What's the Deal with Scandinavian Furniture?

The clean edges and soaring lines of modern art and design are so simple and minimalistic that the Modernist movement is almost a ubiquitous punchline in midea. In many sitcoms and movies, characters are puzzled by modern art exhibitions in museums, unsure how to place a funky modern sculpture in their living room, or something else. As a result, people often do not realize that this modern design is not native to North America. In fact, it has its origins in Scandinavia.

“Scandinavia” refers to the region of Northern Europe, including Iceland, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and Norway. Design from these regions is known to be minimalistic and sleek, with simple lines and high functionality. The design style is effective and functional, without many frills or extra elements. Only the things that are needed are used. While clean and simple, this Scandinavian aesthetic can be punctuated with bold splashes of color or fun, wavy shapes to interrupt the flowing lines with just a little excitement.

The style we all know so well emerged in the early-to-mid 20th century from Northern European designers, in an attempt to break away from the lavishness and luxury that had been the social norm, with citizens struggling to out-opulent each other, so to speak. As a result, homes were cluttered with bulky, heavy furtniture, often made of dark wood. With slender furniture, a neutral color palette, and emphasis on natural lighting, the new Nordic design was an attempt to make the long Northern European winters more bearable by allowing the home to feel more spacious, open, and comfortable, while retaining its practicality. It quickly gained popularity across the world, as homeowners sought to lighten up and declutter their living spaces.

You might be familiar with the clean, modern aesthetic from design magazines and online blogs. You’ll see white walls, tiered chandeliers, light wooden floors, and floor-to-ceiling windows. Keep in mind, changing the architecture of your home is not always a practical option, so don’t feel discouraged if you feel that you can’t afford or are somehow else not able to mimic the tasteful, neat, classy look of those blogs. All it really takes is some organization and optimization of the space that you do have. Avoid things like large, dark area rugs or bookshelves that line the entire wall. Instead, pick a light-colored mat or carpet and funky shelving unit. Reflective glass decorations will add some light (maybe even rainbows!) to the space, and art on the walls will make your space even homier.

Indeed, the entire theme of Scandinavian furniture and décor is that of function, simplicity, and making good use of space. As the Modernist art movement bled into film, paintings, and other areas of design, designers latched onto the ideas of light, open air, and neat organization. Mixed materials became common, such as couches made from one fabric with some nice contrast, both in terms of textile and color, in the cushions. On the same vein, while you might think of smooth angles and sleek straight lines as an integral aspect of Scandinavian design, the truth is that curves have their place here too. Form-bent chairs or footrests are common, as well as angular lamps and decorative sculpture pieces. It doesn’t have to be rectangular to “count” as modern or Nordic. All that matters are the regularity, cleanness, and space.

The Scandinavian design theme is today mass-produced, affordable, and accessibility to the general public. These pieces are designed by people for people, with their comfort in mind. The graceful lines and smooth curves replace the heavy dark furniture of the previous centuries, making the home appear more welcoming and inviting. Focusing on functionality without eliminating beauty and lightness, Scandinavian design is not about starting new trends for the sake of market success. In fact, these designers understand that if a homeowner needs something, they will buy it; if they don’t need something, then that product has no place on the market in the first place.

The next time you hit up your local Ikea, you might want to spend some time thinking about the rich history of each item. You might have noticed that each piece of inventory has some non-English name. These are either Swedish translations of the item description, such as “bookcase” or “bedframe,” but some are also named after Nordic cities and towns, which harkens back to the whole point of modern Scandinavian furniture: it’s not just about looking the best superficially, but about everybody feeling comfortable and at home.