Hygge-Mania may have swept across the globe a few years ago, but there is so much more to Scandinavian design than cosy fireplaces and scented candles. It embodies a philosophy that is recognised for clean lines, functionality and longevity. Bringing one closer to his/her environment is what lies at the core of this design movement. Designed with comfort in mind, Scandinavian design appeals to the homebody in us all and adds light to our living spaces, even in the depth of winter.
How Did Scandinavian Design become so popular?
The term ‘Scandinavian Design’ was coined from the ‘Design in Scandinavia’ exhibition in the Brooklyn Museum in 1954. This formed a pivotal moment for the designers and artists involved in putting the Scandinavian style on the map since it was the first time that their work was viewed as a collective, by an outside source.
However, little known to the world, the Scandinavian design movement began bubbling decades before its grand American debut. At the end of the 19th Century, Europe was experiencing a backlash from ‘Realism’ and the artist’s desire to recreate the hyper-realism of photography within their paintings. Modernism was the result of this rebellion powered by the advances brought on by the industrial revolution. In the UK, William Morris created the ‘Arts and Crafts’ Movement which then grew into ‘Art Nouveau’, the forerunner of Modernism.
A New Era for Scandinavian Style
This marked a new style for a new decade. A fresh start for a newly industrialised Europe which allowed fluid shapes and romanticism to be the driving force behind the designs. Scandinavian Design first began to flourish in 1915 when The Society for Decorative Arts launched their Skønvirke (Graceful Crafts) magazine and began showcasing the work of local craftsmen. This Nordic decor movement provided a more accessible and day to day option to the Art Nouveau movement which was reserved for the upper classes and elite.
The History of Scandinavian Interiors
For decades, Nordic design blended seamlessly with the Art deco movement until the 1930s. The designers Arne Jacobsen (architecture and furniture), Alvar Aalto (textiles and furniture), Børge Mogensen (furniture), Hans. J. Wegner (furniture) and Poul Henningsen (lamps, architecture) were the real trailblazers during Scandinavian design’s golden age. The design movement aimed to always improve daily life while creating harmony between man and nature.
During the golden age of Scandinavian design from the 1930s-1970s, the designers began to be recognised on the world stage for their beautifully simplistic designs. Perhaps drawing on their bleak and cool Scandinavian winters, Nordic designers were able to take neutral colour palettes and warm soft furnishings to create welcoming and inviting living spaces that soon became iconic of the region.
The Ultimate Guide to Scandinavian Furniture Design
Across Denmark, Sweden and Norway, furniture became a staple part of Scandinavian design with designers choosing to focus on clean lines and practicality. Nature and the long harsh winters that drove people into their homes for months on end heavily influenced how furniture was designed. Scandi furniture suffered heavy usage and had to be very durable while being chic and fuss-free all at once. Designers like Arne Jacobsen saw the beauty in everyday objects and revolutionised our daily lives with their wild and wacky creations. The 1950s was a peak era for Jacobsen whose famous designs the ‘Ant’ ‘Swan and the ‘Egg’ chairs took the design world by storm.
“One might, in fact, argue that much of what the modern movement stands for, would have been lost or simply forgotten if Scandinavian designers and architects like Arne Jacobsen would not have added that humane element to it.”
- R. Craig Miller, author of the famous book ‘Design 1935-1989’
Arne Jacobsen, a Pioneer of Scandi Style
The concepts behind Jacobsen’s work always relate to comfort. The ‘Egg’ chair for example was inspired by Finnish designer Eero Saarinen’s ‘Womb’ chair. Cocooning the user in a semi-enclosed design with a continuous form gave the user a feeling of sanctuary and safety during the socially turbulent post-war era. The ‘Egg’ was designed for the Radisson SAS hotel in Copenhagen, Denmark to make guests feel sheltered and at home at the hotel. The chair consists of a steel frame with a fabric-covered, curved, high backed chair with wing-like arms. Ultra-modern and ergonomic in design, this chair became a smash hit and since the 50s, multinational companies such as the American fast-food chain, McDonald’s, have decided to incorporate Danish design furniture into their retail design concepts.
Børge Mogensen, Designer of Stylish Mid-Century Scandinavian Furniture
Børge Mogensen also revolutionised Scandinavian furniture design with his classic take on modernism. It was his ambition to create simple, hard-working furniture that would enrich the daily lives of people and enhance a fashionable Scandi living room set-up. He was a regular on the furniture design scene, presenting his work every year in the Cabinetmaker’s Guild Exhibitions as well as being the head of the Danish Cooperative Wholesale Society during the 1940s. His work was more traditional than the work of Jacobsen with Mogensen opting for a focus on craftsmanship dipped in modernism, which appealed to people’s still traditional tastes during the era.
Mogensen caught the attention of international art critics with the 1948 MoMa competition ‘Low-Cost Furniture’ which put his name on the global stage. The success of the competition inspired him to build on his love of ethnic arts and crafts and Japanese wood carvings and he began to experiment with plywood, creating new and inventive shapes for furniture design. This started the design offshoot, Japandi - the fusion of Japanese and Scandinavian design.
Børge Mogensen, Designer of Stylish Mid-Century Scandinavian Furniture
Perhaps Mogensen’s most famous collection is ‘A Hunting Lodge’’. This collection is inspired by Spanish medieval furniture construction and it provided Mogensen with the opportunity to work with solid wood framework and saddle leather for the very first time. This was a revolutionary move for Mogensen who by creating this collection, reimagined how people used their lounge areas. The wide, hardwood arms of the chairs were perfect for resting an ashtray or a glass which made side tables and coffee tables redundant. The strong, eye-catching leather Scandi chairs measured a meagre 30 cm off the floor creating an overwhelmingly casual, relaxed vibe, a world away from the stuffy, upright furniture styles of the time. Mogensen had a strong appreciation for the materials used in his Nordic furniture designs and the combination of the hardwood and saddle leather allowed for the collection to age gracefully with its surroundings, collecting an elegant patina over the years.
Discover Everything About Scandinavian Architecture
With the outburst of new and exciting art movements across Europe, traditional design concepts were being shaken to their core. While none of the movements promoted the same message, they all contributed to establishing new forms and functions that celebrated the modern age. Due to geographical isolation, Scandinavian designers were used to being resourceful with the limited amount of supplies available to them. Due to films becoming available of European designers working on new design concepts, Scandinavian designers of the 20s and 30s were able to build a new style. One that would have a global effect.
Edvin Engström and Swedish Interior Design
One key overarching factor of Scandinavian design is the desire to raise the standards of living for the everyday man. Inspired by the ‘Garden City’ movement born in the UK, architects such as Edvin Engström in Sweden decided to provide an idyllic suburban enclave with a distinct Scandinavian home design.
‘Södra Ängby’ is a residential neighbourhood in Stockholm, Sweden, curated in 1938 by Engström. All the houses, inspired by the design of cruise liners, are uniformly built to be the same using functionalist ideas and methods. Cubic forms, whitewashed exteriors, flat sheet metal roofs and curved balconies with fine metal detailing are just some of the iconic features that form part of this Scandinavian style house design. Today, they are considered to be a symbol of national cultural heritage and with over 500 villas, the neighbourhood is thought to be the largest example of functionalist villas in the world.
The strive for functionalism and design that ‘just works’ has been ingrained into the Scandanavian psyche for decades. However, thanks to the advances that the machine age brought along at the beginning of the 20th century, a more decorative and emotional element began to emerge in Scandinavian architecture.
Arne Jacobsen’s Scandinavian Modern Architecture
Arne Jacobsen, the celebrated Danish product designer, was a famous architect before creating his iconic Scandinavian chair designs. In the 1930s, Jacobsen opened his own office and shortly after he won the contract to regenerate the seafront area of Bellevue in the northern part of Copenhagen. His design for the Bellevue Theatre is considered by many to be the most important of his architectural works and a prime example of Danish functionalist design. The theatre building boasts a beautifully curved white exterior that is decorated with canvas and bamboo. Inside, the walls of the building are mosaiced and the roof is retractable - a real feat of engineering back in the day. This building conjured up a ‘dream of the modern lifestyle’ for 1930s Danes.
Scandinavian Home Furnishings
With the two world wars overshadowing daily life in the 20th century, opportunities for career expansion for many Scandinavian designers were altered. Many architects like Arne Jacobsen had to flee the occupation of their countries and leave behind their careers. This led to a huge burst of creativity with people finding new ways to express their ideas in smaller formats such as textiles, Scandinavian style furniture and other home furnishings.
Poul Henningsen’s Scandinavian Lighting
Poul Henningsen, in Denmark, is simply referred to as PH. He created an ultra-modern PH Lamp to create a warm and glare-free lighting solution for a Scandinavian living room design. The first PH lamps were designed in 1926 and new models continued to be designed well into the later part of the 20th century. In 1926, Henningsen applied for the patent under Danish law to be able to produce the PH lamps. After many years spent experimenting, in 1958, he launched perhaps his most iconic models, the PH5 and the PH Artichoke Lamp.
The PH Artichoke Lamp was commissioned for the Langelinie Pavilion and manufactured by Louis Poulsen & Company. Available in three colours and sizes, this lamp is made from laser-cut steel leaves held together by aircraft cables to form the shape of an artichoke. The layout of the leaves is carefully thought out to eliminate glare and provide an even cast of light across the room. This is a classically modern design that is still attempted to this day by other Nordic interior design retailers across the world. Henningsen’s other iconic design of the same year, the PH5 lamp is also still in production today. This simple, sleek design is composed of various concentric shapes to ensure that glare is reduced and only reflected light is emitted.
Scandinavian Design Materials
The Scandi look can be defined as being fresh and functional. Clean lines and a minimal style are reinforced by the use of natural materials. This helps to make this a practical design trend. Wood, like teak, oak or beech was a popular material of choice, adding warmth to interiors. Metals such as stainless steel or copper were also a modern and practical choice for designers as they not only provided strength but it added to the contemporary design aesthetic. Many materials were combined with textiles or glass to add a soft sophistication.
The Use of Enamel in Danish Interior Design
Enamel was often used to decorate metalwork and add colour to furnishings such as lampshades. Enamel allowed Scandinavian designers to stay true to their sustainable design principles by providing them with a natural alternative to paint which would chip and patinate over time. Denmark’s first industrial designer, Knud V. Engelhardt is a good example of a designer favouring enamel. From the 1930s, he used enamel for house numbers and street signs and designed with organic shapes and typographies, again a reference to nature. Enamels were widely used in Scandinavian home decor for signs, stoves and ovens, cookware, bathtubs, street furniture and many other things. After WW2 enamel declined in popularity due to cheaper alternatives becoming available, not by better aesthetics or durability.
Scandinavian Furniture - UK
Today, the principles of Scandinavian design still hold strong and its influence has permeated into all aspects of culture from graphic design, fashion and music. It appeals to people’s desire for a human connection with household objects, something that only carefully designed goods can achieve. At RAMSIGN, we build upon Danish design principles to create customisable, hand stencilled enamel signs. Using classic materials and traditional manufacturing processes each sign is designed to be both functional and beautiful - key elements of Scandinavian design.