The History of Scandinavian Design

Scandinavian design is a trend that doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. It’s a light, relaxing and homely style that has appealed to Australians for years and continues to be highlighted across homeware and home renovation trends. But where did it begin? Get ready for an interesting history lesson…

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As the 19th century drew to a close, the world was rapidly changing. Life, commerce, and politics were being affected by the industrial revolution, and modernism was being born.

The early years of the 20th century saw the introduction of art nouveau which was hailed as “the new style for the new century”, and which was in many ways a rejection of previous ideas. Rather like the Arts and Crafts movement, art nouveau designs were inspired by nature and formed a growing rejection of traditional notions of the aristocracy and social class.

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Then came WWI followed by the Roaring Twenties, and by 1925, art nouveau had been virtually wiped out by the coming of art deco, which was based on the ever-growing advance of industrialism and rapidly became the favoured art and design style of the new aristocracy of the nouveau riche.

Beauty Was Only For Those Who Could Afford It

Up until that point, the idea of beauty in the home was available only to those who could afford it, and the more ostentatious the design the more important the homeowner was, so it was usually a case of the bigger the better. However, after the end of the war, the design world was looking for an antidote to the totalitarianism of the international style represented by the Bauhaus, which was obviously linked with Germany. It began to be believed that the functionality of things required by the masses could be combined with the beauty previously reserved for the wealthy, and such products could now be made affordable for everyone, no matter their supposed social standing.

This was very true in relation to design, and after the war, the Scandinavian nations came closer together and a number of design conferences were held in various cities in the 1940’s.

Scandinavia has long, cold winters, and for many years functionality, and by definition simplicity, had been prized far above beauty. Functionality had also been a major tenet of the Bauhaus movement and had been an influence on Scandinavian architecture for some time.

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In 1951, Frederik Lunning, a New York importer of Danish designs, founded the Lunning Prize which rapidly became the “Nobel Prize of Scandinavian Design” and shortly after that, one Elizabeth Gordon, who was editor of “House Beautiful” magazine, emphasised Scandinavian design as “democratic, natural, minimal, intimate, and focused on the home and family, not the State.” She arranged a travelling exhibition of the best designs that Scandinavia had to offer called simply “Design in Scandinavia” and for three years it visited many cities in the US and Canada.

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Today, rooms that are designed in the Scandinavian style have white walls to maximise light, plain wooden floors, natural textures such as wood and stone, no carpets or heavy curtains, and furniture that is minimal, yet elegant. Simplicity and uncluttered are two words which spring to mind, along with neutral overall colour with little spots of striking colour here and there, often using plants which, along with bare wood floors and minimalist chair legs, bring in the sense of the outside world which is so important in Scandinavian design.

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