Scandinavian interiors are a balance of functionality and aesthetics.
As Craig Ritche, Ikea’s Communication and Interior Design Manager, puts it, “Scandinavian style is characterised by three key components – functionality, simplicity and beauty. Although simple in design, clean lines are often incorporated with understated elegance and warm functionality, which creates a very homely feel.”
A blend of styles from Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland, the design results in spaces filled with light, heavily utilising natural elements, neutral colour palettes, and clean lines.
Where does Scandinavian design originate?
The environment in the Nordic countries was largely responsible for the design that evolved. Winters were long, meaning there was little daylight, and people often had very small houses, causing the need for bright and airy, yet cosy, homes.
In 1947, a popular design exhibition in Milan, Italy, called the Triennale di Milano, showcased Scandinavian furniture and home accessories from the Nordic countries – and they were very well received. Based on this popularity, the Design in Scandinavia show travelled across the U.S. and Canada from 1954 to 1957 [Impressive Interior Design].
The 1990’s saw a huge rise in popularity of Scandinavian design, when designers began creating bold, unique statement pieces as individual units of design.
And now? “Scandinavian design has been on the radar in the UK for a while,” says Christina Schmidt, co-founder of Skandium, “at first, among an initiated crowd of architects, designers and aficionados, but increasingly with the wider public, too.”
Homes in the UK have been influenced by architecture and interiors of other countries for a long time now, but a style that has increased in popularity more recently is one we’ve pinched from our Scandinavian friends.
It seems the principles of functional and simple, yet beautiful and elegant, sits quite well with us British folk.
How can I introduce Scandinavian design into my home?
There isn’t just one Scandinavian style, but there are certain elements that are well-recognised as typically Scandi.
There are some interesting differences to what you generally see in UK homes, too – for example, a fireplace in the corner of the room is common in Nordic homes, while you’d usually find them as a centrepiece in the UK.
Not everything has to match, and many homes mix vintage and traditional elements with the notorious simple and clean lines that we all know and love.
We’ve listed some of the well-known components of a Scandinavian interior, but of course there are many ways to incorporate your own style and personality with this decor.
The colour palette is typically very light and simple.
White is often used as the main colour, but doesn’t make the room look sparse because natural materials, such as wood, bring warmth and texture.
White is also a great blank slate to introduce any colour combination, from soft pastels to black accents.
Cool whites work well in south-facing rooms since they receive the best of the warm, summer daylight.
Warmer whites, on the other hand, work well to warm up north-facing rooms, since they receive lower levels of cooler, natural light.
Greys can also be used to create a beautiful, serene interior.
When deciding on warm or cool shades of this neutral, look to the same rules for white – cool for south-facing rooms and warm for north-facing rooms.
Incorporating pops of colour are a great way of brightening and lifting a room. Classically, function was placed above over aesthetics so colour would be kept to a minimum.
Over time, though, other styles have been combined with the ‘standard’ Scandi approach to create unique style and personality.
Try using a single sofa, chair, or large item to add a splash of colour. Alternatively, patterned accessories can work well – but remember simplicity is key for Scandinavian interiors, so avoid unnecessary clutter.
If bright and bold isn’t for you, try keeping it neutral, but play with layering complementary shades – this will prevent the room from looking cold.
Using multiple shades of the same colour helps to create interest and depth.
Black is regularly used too, helping to anchor the room and define and highlight the features of choice.
While the Scandinavians are known for their clean white interiors, dark shades are regularly introduced and balanced with light and dark accessories.
Textures and materials
Mixing textures and materials, such as unfinished wood pieces, fur rugs, and soft linens, brings nature into the home, adding that restful vibe that the decor is so famous for.
Plants, for example, are a great way to integrate colour and texture and add interest without feeling cluttered.
The Scandinavians are well known for their use of wood throughout their homes, largely due to an appreciation for readily available natural materials, but also for the way in which it adds warmth to the space.
Wooden flooring is a staple in Nordic interiors. The wood is often light in colour and used in all rooms, with exception to the bathroom.
If the thought of no carpet puts you on edge, try adding a large rug in a soft texture or natural material.
You can try painting interior brickwork or tongue and grooves for an easy way to add that all-important texture.
Scandinavian homes often feature large windows to make the room feel bright and open.
You’ll remember we said that Nordic winters are long and dark, so making the most of every ounce of natural light is key.
Windows are usually dressed in a soft, light material, such as cotton, allowing privacy without preventing natural light from entering.
Combine with a blackout roller or venetian blinds for the bedrooms.
Table and floor lamps are also regularly used to set the mood.
More commonly, minimalist light fixtures are used, though more recently we can see designers adding their own take on Scandinavian design and incorporating a more statement piece to pull the room together.
Clever use of accessories can also help bring brightness to the room, such as use of large mirrors to reflect natural light.
The design style puts a huge emphasis on efficient use of space, making maximum use of any awkward spots.
It works well with small spaces due to the inherent simplicity of Nordic style, with white as a predominant colour and an avoidance of unnecessary accessories.
With the use of natural materials and rugs, Scandinavian interiors avoid looking sterile.
A large importance is placed on giving furniture ‘space to breathe’. Unique, bold pieces are regularly used and should be allowed to do all of the talking – there’s no need to over-decorate.
Scandinavian style has a strong focus on liveability and leaving everything out in the open. You’ll see open shelving in many Scandi homes!
Ideas and inspiration of Scandinavian
interiors by room
We’ve collected a selection of interiors that showcase the elements we’ve discussed above and, although each have a unique twist, they are undeniably Scandinavian.
The Living Room
The Dining Room
Shop this look
Hero image: Stadshem