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Scandinavian Design Principles – The Complete Guide

Scandinavian Design Principles

Falling in love with Scandinavian Design Principles? Thinking of thick of pine forests and steaming hot springs of teal waters set against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains hung in an azure-blue sky? No wonder then. Since its inception, Scandinavian design has taken the world of interiors by storm. With the rugged beauty of the Nordic Landscape and environment serving as the inspiration for the unsuppressable style that we have affectionately come to know as the Scandinavian, or Nordic Design Movement. 

Over the decades, this cool, clean and minimal look has graced not just the covers of magazines but countless homes across the globe and its critically acclaimed popularity showing no signs of slowing down.

Scandinavian design has a long and rich history with a cultural importance that led to the familiar aesthetic we have come to know and love today. It is this decades-long influence that can help us to understand the enduring appeal of Scandinavian Design and why it might be more relevant than ever right now. Here is everything you need to know about the Scandinavian Design Movement and how you can achieve the look in your home.

Table of Contents

    A Brief History Of Scandinavian Design

    Scandinavia encompasses five countries located in the Nordic region of Northern Europe: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden. It was in this group of similar, and yet very distinct cultures that ‘Scandinavian Design’ per se originates. Officially dating from 1914, with the launch of the Danish Design magazine Skønvirke which loosely translates to Graceful Work. The writers and editors of the magazine were inspired by the old Danish handicrafts that they had grown up with, and soon, Skønvirke became a design concept in its own right, which rivalled the Art Nouveau and Jugendstil movements that were popular at the time.

    From that time onwards, the aesthetic evolved, ultimately reaching new heights in the 1930s when designers like Hans Wegner, Borge Mogensen, Alvar Aalto and Verner Panton produced numerous designs that are now considered the classics of this style and are still very highly in demand today. It is this period marked the start of the ‘golden age of Scandinavian Design’ which lasted until the beginning of the 1970s.

    During this period of excellence, the work that was produced was built upon the pre-existing and established hallmarks of the movement, but it also took on another dimension. It was further elevated by the specificity of its intended use dictated by the physical environments and architectural spaces it was designed to occupy. The cold climate of the region and short, dark winter days prompted a propensity towards bright and light interiors with functional and comfortable pieces that were perfectly designed to quietly appreciate nature. 

    Original Design In Scandinavia Poster

    Despite this, it was not until two decades later when a travelling exhibition called ‘Design in Scandinavia’ made its way through the United States and Canada in 1954 and 1957 that the movement became a global phenomenon. Curated in such a way as to promote the Scandinavian way of life, the exhibition coined the term ‘Scandinavian Design’ and thus it became part of the mainstream vernacular. It was then that many Scandinavian designers really began to take off, as their work began to be seen and noticed by a much wider global market.

    It was in the 1970s that Scandinavian designers began to experiment more with a greater variety of colours and materials, while staying true to the simplicity of the original philosophy. Designs from this time are almost instantly recognisable for their exploration of the newest technology and manufacturing processes of the era, as well as what were seen to be an uncharacteristic use of graphics and pattern.

    Despite this digression, however, in the decades that followed, Scandinavian Design slowly made its way back to the elegant simplicity of the movement’s golden age. Though the style has changed and developed through the passage of time, Classic Scandinavian design’s enduring aesthetic continues to influence interior design to this day.

    What Are The Key Scandinavian Design Principles?

    Scandinavian style has its roots in architecture, with many of its key proponents working simultaneously in both the design and architectural fields. Arne Jacobsen, now known as a master of the movement, famously rejected the term ‘designer’ and only identified as an architect. Along with designing iconic pieces like the Egg and Swan chairs, he also made huge contributions to architectural functionalism through buildings like Copenhagen’s Skovshoved Petrol Station and SAS Royal Hotel.

    The architecture of the region is largely a response to its environment, characterised by its light, comfort, energy efficiency and a deep connection with nature. Spaces use sleek, organic shapes and rooms are flexible, with multi-use spaces and open plan living offering freedom and adaptability to the people who reside in them. Design became a necessary byproduct of this, to fill the spaces with items that followed the same philosophies and that were made to last as long as the buildings they inhabited.

    With functionality at its heart, Scandinavian design looks to meet people’s needs through straightforward pieces with clean lines and little to no embellishment. It is minimal, but never clinical, pairing neutral colour with natural textures and materials to create a clutter-free yet lived-in look. 

    Where possible, Scandinavian designs are made to be multi-purpose, whether it’s a side table that can also be used as a stool, or an everyday sofa that folds out into a bed. While form comes second to function, Scandinavian design finds beauty in its simplicity. Materials are left to speak for themselves, shapes are fluid and organic and furniture is designed with the contours of the human body in mind.

    Modern Scandinavian design combines the functional craftsmanship of the 1950s with the present-day concept of Hygge.

    Hygge can be defined as ‘a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture)’.

    Not just a design philosophy but also a lifestyle, Hygge is geared towards creating comfort and warmth in your home, not just through the items and decor you choose but even through the vibe and ambience of your space. It is as much about wellness as it is interior design, honing in on the idea that our surroundings can have a deep impact on our wellness, stress levels and creativity.

    Why Is Scandinavian Design Still Relevant Today?

    Scandinavian design has endured thanks to its roots in functionality and simplicity, two timeless concepts in the world of interior design. While other fads have come and gone, humans are naturally drawn to creating peace and order in their homes, and Scandinavian design offers an accessible minimalism that has an inherently timeless appeal. It is comparable to Zen architecture and design which, though aesthetically different, promotes many of the same ideals which are enduringly popular amidst the chaos of our busy modern lives.

    Nordic design takes inspiration from nature and has a synergy with the natural world. Rather than control or reform human nature, it has always looked to work with and for people, with designs that serve us in the best way they can. It’s this closeness to nature that also helps keep Scandinavian design alive, as we collectively seek to reconnect with our surroundings. With everything going on around us, our home is a place where we can reset and unwind. Through interior design, we can transform it into a space that exudes a sense of calm amidst the chaos of the modern world.

    A greater awareness about the effect our spending habits have on the planet is also key to the relevance of Scandinavian design. As time goes on, we are increasingly looking for items that are designed to last a lifetime and made with sustainability in mind.

    Even when it first emerged, the Scandinavian design movement sought to honour high-quality craftsmanship, and it’s a concept that has carried through to today. With a focus on wood construction instead of the throwaway plastics of mass-market products, there is an emphasis of quality over quantity when it comes to Nordic design. Furniture is bought to serve a purpose, not simply fill a space, and each item is carefully chosen according to individual needs.

    How To Get The Look

    A Scandinavian aesthetic is relatively easy to achieve at home, as its focus is always on less rather than more. While classic pieces may be expensive, thanks to the popularity of Nordic design the look is now more accessible than ever and can be recreated for almost any budget. 

    To get the look, there are a few key concepts that you should consider.


    Typically, Scandinavian colour schemes should comprise no more than 4 key colours, with white and grey taking centre stage. However, you needn’t feel too limited by colour. Modern Scandinavian interiors will often add splashes of colour with blush pink, pastel blue or mint green. 

    There is also an increasing popularity in earthy tones like terracotta and taupe, that will help inject a feeling of warmth. A good approach is to use white as your base colour so you can experiment with accessories in different tones to see what you like best.


    Scandinavian design is all about natural materials like wood, wool, cotton and linen, and if you can find any that are sustainably made, even better. Woods tend to be lighter varieties like ash or beech, and are rarely stained to allow their natural grain to show through.

    Thanks to the cold climate in Scandinavian countries, cosiness is also key and is part of the Hygge philosophy. Chunky knitted throws, cushions and sheepskin rugs add texture and ambience, and work best when layered together.


    Because much of Scandinavia is dark for several months of the year, natural light is hugely important. You can maximise the natural light in your home by sticking to a light colour palette, opting for a wood floor over carpet, adding mirrors or glass accessories, and making sure that your windows are free from clutter. If you want to make a bigger change, larger windows and bi-fold doors are great ways of getting as much light as possible into your home.

    Even if you don’t have the luxury of much natural light, you can make artificial lighting work better for you. Swap out your light sources for full-spectrum bulbs. These soft and warm bulbs are designed to simulate daylight, and will have a huge effect on the light quality in your home.


    Scandinavian design is heavily influenced by nature and there is a real focus on bringing the outside in. Adding plants into your interior will not only add a splash of colour, but can also help to create a sense of calm. Some, like rubber trees and spider plants, will even purify the air. 

    If you are not particularly green-fingered, there are plenty of hardy varieties that need little looking after and will even survive through the winter. Look for plants like aloe vera, lucky bamboo, fiddle leaf figs or cacti. These days, there are also plenty of convincing artificial plants out there if you want the look with none of the commitment.


    Scandinavian design is not just about the decor but about the way the space makes you feel. Even small accessories can help contribute to the relaxed, warm and welcoming atmosphere that is so synonymous with Nordic design. Scents, for example, can have a huge impact on mood, and there’s something so inviting about the flickering flame of a beautifully scented candle. Opt for warming fragrances like amber, sea salt or sandalwood to create instant ambience for an affordable price.

    Simply decluttering and keeping your space clean can go a long way in achieving that spacious Scandinavian feel. Perhaps you have some pieces that just aren’t you any more or don’t get much use and sit gathering dust. Donating or selling items that no longer have a purpose is a great way of creating space and giving yourself more room to breathe.

    Classic Pieces

    For those in a position to spend a bit more, you can’t go wrong with a classic piece from the golden age of Scandinavian design. Just one key item will instantly bring a Nordic aesthetic to your home, exemplifying all the things that make this design movement so iconic. 

    They may be costly, but these are investment pieces that will last you for decades to come and never go out of style. Here are some key items that are guaranteed to not just look good, but also withstand the test of time:

    • The Wishbone Chair by Hans Wegner
    • The Grasshopper Floor Lamp by Greta Grossman
    • The Egg Chair by Arne Jacobsen
    • The Alvar Aalto Vase
    • The Tulip Table by Eero Saarinen
    • The Flowerpot Pendant Light by Verner Panton

    However, you needn’t choose a designer piece to achieve the Scandinavian look. Thanks to the huge influence of the movement, there are plenty of modern items that take inspiration from its principles. When shopping for furniture, look for pieces that have a high-quality construction, natural materials and clean, fluid lines. They may not last you quite as long, but they are sure to add a bit of Scandinavian cool into your home décor.

    For more Nordic inspired Interior Design, check out my post on Japandi Interior Design and how Japanese inspiration can complement Scandinavian Design perfectly to create a new fusion that minimalist perfection.

    Jessie LV

    Jessie LV is a professional writer in a wide array of genres including content writing, professional writing and creative writing. She foundered Donc Voilà Quoi while living in Tours, France in 2015 when she fell in love with the phrase. When she isn't writing you'll find her out and about in nature, watching whodunit's or cooking up a storm. For writing inquiries please email on

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