The History of Scandinavian Design Furniture: An Introduction

At the heart of Scandinavian furniture sits its infamously minimalist design philosophy. Having flourished beautifully over the years throughout the Nordic region, Scandinavian design furniture encompasses both beauty and functionality, wedding artistic merit to functional, user-focused needs.


Whilst Scandinavian home design has always been about minimalism, it isn’t exercised to the extreme: designs are never minimalist for minimalism’s sake, always maintaining both usable functionality and beautiful aesthetics. Clean lines and simple, uncluttered curves are used to define Scandinavian furniture pieces in a way that can function happily in the homes of consumers. This aim for practicality for the everyday, rather than for pieces that the consumer merely aspires towards, is the real key to the worldwide success of Scandinavian furniture designers.

Essentially, Scandinavian design furniture is about finding a balance between the striking and the soothing, and minimalist design allows for a mixture of both bright and calming colors. It’s worth noting that the pieces are not only iconic from an artistic point of view, but have become in demand by millions of ordinary people seeking both beauty and utility, with the foundations of Scandinavian interior design allowing them to buy and embrace art as a functional purchase, rather than a purely aesthetic luxury.


Scandinavian modern design first made its appearance in the 1950s, spreading its wings first across Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland, and later around the rest of the world. Leading designer, Arne Jacobsen, helped to pioneer this key design movement and championed the concept of architectural functionalism. Architectural functionalism is the idea that one should always design with a purpose in mind – no frills without function. Hailing from Denmark, and a successful designer and architect, Jacobsen was a master at creating simple yet vividly memorable chair designs, most notably the Egg Chair. He remains a standing influence over Scandinavian home design to this day.

Alongside Jacobsen was the equally influential Scandinavian furniture designer, Hans Wegner, who made a significant impact on 20th century design. Wegner is, like Jacobsen, best known for his portfolio of clean and simple chair designs. He, along with his contemporaries, experimented widely and bravely with new materials and vibrant colors. Plastics, pastel colors, and futuristic shapes can all be found in the huge range of modernist creations with which Wegner graced the design world.


Since these two titans of design, along with the likes of Aalto and Isola, brought Scandinavian modern design to fame, it has continued to evolve across the globe – perhaps most notably in the form of Swedish retailer IKEA. Whilst the continued success and growth of IKEA is a testament to the strong resonance of the principles expounded by Jacobsen, Wegner, and co, it has led to the primary association of Scandinavian interior design with the rise of the flat-pack furniture phenomenon. Yet, flat-pack furniture, no matter how convenient – and cheap – it may be, is much more a product of the 21st century than it is of Scandinavia, which is responsible only for the aesthetics and not for the DIY element.

You see, Scandinavian design offers so much more than a clip-together formula for quick and easy furniture. Each and every piece, lovingly designed and crafted by talented modern designers, is created with a functional purpose, without pomp or ceremony, yet always with simple style and grace. Nordic design principles are less about money-saving convenience and more to do with quality and timeless style.


Nordic influence is everywhere you look, whether you realize it or not. The iPhone, whilst very much a Californian birth-child, could feasibly claim Scandinavia as its ancestor; its sleek and simple, curved body, with minimal buttons – but never so few that your user options are limited – just screams Scandinavian minimalism. You’ll find a similar philosophy employed in modern web design, usually on those websites that you find simultaneously the most stylish and the easiest to use. Gone are multiple pop-ups and 50-plus links per page and instead are clean lines and just the number of links that you need – no more, mind – surely taking influence from the beautifully minimalistic Scandinavian interior design fundamentals.


So, it is a well-balanced mixture of simplicity, beauty, and utility that signifies the fundamentals of Scandinavian design philosophy, rather than flat-packed convenience. Passionate, independent designers, such as the likes of Simon Legald or Gry Fager, keep Scandinavian furniture current, with quality pieces designed with the purpose and beauty that has taken its rightful place in the world’s modern design landscape.

Written for Blackthumb Decor by Katie Howe.

Images 1. Bernhard Schramm 2. Bo Bedre 3. Schoener-Wohnen 4. Blackthumb Decor. 5. Stylizimo Blog 6. Blackthumb Decor