Beyond IKEA: 5 Elements of Scandinavian Design

I recently battled the Copenhagen rental market and came out with a new flat, a fantastic gang of international flatmates, and a dryer – a rare find in Danish households. All in all, a challenge successfully completed. The only issue was, the space was unfurnished and I was left to fill a empty, blank room and would have to hit the shops. Most people are familiar with IKEA, but I was looking for some more  uniquely “Scandinavian” inspiration so that my space wouldn’t resemble every other place I’ve lived in for the last few years. After countless hours spent in stores and friends’ houses around Copenhagen, this is what I’ve discovered about Scandinavian design.

1. Simplicity

One of the key principles of Scandinavian design is prioritising function without sacrificing gracefulness and beauty. Many of the furniture pieces by Danish designers sport simple, clean lines for a minimalistic look that is also very functional and comfortable. One of the most widely recognised example of this is the Arne Jacobsen 7 chair, which has seen worldwide success. The clean lines of this style of furniture allow for a feeling of spaciousness – a blessing for small rooms and apartments. It is a timeless look and people tend to invest in good, quality pieces which will last a long time.

Arne Jacobsen Danish Design 7 chair

The Arne Jacobsen 7 chair is an iconic piece of Scandinavian design.

2. Lighting

Scandinavians spend a lot of time indoors during the long, dark winters so it’s important to bring light into the home. Light is incorporated into many aspects of Scandinavian design. Walk into any Danish home goods shop and you will find an impressive selection of candles in all shapes, sizes, and colours. Candlelight creates a warm atmosphere regardless of the season – even unlit, they make a nice accessory to any surface top. Mirrors are commonly used for making spaces seem bigger and brighter without adding too much clutter to the walls. While natural lighting is used as much as possible, its necessary to use modern lighting as well. Most Scandinavian modern lighting features a simple aesthetic and the same clean lines found in furniture – no extravagant chandeliers here!

Scandinavian design candles hygge

Candles are an important element for fighting off the winter blues.

3. White, with pops of colour

White (or any subtle, neutral colour) is the common colour scheme in Scandinavian design. White elements in a room contribute to the feeling of natural light by making it brighter and giving the illusion of more space, making the room seem uncluttered. That’s not to say that Scandinavian homes are boring and bland; colour is incorporated in the small details throughout the house. This includes vases, rugs, cushions, and wall art which can be interchanged to spice up a room without spending a lot of money.

Scandinavian interior design

White and other neutral colours are used in Scandinavian design contrasted with pops of colour.

4. Wood

Wood is a predominant feature in Scandinavian interiors, allowing for an outdoor feeling indoors, and it compliments a white colour scheme quite well. Natural wood is most commonly used in Scandinavian design as flooring and furniture design, but it is also used in on walls and in accessories. White pine, ash, and beech wood are the preferred types of wood in Scandinavian design.

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5. Entertaining

The Scandinavians often like to socialise at home, which means its important to have an inviting space that can accommodate extra people. A large dining table, or a dining table which can be expanded, is essential in a Scandinavian home along with extra chairs for guests. Being surrounded by friends and family in a warm, inviting atmosphere is almost the definition of hygge – a key element of the Scandinavian lifestyle.

Scandinavian interior design

Entertaining at home is a factor that plays into Scandinavian design.

A focus on bright, uncluttered spaces really taps into the Scandinavian idea of lagom – not too much, but just enough. One of the best things about Scandinavian design is that it is meant to be accessible and affordable to everyone. All of these elements are easily incorporated into homes are part of a classic look that doesn’t need to be consistently updated. In Scandinavia, there are just as many high-end shops as there are budget-friendly shops, so having a cosy and inviting home is feasible for everyone.

Images from here, here, here, here, and here.


Anna Guastello
3 Jul 2014

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