Scandi-style decor is not to be confused with minimalism. Although there are similarities, and Scandinavian design has been celebrated for decades with its clean lines, structured silhouettes, and neutral colour palettes. Reaching new heights during the mid-20th century, thanks to designers such as Maija Isola, Alvar Aalto, Nanna Ditzel and Hans J. Wegner, the simple, yet functional, style has become one of the most popular across the world.
With brands and designers taking inspiration from the Nordic lifestyle and the region’s connection to nature, the movement has gathered traction in interior design and we see elements of it across a variety of formats and applications as well as being merged into other design styles.
To encapsulate the style, think less cold and stark and more an interior that is cosy, considered and calming. With natural materials, warm neutrals, and handcrafted quality, the Scandi aesthetic can transform a home regardless of its shape, size, and existing features. It can be a simple look to recreate but only when applied with a conscious mindset. Hence, we have enlisted the help of ten designers to spotlight different techniques in creating the perfect Scandi-inspired interior.
Scandi-style home decor ideas
1. Incorporate natural timbers as a focal point of the interior
Be it furniture, exposed shelving, cabinetry, or flooring, spotlighting natural wood as part of the interior scheme is key for a Scandinavian design. With the regions access to timber and well-managed forestry schemes, the material has always played a huge role in recreating the aesthetic.
“Combining timber with light off-whites or warm greys is a great place to start,” says Kashi Shikunova, the director of YAM Studios (opens in new tab). “Layering textures and natural materials such as wood will help to build a warm and nurturing environment while clean lines and restricted palettes will create balance and serenity.”
Scandinavian homes focus on lighter colored timbers due to the choice of local varieties so be sure to opt for beech, ash, pine or even a light-coloured oak. Wooden slatted wall panelling is a great way to add depth and character into the room.
2. Use texture, rather than color, for contrast.
A characteristic of Scandinavian style is the rich mix of textures and designers use this to break up a scheme which might be low in color contrast. “It’s the blending of different materials that brings the visual interest and keeps the overall atmosphere relaxed and liveable,” states Andrew Griffiths, the founder of boutique interior design studio, A New Day (opens in new tab).
Using matching tones of color for wall paint and tiles in this modern kitchen is a simple demonstration of how texture can bring in depth to neutral spaces. “We recently completed a kitchen where the tiles and wall color were a similar warm neutral tone,” Griffiths reveals. “However, it was the unevenness of the handmade zellige tiles which added a charm to the space and elevated the overall design.”
Opt for handcrafted tiles which have an irregular finish or surface to ensure they stand out and create the contrast you need.
3. Select a few key pieces of furniture and give them space to breathe
While there are differences, Scandinavian interiors have a lot in common with minimalism in interior design, and tend to be clutter-free. “Simplicity is key to Scandi-style living,” comments interior designer Margot Tsim. “It is about choosing wisely a few key pieces of furniture and giving them space to breathe within a room.”
With function also playing a role in the creation of Scandinavian homes, choose items with purpose and those that are not only elegant, but practical too. “Wall-mounted storage frees up floor space,” she continues, “and in a recent St James project this allowed for a convivial space around the dining table and chairs.” When incorporating storage, choose light-washed timbers against light-colored walls to keep the room bright and fresh.
4. Use darker wood accents and reclaimed accessories for a rustic Nordic feel
While most Scandi and Nordic interiors use paler wood varieties, small touches of dark wood help to celebrate a more rustic approach which complements a neutral colour scheme beautifully.
“The owner wanted to fill the shelves with shapely ceramics and rustic treasures which stand out against a plain backdrop,” says Roundhouse (opens in new tab) designer Sam Hart, when discussing a recently completed (mostly) white kitchen project where the client asked for an elegant Nordic feel. “Slim strips of bronze were also used on the island to enhance the floating appearance of the design which help to add depth and contrast to the room.”
With soft finishes and clean lines, this kitchen also includes Shaker-style doors to honour the property’s period architecture. Perfectly balanced, the room has a composed ambiance; an atmosphere that radiates when this style is executed well.
5. Choose natural fibres such as linen and hemp
“Loose natural fibers such as linen and hemp lend softness to a space that helps to create a casual feel,” says Sheena Murphy, one half of London and New York design studio Nune (opens in new tab). These textiles, often synonymous with Scandinavian style interiors, connect the home to nature in a chic and elegant way.
With the Scandinavian lifestyle paying reverence to the natural ecosystems around it, embracing this within the home is a must when recreating the look. Natural wood flooring is complimented well with organic fibers and brings an earthy, wholesome quality to the space when paired together. Working with the natural colors of the fibers, such as in this living room window treatment above, also contributes to the tranquillity of a Scandi-inspired home.
6. Let the natural materials in the space provide the color
With its strong connection to the natural world and its pared-back color palette, the best solution for adding different hues into a Scandi aesthetic is through materials such as wood and leather. “Against walls of white or grey tones, larger pieces of furniture with colours such as brown or black add depth and interest to avoid the space looking flat,” advises Juliette Thomas, the founder and director of Juliettes Interiors (opens in new tab).
Layering these natural shades together also works well, especially with such a variety of finishes available on wooden furniture and flooring. Another great material option is cork and again, with its soft, organic tone, it can easily be added into Scandinavian design. Cork flooring has been reimagined by Recork (opens in new tab) who now offer six different shade options on its recycled and sustainably harvested cork strip flooring. The perfect base to build on for a Scandi-inspired home.
7. Make sure the lighting is ambient
“Only use lower intensity lighting such as floor and table lamps, rather than large overhead pendants,” states interior designer Ann Marie Cousins of AMC Design (opens in new tab), who also comments on the importance of how the room makes you and your guests feel. “A hygge space is essential to creating the right atmosphere and you need to feel comfortable and welcomed into the room.”
Through smaller design techniques and details, you can feel warmth within a space which plays a key role in Scandinavian design with its colder climates and longer winters. Details such as a wood-burning stove or large pillar candles can help to also add a cosier glow. Alongside tactile, natural materials, and foliage or dried flowers or branches, it will result in a harmonious environment overall.
8. Remember, less is more!
The key to achieving Scandi style is not to overcrowd a space or fill the home with too much pattern and color. “Always use open space planning,” advises Natalie Fogelstrom, the Managing Director of Koja Design (opens in new tab). “Warm, neutral color schemes work best too with natural stones like travertine, and wood and plants helping to bring it all together.”
When it comes to styling a space, rather than going over the top, choose accessories which add comfort. “Linen bedding, wool blankets, cushions and candles all help to create a homely atmosphere,” says Fogelstrom.
“This is one of the main characteristics of how a Scandi-inspired space should feel.” So, while less is more in this instance, if your furniture has space to breathe, fill the sofa or bed with different textured cushions and a warm throw to create layers and subsequently adding depth into the room.
9. Use monochrome accents to make the neutral colors pop
A pared back scheme can really come to life when complemented with contrasting black accents such as window frames, taps and hardware. In the kitchen, blonde-colored woods and light kitchens can be elevated with black handles, accessories, and frames. “In a recent project we included mid-century modern furniture in light wood with black rush seating,” reveals interior designer Sarah Fox (opens in new tab).
“We continued the contrast with monochromatic pictures in black frames and then added black-framed Crittall style doors. It really complemented the look with its simple lines while creating wow-factor with an open view to the backyard.”
A monochromatic scheme doesn’t always have to be black and white. It can also be created with warm neutrals set against dark woods and dark grey accessories. When using a monochromatic scheme, add in plants and muted artwork for small and subtle pops of color.
10. Use good quality materials that will stand the test of time
The slogan ‘Better Living for Everyday’ was launched during the 1930 Stockholm exhibition, a time when the leadership of the country established new guidelines of what good living, taste and social equality might mean. “The Scandinavian lifestyle is about creating spaces which support the everyday well,” explains the original co-founder of Skandium (opens in new tab) and interior designer, Christina Schmidt (opens in new tab). “This is done by investing into good quality materials that will last through time, as well as creating an interior which is fresh, light and clean.”
With Scandinavians having a natural talent and ambition to focus on the indoors, and with a lack of light especially in the winter months, homes gravitate towards being open, well-designed, and well-structured, with the use of biophilia playing a huge role within them. Trees in pots are a Scandinavian theme. “It is about embracing warmth and creating layers of texture, light and color in a harmonious way,” Schmidt continues. “Handcrafted items lend themselves to a warm and relaxing space through the materials used, the narratives behind each piece and the attention to detail in their creation.”
Design Writer, presenter, panel host, consultant and journalist Roddy Clarke is a regular in the pages of Livingetc. He also writes frequently for FT Weekend and Forbes. Based in London, and with a breadth of skills and hands on industry experience, Roddy now offers an exclusive interior styling and design service.
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