The modernistic concept of mankind having the ability to create, improve and alter his surrounding environment evolved in the late 19th century and left its mark on architecture, decor, art, music and literature of the period. The very early stages of this philosophical movement were known as Art Nouveau (or more specifically “Jugend” in Germanic Europe). The core trait of the movement was as a counter-movement to the earlier more historically perpetuating philosophies, being more radical and experimental while challenging the norms of previously traditionalist schools of thought. Immediately after the Great War, and throughout the 1920’s, modernism caught some real momentum and several derivative forms emerged, including Art Déco and Bauhaus, which is widely regarded a predecessor to functionalism.
Scandinavian design traces its roots to Modernism, but also to the Scandinavian culture and ethos. Fundamentally it is comprised of simplicity and function, inspired by nature and the Scandinavian climate, as well as local traditions. Twenties Classicism, also known as Nordic Classicism, refers to an art form within architecture and design that was prevalent in Scandinavia from around 1910 to the early 30’s.
The Stockholm Exhibition of 1930 is widely regarded as the breakthrough of functionalism in Scandinavia. In subsequent decades, a plethora of exhibits of Scandinavian design in Europe and North America, illustrated the growing popularity of this form of functionalism to designers and manufacturers. The ideas of functionalism came into their true stride after WWII, and focused more and more on altering ones surroundings to suit specific needs. This became apparent in everything from city planning and the very function and fabric of society, to architecture, furnishings and everyday goods around the home. There was strong credence in development and forward thinking, with the general outlook on the future being very positive.
Scandinavian design was influenced by notions of simplicity, minimalism and functionality, and underwent its Golden Age in the 1950’s. The style was timeless and hardy while keeping human utility in mind. Fundamentally simple while retaining a theme of elegance, it encompasses innovative, and functional everyday products, with simplified straight-line form and discrete colour tones. The style very swiftly gained popular support, even outside Scandinavia. The phrase “Scandinavian design” was coined during an large exhibit tour called "Design in Scandinavia”, which was hosted in the USA and Canada from 1954 to 1957. The Scandinavian design has, with design variations, parallel also been marketed under each country's name; Swedish/Danish/Norwegian and Finnish Design.
The Scandinavian love of light and nature forms the basis of Scandinavian design. Its derivative products are timeless and for all categories; whether furniture, interior fittings, everyday trinkets, architecture, artisan glass, jewellery et al; the common denominators are purity, simplicity, natural raw materials, and high quality craftsmanship. Another specific trait is that equal emphasis is placed on function and ergonomics, as on aesthetic appeal; striving to simplify by integrating practical functionality. In short; low maintenance, resilient products that stand the test of time, both in terms of general wear and tear, as well as timeless appeal over transitions in aesthetic preferences.
There are two specific niches within Scandinavian design, one being based on general industrial design for everyone, with well known international brands such as IKEA, H&M, Lego, Pandora and Fiskars Group, while the second is commonly referred to as Exclusive Scandinavian and relies more on craftsmanship and raw materials expertise to fashion premier products. Contrary to mainstream luxury products that are often acquired with an intention to be striking and make an immediate impression on others, Exclusive Scandinavian represents sophistication and discrete luxury, again in line with the Scandinavian understated ethos. This allows any such products to leave a lasting appeal and fascination, where function, composition, detail, and craft all work together to achieve premier products.
Nature is one of the greatest sources of inspiration to Scandinavian interior design, the most important aspects being the utilisation of light colour schemes and also eliminating superfluous detail and focusing on the simplistic. The light design, of course, serves as a method for countering the long and dark winters inherent in Scandinavia, so the requirement for light is a recurring and central theme of the style.
It utilises natural materials as components of furniture and fittings in combinations of timber, metals, leather, glass, stone and various fabrics such as raw linen. The Scandinavian range of colour relies on earthy tones such as white and off-white, beige, moss-green, light brown, light blue hinting toward grey tones. Light timber types, glazed or untreated, preferably birch, ash, or beech are used to produce light and flexible furniture.
Decorate sparsely, endeavouring to accomplish airy surfaces while optimising light conditions. Last, but not least, strive to optimise the use of armatures to accomplish ambience. Specific function lighting, such as dedicated reading lamps for tabletops and armchairs, decorative lighting to illuminate gloomy corners such as dual lamps at variable levels and floor based lamps that achieve a harmonious background light. Further elevate the ambience by individually illuminating window niches, staircases, decorative ornaments, and plants. Lighting specifically directed at the shortest wall in a room will make the room appear larger. Of course, all of these tips are general by nature and one would be enthusiastically encouraged to personalise the room by adding detail which indicates distinctive taste preferences.
Geographically, Scandinavia is the peninsula on which lie Norway and Sweden, roughly separated by a border running along the Scandes mountain range (geologically Fennoscandia includes Finland, Karelia, and the Kola Peninsula). Historically and culturally, Scandinavia also encompasses Denmark since the three nations speak Scandinavian languages and can understand each other fairly well. The concept of the Nordic Countries have for historical reasons come to incorporate Iceland and Finland since they share a common history with the Scandinavian countries. Also, the self governing Åland Islands are a protectorate of Finland, while the self governing territories of Faroe Islands and Greenland are protectorates of Denmark. In general, however, these technical specifics are not emphasised and to most people “Scandinavia” and “Nordic Countries” tend to be equatable expressions that incorporate all of the aforementioned countries.
The Nordic Countries (Sweden, Norway, and Denmark) share a common history and significant cultural backgrounds, while also practicing similar political fundamentals and encouraging economic and trade ties. Between 1397 and 1523 the countries were unified, bound under the Kalmar Union treaty which ended with Swedens withdrawal. Norway remained part of Denmark until 1814, where it entered into a Personal Union with Sweden until declaring independence in 1905. Finland was part of Sweden from 1157 until 1809, when the territory was conquered by Russia, while they were subsequently able to declare independence in 1917. Iceland won its independence from Denmark as late as 1944.
In the age of the Vikings and early Medieval period, Ancient Norse (a Germanic language) was spoken in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and certain parts of the British Isles. Swedish, Norwegian and Danish speakers are more or less able to understand one another in their mutual native tongues today. Icelandic did not evolve much from its Norse roots due to its geographic isolation and, while vaguely recognisable, really not understood by Scandinavians, albeit the Icelandic are taught some Danish as part of their academic curriculum. Finnish (part of the Finno-Ugric language group) is an entirely different language and is not understood by the others at all, but Finns study compulsory Swedish at school and also have a Swedish speaking minority population.