices. As a design concept, it also got huge amounts of support. The clean lines were absolutely stunning to the market at the time, and its dynamic yet somehow simple forms sold faster than most other furniture styles then. The Scandinavian design’s style, using affordable, quality, and sustainable materials and products was a hit with people everywhere, regardless of class.
As it developed and grew, Scandinavian design started getting accolades from the design community as well as the public. Its main purpose, which it had and still has achieved with great success, is to improve the quality of life in your interior living spaces. Scandinavian designers put emphasis on utilizing everything at their disposal – lights, fabrics, decors, and furniture – to create a solid line of designer pieces that still felt organic. In contrast to other design movements that lean towards more abstract, sharp, and bold forms and colors, the almost perfectly natural feel of Scandinavian furniture very much appealed to the market and only gained more and more traction ever since.
As with any popular design style, great designers also came out of the heyday of Scandinavian design. We have Verner Panton, Arne Jacobsen, Alvar Aalto, Poul Henningsen, Hans Wegner, and many more Scandinavian designers that really helped paved the way to an entirely new landscape in interior and furniture design.
In deconstructing the individual elements of Scandinavian, we can start to have a deeper understanding of what makes Scandinavian furniture to appealing. The more we understand about the concept, the more discerning we can be in how to use the furniture effectively and organically. When it comes to interior design, there is a very fine line between creating a stylish space and going overboard. As such, it’s important to really understand what makes Scandinavian furniture tick. Let’s take a look at some of the design elements that give Scandinavian design its character.
Warmth: When it comes to Scandinavian furniture, materiality is king. Take a closer look at what the pieces are made of and you’ll find that a vast majority of the parts are made of unpainted, lightly stained woods. Interior spaces follow suit – floors are made of wood, walls are made of wood, even ceilings are made of wood. As such, Scandinavian design has a raw, warm vibe that is rarely achieved by any other design style. Warm tones such as oak and teak are usually used for Scandinavian furniture, but any other “colder” wood species like pine can be use, provided they are finished with oils or stains that mellow out their textures.
Texture: Sincerity is an important part of Scandinavian design. The movement does away with anything that would seem out-of-place, or dishonest when it comes to materiality and form. As a style, Scandinavian design heavily favors “honest” materials. That is, wood, plastic, or steel left in as natural a state as possible, with minimal finishes and with all the grains, dents, and rough faces displayed. Almost always, you’ll find Scandinavian furniture has a rough, dynamic, and sincere texture to them.
Sustainability: As a design style originally rooted in social democracy and communal availability, Scandinavian design takes things one step further by also advocating for the holistic environmentally-sound production of furniture pieces and materials. As such, you will rarely see any Scandinavian furniture piece that isn’t made out of sustainable wood species, recyclable plastic composites, or approved and animal-friendly upholstery.
Simplicity: Less is more when it comes to Scandinavian design. This design movement came into being at around the same time as Modernism and the International style, and so it also carries with it the ideologies of doing away with unnecessary ornamentation, too-intricate detailing, and the over-use of decorations. Scandinavian furniture will almost always showcase simple yet bold forms, honest materiality, and block color palettes.
Neutrality: Color goes a long way in defining the spirit or character of a space. As such, Scandinavian furniture designers take great care in picking out hues that match with the simple and functional nature of the Scandinavian aesthetic. You’ll be seeing a lot of gray, beige, black, and white. In cases where Scandinavian furniture tries to be more adventurous with its colors, you’ll see muted or pastel hues, with some very minor pops of bold color here or there for accent.
It is difficult to talk about Scandinavian design without touching on its close cousin, Danish modern design. Danish modern is a minimalist style of design from Denmark that focuses on designer furniture and housewares. It puts great importance in quality craftsmanship, clean lines, and careful consideration of materials. Ergonomics, the study of human body measurements and proportions, is also a large part of Danish modern design.
The movement started in the 1920s and rose in popularity until the 1960s. It initially started with designer chairs and cabinets, but it grew prolific due to its ergonomic concepts and usability. Functionalism was a large part of how vintage Danish modern furniture was designed and it has dictated a lot of the looks and forms of furniture pieces produced under that aesthetic.
Danish modern has select and subtle differences with Scandinavian design, and the discerning eye of a seasoned designer can spot them easily by simply deconstructing Danish modern furniture and taking a look at its individual elements. Here are some elements of vintage Danish modern furniture that can help you be discerning as well.
Austerity: While Scandinavian design has highly sleek and organic lines, vintage Danish modern furniture have a more serious form to them. Their lines are a little less expressive and more severe. The neatness and somberness also applies to chosen colors. The wood stains used on Danish modern furniture make the wood darker and more heavy-looking. Teak is usually used as well as darker species of Oak.
Quality: Vintage Danish modern furniture puts a premium in the quality execution of any woodworking involved. They use only the best quality of natural materials such as wood frames and leather upholstery, and make sure the craftsmanship is superb. When all is done correctly, you’re left with quality Danish modern furniture that exhibits the traits of Minimalism and Functionalism.
Resourcefulness: As a design movement that existed during the war-torn climate of World War II, Danish modern had to make do with the materials and tools available to them. From necessity, Danish modern furniture were traditionally made with bent plywood, which was plentiful during the war, more so than regular wood. Other innovative and ingenious materials were used, such as the military-grade nylon webbing used in Jens Risom’s Knoll Chair #645. Later on, more high end products like marble, glass, and hardwood were used, but there are still very many vintage Danish modern furniture pieces that employ the grass-roots method of sourcing materials.
Ergonomics: As mentioned before, Danish modern designers were known for creating beautiful, functional pieces that had angles, forms, and shapes that would mold to the “natural” body shape and proportions of a human. As such, vintage Danish modern furniture are known to show heavy hints of Functionalism and are regarded some of the most comfortable pieces to use at home.
Scandinavian furniture and design has a wide array of different chairs, tables, and other designer pieces that have molded and shaped the history of interior design. Let’s take a look at some of the most iconic pieces of Scandinavian design furniture.
Jens Risom’s Risom Chair
Jens Risom was born in Denmark and immigrated to the US to finish his studies and eventually become one of the most well-known names in furniture design. Knoll saw the potential in Risom and manufactured his ever-popular Risom Chair back then. The chair is still being produced today and sold in Scandinavian furniture stores; chances are you’re probably familiar with the piece given how popular its design is.
Kaare Klint’s Safari Chair
Kaare Klint was an immensely popular Danish furniture designer and is considered one of the pioneers of contemporary Danish furniture design. He plunged into the world of furniture design in his 20s, following in his architect father’s footsteps as a renowned designer. The Safari Chair, clad in intricate leather and wood details, is one of his best known works.
Poul Henningsen’s Artichoke Lamp
Poul Henningsen from Denmark was a designer predominantly known for his inspired work in designing lighting fixtures and lamps. At the time, the concept of lighting fixtures and designer lamps was relatively new, and so he was truly one of the trailblazers in the industry. Among his most popular works is the Artichoke lamp which is still being sold as a popular designer piece of décor even today.
Arne Jacobsen’s Swan Chair
Arne Jacobsen was a renowned Modernist architect in the early to late 1900s. He was also known to be one of the most influential Scandinavian designers of his era. One of his most famous works as a Scandinavian furniture designer is the Swan Chair, which features an organic, ergonomic form and simple and bold materiality.
Finn Juhl’s Chieftain Chair
Denmark’s Finn Juhl burst into the American furniture designing scene after his debut at the Museum of Modern Art in New York back in 1951. His furniture designs quickly became popular for their iconic, curvilinear forms, their sleek and subtle material finishes, and their innovative looks. His Chieftain Chair is one of the most well-known Scandinavian furniture designs in the market.
The first step to adorning your home with your favorite Scandinavian furniture pieces is finding a supplier to buy your pieces from. You can go the online route and try to find beautiful designer pieces online and purchase them with the click of a mouse. Here are some popular Scandinavian furniture stores online that supply beautiful Scandinavian furniture.
As a brand, Furniture Maison prioritizes craftsmanship and quality. They also pride themselves in how they value their accessibility and affordability. Driven by a philosophy of clean design and simple aesthetics, Furniture Maison should be among your first choices when considering to buy Scandinavian furniture online.
The Museum of Modern Art in New York also boasts quality online shopping services. If you’re interested in designer pieces that MoMA has deemed to be worthy enough for them to endorse, consider checking out their online store and looking through their catalogue.
Dutch by Design specializes in housewares such as ceramics and various samples of good Scandinavian furniture. Another thing they have going for them is their catalogue of hard-to-find pieces as well as their good value.
Although online purchases are quite convenient, an argument can be made that going to brick and mortar Scandinavian furniture stores can’t be beat when it comes to purchasing Scandinavian furniture. Here are some top-notch physical stores and design brands found in the United States and Canada.
Just Scandinavian in New York
Phone: 212.334-2556, 646.641-1973
Address: 555 W 23rd St # S15d, New York, NY 10011, USA
Just Scandinavian was founded more than10 years ago, in 2005. It runs by a philosophy of showcasing fresh and functional ways to decorate your spaces. They have quality products and honestly stringent standards. They only pick the very best of designs for their store. When it comes to Scandinavian furniture stores, this is one of the best ones in New York.
When you ask anyone to name a Scandinavian furniture store, IKEA will most probably be their answer. A household name in affordable Scandinavian furniture, IKEA is an international brand dedicated to the production and promotion of Scandinavian design. The IKEA group has 340 stores in 28 countries and those numbers are still growing.
Newell Furniture in Montreal
Phone: +1 514-568-8896
Address: Experience Center, 3rd Floor, 998 Boul St-Laurent, Montréal, QC H2Z 9Y9
Newell Furniture is located in the first North American city to be labeled a UNESCO City of Design. This brand seeks to enhance the design landscape by providing quality products at reasonable prices. They also have a convenient online platform for you to research their stocks or even buy online if you wish.
BoConcept in Toronto
Phone: 647 352 8802
Address: 230 Adelaide St E, Toronto, ON M5A 1M9, Canada
Another international brand, BoConcept prides itself in the great love and respect it has for the furniture design industry. Their brand is driven by passion and genuine enthusiasm. With its base of operations at Denmark, its 60 years of operation has seen it open Scandinavian furniture stores all over the world.
Figuring out how to use Scandinavian furniture in your spaces has a lot to do about how much you understand the elements of both the space and the furniture you are planning to use. Here are three concepts you need to properly grasp so that your Scandinavian furniture will complement your living space.
Form and Function: True to the nature of Scandinavian furniture, value its use and function as a furniture piece more than anything else. Its form is dictated by its function and as such, it should complement your living space seamlessly if you make sure the function it serves is appropriate for the room. For living rooms, for example, you will need ample seating space for any guests that you might entertain. As such find a furniture piece with a form that can accommodate how many guests you are planning to regularly host.
Color and Light: Consider the light sources in your space before deciding where and how to position your Scandinavian furniture. Are you going to use your Scandinavian arm chair to read a book? In that case, consider placing it near a window or below a good source of light. Also, always note the colors of your room relative to the colors of the furniture to be placed in there. Considering Scandinavian furniture favors neutral tones, you can’t go wrong with white, gray, or beige walls.
Shape and Texture: With regards to the surfaces of your materials, the texture of your Scandinavian furniture has to complement or match the textures of the room itself. Clean, sterile, glossy walls, for example, will not mesh well with the organic and texture aesthetic of Scandinavian furniture pieces. The same goes for shapes. Keep in mind that Scandinavian designer pieces are organic and flowing and should be put in rooms where those types of shapes are welcome.
Additionally, here are some things to avoid when using Scandinavian furniture.
Clutter: Simplicity, minimalism, and functionality are key in Scandinavian design. As such, allowing your room to look and feel cluttered will only serve to harm the aesthetic you are trying to achieve. Stay clean and neat.
Carpet: Scandinavian design does not use wall-to-wall carpeting; it’s simply not in their design vocabulary. If you must use floor covers, opt for area rugs or smaller carpets.
Accessories: A few personalized knick-knacks here and there won’t hurt, but be careful not to overdo it. Putting in too much decors and accessories goes against the Minimalist vibe of Scandinavian design.
Although the two are closely related and have various similarities, Vintage Danish Modern design is still different from Scandinavian design. If you wish to mesh these two design styles together, there are certain things you have to consider. Here are some of them.
Masculine vs. Feminine: Masculinity in design can be described as using sharp, imposing forms and powerful-looking pieces. Femininty in design can be seen in curvi-linear shapes and soft, welcoming volumes. In this context, Vintage Danish Modern furniture is masculine while Scandinavian furniture is feminine. Find a good balance between the two depending on how you want your room to ultimately look.
Go Eclectic: A design approach that throws caution to the wind is Eclecticism. In utilizing Vintage Danish furniture and Scandinavian ones, you could go the eclectic route and throw in seemingly contrasting pieces into the fray. Take caution though; you want a chaotic look but the pieces should still be able to complement and enhance each other’s aesthetic.
Use Light: Lighting can do wonders with blending two different styles together. Be mindful of how the natural light and lighting fixtures cast tints and shadows to your furniture. Even with vastly different pieces, if their shadows and tints interplay well, there will be a cohesive design look that can form.
Be Innovative: The one rule with brilliant design is that there truly aren’t any rules when it comes to innovation. Experiment around, see what feels and looks right. Even when you’re breaking some design rules, if it looks good to you, then it’s a furniture arrangement and choice that you should go with. After all, it IS your house.
For those of us who are used to the face-to-face experience of selecting and buying furniture from physical Scandinavian furniture stores, online purchases might be a little harrowing. This is especially true for designer pieces of Scandinavian furniture that might set you back quite a bit financially. Here are some things to consider before you embark on your online shopping adventure.
Research: Do some prior snooping around about the company who owns the site you’re considering to purchase from. Read the site’s About page, but also consider looking at resources that are less bias. Check out various reviews you may find online as well as customer thoughts on their purchases from the site. Youtube is always a good resource for that. Do NOT go into it blindly.
Read Up on Policies: Legitimate Scandinavian furniture businesses online will always have policies regarding returns, refunds, and just general business responsibilities. Always check the policies of the website before even considering purchasing from them. Figure out their policies on factory defects, warranty periods, and return procedures. Do NOT consider purchasing from online shops with questionable policies.
Consider Hidden Costs: The price for the furniture piece is more than just the digital price tag displayed on the page. Try to look up how much their shipping might cost, if there are any handling fees, if taxes are included in the price, and just any and every extra costs that might throw off your budget plans for buying Scandinavian Furniture. Do NOT assume that you pay only for what you see.
Consider Their Style and Selections: Take a quick glance at the online store’s catalogue and you’ll see most of what you need to know to find out if that online store is a match for you. Analyze their furniture pieces and see if the style and look they’re selling appeal to you. Stores with greater selections are also better in that with a greater variety of looks, there is a larger chance that the furniture pieces that you might be looking for are someone in their catalogue. Do NOT purchase from shops that you personally don’t find appealing.
Safety and Security First: The most important tip is probably to always prioritize your financial and identity security online. Only do secure and safe transactions when it comes to your credit card and personal information. Be smart. Do NOT do business with online stores that you have good reason to believe might not be entirely legitimate or credible.
The timelessness of Scandinavian design and furniture stems from the soundness of its design roots. A style built on function, ergonomics, and social accessibility is one that is set to last for a long, long time. It started in the early 1900s with a drive and motivation to change the furniture design industry and it has done so with flying colors. Even now, almost a full century after Scandinavian design was started, the style is alive and well.
For designers, countless of lessons can be learned from the rich history of Scandinavian design. For homeowners, there is an almost endless sea of design possibilities when it comes to modern Scandinavian aesthetics. In its functionality and style, Scandinavian furniture has truly touched the lives of countless people around the world.