February 1, 2022

Scandinavian interior design: From cold places come warm spaces

Learn how to master Scandinavian interior design to create a cozy, chic space that's both comfortable and functional.

Learn how to master Scandinavian interior design to create a cozy, chic space that's both comfortable and functional.

In winter, Nordic countries get as few as six hours of daylight (i.e., 18 hours of darkness) each day. That darkness, combined with frigid temperatures, sends people all over Scandinavia indoors. And when you spend more time inside, your home decor needs to be extra warm and cozy. Maybe that’s why the whole world has warmed up to Scandinavian interior design

Scandi-style homes are built around the concept of hygge, a Danish word that means comfort, coziness, or a feeling of contentment. Scandinavian style is also grounded in the same functional design philosophies that have made mid-century modern style enduringly popular. 

So, if you want to create a home that’s built around comfort and functionality, you need to master the key principles of Scandinavian home design. Here’s everything you need to know to create a Scandi-chic space. 

The origins of Scandinavian style

Scandinavian interior design: work chairs

Scandinavian decor as we know it started to evolve at the beginning of the 20th century, around the same time as modernism. It came into its own in the 50s and 60s at the same time as mid-century modern design. Not surprisingly, Scandinavian style shares several elements with both of these interior design styles

All three were originally influenced by the Bauhaus movement. Started at an art school in Germany, this movement aimed to combine aesthetic form with functionality. To do this, it often relied on clean lines and geometric shapes. You’ll see these elements in all three interior design styles — modern, mid-century, and Scandi style

Bauhaus was a response to industrialization. But industrialization made its way to Germany before it made its way into the Scandinavian countries, which include Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Iceland

Scandinavian interior design includes more elements of original craftsmanship — like hand-crafted wood furniture — than you might see in modern design. Think of Scandinavian interior design as the tall, blonde (yet, surprisingly approachable) cousin of modern design

Because the homes of Scandinavian countries are often older European homes, the modern lines of Scandinavian furniture and decor stand in contrast to the more ornate elements of European architecture, like scrolled woodwork, wood beams, or blown-glass window panes. 

Even if you live in a brand-new American high-rise, you can incorporate this look by adding subtle touches of ornately carved wood, like on picture frames or around mirrors, to contrast with your clean-lined furniture. 

7 elements of Scandinavian interior design 

Scandinavian styled bedroom

Now that you know the basic principles of Scandi style, you can put them into action. Use these seven design trends to create the Scandinavian living room, bedroom, or dining room of your Danish (or Swedish!) dreams. 

1. Declutter 

Scandi design embraces minimalism. Contrary to popular belief, the minimalist movement isn’t about throwing away all of your possessions and doing without. It’s about choosing your things intentionally.

In Scandinavian homes, you’ll see well-loved items on display, but you won’t see clutter and kitsch in every corner. Aim to clear your shelves of all but your favorite knick-knacks. This will keep your home looking tidy, and it will make your favorite items stand out — giving them the special attention they deserve.

2. Choose mid-century furniture

Accent Chair with Upholstered Seat Brown and Black

There’s a lot of overlap between Scandinavian and mid-century modern furniture. Both feature clean lines and natural wood tones, and classic mid-century silhouettes double as classic Scandinavian silhouettes. 

Try adding an Eames-inspired chair to your office or study. Or choose an accent chair with a simple silhouette, like this cane and leather seat

Square and rectangular lines work well in Scandi-style homes. Try adding a simple rectangular dresser with elegant tapered legs in your bedroom. Gently sloping shapes are also a signature of the style, but opt for simple curved lines like a tulip-shaped dining table over traditional curved silhouettes like turned table legs. 

Although simplicity is an important part of Scandinavian style, functionality is too. Don’t feel like you need to limit yourself to tables that feature only a tabletop and legs. A coffee table with hidden storage can be both functional and clean. 

3. Create a neutral backdrop 

White walls and a neutral color palette are signatures of Scandi design. Start with white or off white walls, then layer in other neutrals with your larger furniture. Opt for a brown leather couch or choose a sofa with light beige upholstery if it’s practical for your lifestyle. Next, add more neutrals with light wood tones and shades of black, white, and gray. 

Layering neutrals on neutrals is both beautiful and practical. The soothing color palette can create a relaxing atmosphere in your home, and when you invest in neutral furniture, you create a timeless backdrop. In the future, you’ll be able to easily redecorate by swapping out less expensive decor like linens and art without having to repaint your walls or buy a new sofa.

4. Add small pops of color 

Yes, Scandinavian living spaces are full of neutral colors, but that doesn’t mean they’re devoid of color entirely. Add little pops of bright or light colors to make the space feel a little warmer and happier. 

In Scandinavian interior design, color is often added through artwork, which is an important feature of any room. The art is often displayed gallery-style with a few similar pieces displayed side-by-side, or museum-style with a brightly colored piece of art surrounded by white walls so that the art stands out. 

Woven throw rugs, pillows, or blankets are another way to add a splash of color and texture.

5. Incorporate natural textures 

Scandinavian interior design: white sofa with wood furniture

Texture is another essential of Scandinavian interior design. When you have a neutral color palette, texture is a good way to break up similar colors and create visual interest. 

Scandinavian decor uses rich, natural materials inspired by the Nordic landscape. Picture a mohair or sheepskin throw on top of a linen duvet. Combining a variety of textiles adds depth to the room and makes the space feel more comfortable and inviting. 

Scandinavian design will also bring nature in with wood furniture and shelving, stone or driftwood sculptures, and plenty of house plants. These elements of Scandi style have strongly influenced organic modern design — one of the hottest design movements of the past few years.

6. Play with light

When you’re bringing nature inside, you can’t ignore natural light. And because natural light can be in short supply in Nordic countries, Scandinavian interior design maximizes its role in the room. Organize your living space so that the natural light shines into the center of your furniture arrangement (directly onto the coffee table, couch, or bed, for example). 

In rooms where you won’t be doing any sleeping, choose gossamer window treatments that let the light shine through. Then, add a warm glow with plenty of candles. If you have a fireplace, make it a focal point and place seating nearby so you can take advantage of the warmth. 

When selecting lamps and light fixtures for the room, look for pieces that make a design statement. Picture paper lanterns or woven pendant lights. Because Scandi style is minimalistic, a statement light can make a big impact while still serving an important practical purpose. 

7. Embrace a lived-in look

One of the most relatable elements of Scandinavian style and part of the reason it’s stood the test of time is that it’s approachable. Your home should feel like you live there. Forget what your mom told you when you were growing up — don’t make the bed.

Embrace crumpled throw blankets, mugs on the side table, and slippers that never seem to get put away. Make your home a reflection of your everyday life. 

Cozy up to Scandi style 

Scandinavian settee with patterned pillows

Just the idea of redecorating probably makes you feel warm and cozy inside. Add in the neutral colors and warm natural textures of Scandinavian interior design, and you’ll feel cozier than a cup of mulled wine on a winter’s night.

When you’re ready to choose the pieces that will turn your home into a hygge-filled haven, head to your local Coaster store and have them point you toward their mid-century modern and Scandinavian furniture. You’ll find the perfect pieces to fill your home with coziness, comfort, and contentment.

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