As the reach of this blog expands through the internet we will write in length about Scandinavian design and furniture, but we can’t do that without explaining what it’s all about.

The Scandinavian way of doing things permeates a lot of aspects of today’s contemporary design practices, and for good reason. Scandinavian people really made a mark on today’s world through furniture. Hans Wegner, Arne Jacobsen, Eero Saarinen (and Aarnio), Finn Juhl, these are some of the names that we will constantly mention in future articles. They serve as great examples of an age-old question: why does it seem like Nordic people are just inherently good at making furniture?

Three chairs by Arne Jacobsen, in order: Drop, Egg, and Swan chair. (C) Wikimedia commons.

A very, very brief history of Scandinavian design

There might be room for us to discuss the history of Scandinavian design much more properly on a different article, completely dedicated to that. Initially, you should know that there are five Scandinavian countries: Finland, Sweden, Iceland, Norway, and Denmark. Of these five countries, Denmark was probably the one that produced the most designers, with Finland coming in second.

Scandinavian design is as old as the 1920s Bauhaus in Germany (another face of European modernist furniture), but they thrived the most around the 1950s and 1960s, which is why this style is more associated with our beloved ‘mid-century modernist’ tradition.

The concept of hygge

For this article, we also want to briefly introduce the concept of hygge. You’ll find it mentioned a lot of times regarding the Scandinavian style, but its widespread use is very recent and modern, and it isn’t completely tied to Scandinavian furniture. It is, but in a very contemporary sense (like from the 1990s onward). It is a Danish word for a feeling of coziness, warmth, and comfort that many people use when talking about Scandinavian items.

The first image that comes up when you search for ‘hygge’ on Google. I don’t know who these people are, but ‘hygge’ is also about the joy of spending time with friends in a comfortable setting. There’s a German equivalent,
Gemütlichkeit, which roughly translates to the idea of having a good time with friends.
(C) Erik Christensen, Wikicommons.

The key aspects of Scandinavian furniture

A quick Wikipedia search will tell you that Scandinavian design is about simplicity, minimalism, and functionality. This is very true, but it goes a little deeper than that. Usually, those features encompass other things like a preference for white tones and wooden finishes, as well as modernist furniture. Some people believe that Scandinavian design began formally when the Lunning Prize was established in 1951. That award was intended to celebrate the growing industrial design industry in those countries, and many of our favorite designers earned it.

The style of these designers became heavily influenced by the modernist breakthroughs of other European countries, but it was their already large tradition of woodworking that made them stand out from other cultures in terms of furniture. What we are actually talking about is the sense of serenity and calmness that maybe, just maybe, can only be found in the rural and suburban areas of those types of countries, far away in the colder side of the world.

Scandinavian design is also, as I mentioned, wood-based almost entirely: you could consider Oak, Mahogany, and Pine their holy trinity. Cotton and wool for upholstery are very common, but Scandinavian design can also favor leather sometimes, albeit in smaller amounts. Other materials like glass and metal became more prominent because of the influence of modernism, but originally, wood and fabrics were the basic stuff.

Their search for simplicity made their lines straight and the shapes clean and basic as well, mainly squares and rectangles, very sleek for cabinets and dressers, and with rounded edges for couches and chairs, but still geometrical. One of the most distinctive aspects are the legs, which are traditionally tapered. In fact, some people consider that style of wooden legs as one of the best legacies from Scandinavian design. When they stretch outwards from the base, they provide unmatched stability to any piece.

There’s a lot more to be said about Scandinavian design, but I’ll leave most of it for another post.