I’ve been wanting to cover Scandinavian interiors on the blog for some time – they’re so popular right now, and in a way I guess that’s what put me off until now. It felt a bit like many other excellent blogs were covering Scandi style, and I honestly wasn’t sure about what I could bring to the party that was a little bit, well, different. But then I had a lightbulb moment (I can be a bit slow on the uptake at times) as it dawned on me that one of my best friends was Danish – yup, from, you know, Scandinavia. Not only that, but she has impeccable taste and style. She is the reason I have an obsession (bordering on unhealthy at times) with pretty much anything by Normann Copenhagen…
So, I asked her if she could give me some hints and tips to help me create a really helpful guide to creating Scandinavian style at home. Not only did she do that, but, because she’s fabulous, she went one better and drafted me a blog post! And she put so much effort and detail into it, she had to split it into two parts. Best.Friend.Ever! So, that’s enough from me – who better to tell you about true Scandi style than the lovely Eva!? And here she is….
“My good friend Jill asked me about tips for a blog post on Scandinavian style and interior design. I guess my main qualification is, well, to be Scandinavian (Danish) and have a certain sweet spot for interior design and shopping. And once I started to think about it, the project expanded into an entire guest-star blog in 2 parts:
First of all, not all Scandinavian homes look like the magazines; there are some quite horrid examples out there. But still, there might be some kind of shared stylistic genetics. And normally you are never in doubt when you enter a Scandinavian home, even if they live abroad (currently I am an expat myself).
Secondly, there are probably just as many opinions about what Scandinavian style is as there are people in the Nordic countries (a little geography lesson: there are 3 Scandinavian countries, the old Calmar Union: Denmark, Norway and Sweden; but 5 Nordic countries which include Finland and Iceland). So whilst we also tend to forget ourselves and use the two terms rather inter-changeably, as so much good design come from Iceland and Finland too, it is probably more correct to call this a piece on Nordic living!
But here is my take on it: it’s all about (1) balances and (2) lighting. We will look at the first below and the second theme in part 2 of the blog.
The photo above sums up the entire blog: a contrast of materials and old/new design and a nice light setting too. The absolutely gorgeous chair is the Wegner PP19 ‘(teddy)-bear chair’ that unfortunately also comes with a hefty price tag (look it up if you dare!).
PART 1, CONTRAST and BALANCE
I think that a lovely homely yet stylish look has a lot to do with reaching equilibrium between the following contrasts:
1) Soft and hard materials: The first essential balance to get right is that of materials. Think about the most stereotypical Nordic look: cold white walls contrasted with a warm organic feel from wooden floors (no wall-to-wall carpets here!). The furniture will often be a mixture of sleek stainless steel and softer wood. Going too much to one extreme with marble/tiled floors and Italian glass/steel furniture, and your home will just be perceived as ‘cold and un-homely’. While an overflow of wood, wallpaper, textiles and other soft features could end up being just a dusty and claustrophobic old cat-lady look.
Changing walls and floors can require rather drastic changes, but don’t worry as smaller objects can achieve the same effect! Copper has been hugely popular over the last 3-5 years. And I think it is because it adds instant warmth to contrast an otherwise cold and clean white interior. I love it and hope it doesn’t go out of fashion anytime soon – and if it does, who cares, I still love it!
The images above illustrate another way of finding that balance between contrasting materials: the first photo is promoting the ‘Snowdrop lamp’, but I like the look of the entire interior: cold white walls, white-washed floors and a modern looking steel/string Mexico chair; but an ever so soft skin in sheep or reindeer. And in all modesty, the second photo is another version of the same effect from my apartment (the chair is the rather retro-popular VITRA Eames DAR chair). I often put the sheepskin away over the summer, and in general cushions or a nice soft throw would be a good alternative for those with a less Nordic attitude to skin/furs.
2) White and colours: With regards to colour, I must admit that I am probably not the most representative Nordic person. Colour is ‘my thing’ and it makes me happy, as slightly un-Scandinavian as it might be. My home is full of blue, bright turquoise, teal and recently a few additions in red/orange and coral.
However, the more classic thing to do is probably to use the cooler and muted neutrals white/grey/beige/blue on the larger surfaces like walls, carpets and bigger furniture. This is then balanced with a ‘pop’ of brighter sharper colour and pattern on rugs, cushions, throws, lamps, art-pieces etc.
Currently wallpaper is having a big renaissance; it is the perfect way to add both some colour and personal touches to all those white walls. But be aware, it is typically used on one feature wall only. Full-on classic floral wallpaper would be reserved for an old-fashioned holiday cottage or possibly a quirky bedroom. Currently I live in a rental place, but the minute I move home to Copenhagen, I will definitely have to find an excuse to experiment with some colourful wallpaper. My only problem is that there are so many lovely ones to choose from!
The images above show some very popular wallpaper from FermLiving.dk and a more traditional take on it from my bedroom in the family holiday cottage.
3) Generic and cheap versus investment pieces: We all have to start somewhere. Most of us probably started with a fair amount of Ikea when we moved into our first apartment, mixed with whatever was available from family, recycling stations etc. These first homes might be more cosy and practical than strictly speaking stylish.
However, I still think we Nordics then tend to ‘invest’ in good quality pieces like a sofa, dining table, chairs or lamps, from a relatively early age; and expect to keep these for decades. I would call it value-for-money-over-time. My parents would probably be genuinely shocked that I would pay 7EUR for a coffee at a Copenhagen café (yes, that’s the price) but regard spending a full month’s wages on a dining table as ‘a very wise investment’. They did the same and their parents too. Furniture that was bought more than half a century ago is now the much loved centre-piece in my home!
Above is a photo of my Copenhagen apartment a few years ago: much of the furniture is from family attics with a few inherited pieces. I can hardly wait to see how the apartment will look with some of the new ‘investments’ I have made while abroad – mainly a new dining table and lovely white Trinidad chairs (from Frederecia.com) as seen in the picture below.
After much consideration, I ended up with five white chairs and just a spark of one bright flamingo coloured – the same as these chairs as styled in the photo above.
4) New and old: In general, I think that Scandinavians care about what their home says about them – they want it to reflect who they are and their personalities. An obvious way of adding this personal touch is integrating older inherited or bought pieces with your new purchases. Again, it is about finding the right balance. Go too much to the extreme, and your home looks like either a museum or a lobby in a fancy hotel. Neither is a compliment.
The right balance between old and new also depends on the surroundings. In my 110 year old Copenhagen apartment, I need some more modern touches to contrast the original wooden floors, old doors and stucco ceilings. While in my newly-built Brussels apartment I need just a few more historic elements to get a bit of personality and soul. I might need to point out that I perceive my dining table designed in 1968 as ‘modern’ (with its clean white/steel look) while for example wooden/silver pictures and mirror-frames or cushions can add to a more old-fashioned touch.
My next upscaling project is an old wing-chair that was left in my grandmother’s basement for 40 years. After 10 years in my apartment, it really needs re-upholstering. It will probably end up costing me the same as a new chair, but that would just be a chair, this is my chair.
So what colour should I go for? The classic choice would be a sensible neutral grey, blue or brown. But right now I’m leaning towards a strong teal (dark turquoise) with brown leather buttons as a contrast. Me being me, I could also go crazy with an eye-catching pattern as a statement piece – but I will need to look at it for a few decades… The gorgeous silk cushion is from Designers Guild on Kings Rd in London (not all nice design comes from Scandinavia!).
5) Totally finished versus constant development: You would rarely see a Nordic home being designed all at once or ‘themed’; I’m thinking about the TV-programmes where somebody wants a Louis-XIV-themed dining-room or a colonial-area lounge. While these TV-programmes might be popular in Scandinavia too as a source of fun and inspiration, it isn’t really how we do it. Playing around with historic or themed elements are great for adding essential personal ‘quirks’; but a fully-themed room just look like an amateur theatre stage, not a real home.
Likewise, you can empty the bank account on an entire room full of the most expensive Scandinavian design pieces you can find in the magazines; and it is likely to be perceived as soulless nouveau-riche. That homely welcoming feeling and your personal touches are something that evolves over the years. I do not think I know any Scandinavians who would say that they are ‘finished’ with their home – it is under constant development.
And that was all on balances and contrast. In part 2 it is all about achieving the right light setting…”
Keep an eye on the blog to make sure you don’t miss Part 2. In fact, why don’t you sign up to get the next post direct into your inbox?
Happy travels, and shopping