A Brief History Of Scandinavian Design

A Brief History Of Scandinavian Design

By Steve Davey

A Brief History Of Scandinavian Design

It would take more than just a blog post to examine the whole history of Nordic design, but to give you an overview we’ve distilled it into 10 key points:

Sunlit Scandinavian forests, natural wood and using nature, design and nature for Scandinavian design

Sunlight Forest of Scandinavia, a love of nature.

1.   The term Scandinavia covers the Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden

2.   Many of the beautiful key characteristics that we naturally associate with Scandi design developed as a direct result of its seasons and those materials readily available from the land. Long, dark winters are countered by bright spaces that let in – and reflect – as much natural light as possible and a multitude of wood species native to Sweden and Finland shaped their love of rustic, timber – hewn furniture. This affinity with the natural environment remains at the heart of Scandinavian culture today.

The concept of Danish Hygge, part of the Scandinavian culture or cosy, special moments.

Danish concept of ‘Hygge’ cosy, magical moments spent with friends & family, usually with candle light

3.   For half of the year, families would need to spend a great deal of time indoors so these spaces not only need to be cosy and warm, but ones that facilitated socialising and were filled with positive energy. This time spent eating and drinking with friends and relatives forms the corner stone for many of the Scandi ‘rituals’, such as ‘Hygge’ and ‘Fika’


1930's stockholm Design Exhibition Postersm English and Swedish translations

Original Posters of the 1930’s Stockholm Design Exhibition. Images by Wikipedia and swedishdesign.org

4.  Throughout the 20th century exhibitions played a huge role in spreading the word about Scandinavian design, but it was at the popular design show ‘Treinnale di Milano’ in 1947 that furniture and homewares first came to the attention of the national stage.

Design in Scandivai exhibition in 1954 at Brooklyn museum, showing Scandinavian chairs

Design in Scandinavia Exhibition, 1954, Brooklyn Museum, image by Wikipedia


5.  The collective term ‘Scandinavian Design’ was first coined as a result of a ‘Design in Scandinavia’ show that toured the United States and Canada between 1954 and 1957.

Verner Panton, Scandinavian designer and Iconic Red Verner Panton Chair

Designer Verner Panton and his iconic Panton Chair

6.  Throughout its history, European – led art movements such as Constructivism, Functionalism, Minimalism and Surrealism had a huge influence on Scandinavian design (and vice versa – see (Alvar Aalto). many of their hallmarks can be found in iconic designs such as Verner Panton’s surreal ‘Panton Chair’ – and Alvar Aalto’s Savoy’ Aalto vase, are pieces that is still as popular today as they were when they were first launched.

One of our favourite still is Verner Panton’s VP1 Flowerpot Pendant, 1968, still as cool and as relevant in todays contemporary interiors and an iconic light, ever evolving from original bright pop colours to sophisticated shades.

Verner Panton, Scandinavian design, VP1 light, iconic design, beige red,

Iconic Flowerpot Pendant VP1 by Verner Panton in Beige Red



Mouth blown svaoy vase, by Alvar Aalto, Finnish glassware made by Iittala

Savoy Vase by Alvar Aalto and produced by Iittala, first created in 1937. Image by Leroy Agency for Iittala


Life Magazine cover of 1965 featuring design house marimekko, bold, patterns and colours.

Marimekko designs on the cover of Life Magazine 1965

7.  The ’60’s was a key period for Scandinavian design with Marimekko’s bold floral designs playing a defining role in the fashion of the era. In the spirit of the age the patterns were colourful and free spirited.

8.  As mass production increased in the 1990’s Scandinavians championed new low – cost materials such as form – pressed wood, plastics, anodised or enamelled aluminium or pressed steel. Behind this lay the philosophy that good design should be accessible to everyone.

Holmegaard palet storage jars by Michael bang, originally created in the 1960's. Retro Danish glassware.

Holmegaard Palet Storage Jars by Michael Bang originally created in the 1960’s.

9.  Nordic brands remain at the forefront of design today, but while there’s constantly a fresh crop of designs, many of the classic pieces such as the Iittala Kastehelmi  range or the Holmegaard Palet Storage Jars  have never gone out of fashion.

10.  Our curated collection of Scandinavian homewares has everything you need to add a touch of Nordic spirit to your home with everything from iconic brands through to up and coming designers. Why not take a look?


Credit: Main image from My Scandinavian Home blog, of Pella Hedeby’s Home, image by Sara Medina Lind.