Scandinavian modern design became all the rage in the U.S. in the 1950s — think postwar optimism, with veterans returning, starting families, and needing to fill their homes with affordable furniture. This perfectly matched one of this genre’s main tenets: that beautiful and functional design should be available not just to the rich, but to everyone. Since then, this style has been here to stay.
The goal of Scandinavian modern design — achieved by iconic designers like Arne Jacobsen, Hans Wegner, Verner Panton, Poul Kjaerholm, and Alvar Aalto — was to combine functionality and aesthetics, creating useful things that make life better without skimping on beauty and grace. Modern materials (like form-pressed wood, plastics, anodized or enameled aluminum, and pressed steel) and new, low-cost methods of mass production made it easy to do just that.
This aesthetic is timeless and enduring: six decades after its original heyday, the light, airy, and clean-lined look is as appealing today as it was to our parents and grandparents. Versatility is another boon; Scandinavian modern design is the ultimate chameleon, and plays well with a variety of other styles.
But how do you incorporate this aesthetic without looking like page 876 of the Ikea catalog? Or a slick, impersonal showroom? Achieving success on this front isn’t hard, but if you need a jump-start, begin with this quartet of tips for success:
Keep it simple. The cool, blonde woods and organic shapes of Scandinavian furniture harmonize beautifully with the greyed-out pastels, cream hues, bleached wood, and painted furniture of Gustavian style. Named for 18th-century King Gustav III of Sweden, this look prizes simplicity.
Bring the look home: Combine modern, light wood furniture with a pickled white floor and grey walls, or a pair of bookshelves painted a muted dove hue.
Mix it in with your metals. Because of its clean lines, no-frills attitude, and emphasis on function, Scandinavian design fits right in with contemporary, industrial pieces. A sleek Hans Wegner desk looks beautiful next to industrial-chic rusty metal furniture, or a chrome-y Mies table, as a design counterpoint.
Bring the look home: Hang some colorful, blown-up photos in skinny metal frames over a Scandinavian sofa, or group curvy, pressed wood side chairs next to a coffee table made from a shipping palette with big metal wheels.
Throw in a little color… Contrary to what some believe, this style is not just about blonde wood and Nordic understatement. Marimekko is a famed purveyor of Scandinavian chic, known among other things for blown-up fabric prints in vibrant hues. And a classic Verner Panton S Chair in red is just that: classic.
Bring the look home: Pop a bold, bright ‘50s bowl on a sleek sideboard or upholster dining chair seat cushions in a bold, hopped-up floral print.
…but anchor the look with black and white. Something about the natural earthy wood grains and raffia cries out to be accented with bold black and white. The contrast is wonderful, and it’s really hard to go overboard with such a stark palette.
Bring the look home: Judiciously mix in a selection of black candleholders, white vases, the white mats of framed art, black lampshades, and white picture frames.
— Maria Ricapito