Interior Design Style Guide: Scandinavian Modern

Published on
February 2, 2023
Written by

As the days get shorter and impending holidays more hectic, we welcome the comfort and simplicity of Scandinavian modern design. You may be familiar with modern and minimalist styles already. But what makes the Scandinavian style (also referred to as Norse design) unique is its embodiment of hygge. Hygge is the Danish concept of tranquility, of embracing happiness in little everyday actions, and the joy of an intimate dinner with friends. That’s something we can all say skol to.

But just what does hygge look like as an interior design style? When did Scandinavia become so popular? And is Ikea even open nowadays?

The Look

Like other modern design styles, the Scandinavian modern look relies on clean lines, calm color palettes and an emphasis on functionality.

Where it differs: Scandinavian design leans more towards the natural rather than the industrial or futuristic. The colors are inspired by the Nordic climate, with greys, blues, and subtle greens evoking a serene Northern landscape. And pieces are typically made from natural materials, like wood, linen, wool, or stone.

Yet even with an abundance of hard edges and straight lines, Scandinavian designs never appear cold or characterless. Rustic wooden finishes, thick blankets, soft rugs, warm candlelight, and an abundance of cushions provide an inviting atmosphere to any space. No wonder the look was so quickly embraced outside of Scandinavia.

The History

Some scholars believe that the term “Scandinavian design” was originally used as part of a PR campaign following World War II, meant to bolster solidarity between the various Nordic countries. In the design world, “Scandinavian” still refers to the collective design styles of Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Iceland.

But however the term may have first originated, it managed to reach the outside world by 1951, when a London department store held a “Scandinavian Design for Living” exhibition. The look quickly gained worldwide recognition with a collection of chairs by Scandinavian designers like Arne Jacobsen, Eero Arnio, and Alvar Aalto. By 1954 almost half of all Danish furniture was exported to the United States. And a “Design in Scandinavia” exhibition toured across North America as the public fell in love with the look’s practicality and humanism.

Unfortunately, that love quickly petered out by the late 1960s, and wouldn’t return for another 50 years.

Today, Scandinavian design is once again one of the most popular interior design styles. But the region’s rising popularity is due to far more than just Ikea furniture. During the last couple decades, these small Northern countries remained largely untouched by global recessions. They’ve recovered from the Coronavirus pandemic virtually unscathed by massive casualties or economic downturns. Scandinavian governments are revered as leaders in gender equality, health care, and education. And beyod that, the core values of both Scandinavian modern design, and of the countries themselves, speak to a humble, familial, and egalitarian ideology — a peace of mind the whole world is currently striving to acheive.

It’s no wonder, then, that Scandinavian design has been popping up all over the ‘gram. And with more of Scandinavia appearing on TV (think History Channel’s Vikings, or Netflix’s Ragnarok, Norsemen, and The Last Kingdom series) we’re all hoping to get some of that cool hygge for ourselves.

Quick DIY Tips

Working with boldRM stagings, I’ve been seeing a lot of Scandinavian inspired designs. Here are my tips for how to recreate the Nordic look, without having to migrate to colder climates.

Scandinavian interior design is all about mixing modern with cozy. Layer sculptural pieces with soft decor for a more welcoming living space. Or opt for furniture with warm wooden finishes, like this Crate&Barrel dining table. Integrate some faux furs and sumptuous rugs, like this RH collection. Add some houseplants for a natural feel, and don’t be afraid to go a bit avant-garde with your accessories, like these DIY Scandi-inspired containers, or these abstract ceramic figurines.

When in doubt, shop from the source — browse through the collections of Scandinavian based companies like Finnish chair and table giant Artek, or go straight to Or maybe you leave all your home accessory options in the lap of the gods and order a Scandinavian design subscription package through Norsebox. And of course, Etsy is always a (more budget friendly) goldmine of Scandinavian decor.

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