Minimalism and Functionality - a look at Scandinavian design

Swedish Design, (photo by Gregory Wrona)
Swedish Design

Say “Scandinavian design” and most people visualise furniture, glass and domestic ware with pure forms and simple, clean lines. The aesthetic is immediately recognisable, especially since the Swedish home-furnishing giant Ikea invaded the world.

Scandinavian design is elegant, light, sparse, shows respect for natural materials, and is made with superb craftsmanship. The key is not only good looks, but also utility. It has its roots in traditional crafts, but is very much a product of the 20th century and the age of Functionalism.


Taking Off


Taking off in the 1920s, led by architects and artists such as Le Corbusier in France and Walter Gropius in Germany, Functionalism applies to various movements such as the International Style and Bauhaus. In Scandinavia it has been a source of inspiration since the 1930s.

The move away from ornamentation in favour of clean shapes and lines, allowing for the pure expression of the essence of structures, was more than a mere change in taste. Adherents to this style, which manifested itself in new materials (tubular metal, steel and glass), also embraced a vision for a new world, one where architecture and design could contribute to the levelling out of injustices in modern society. In Scandinavia, both the aesthetics and the social agenda of the modern, international style were eagerly adopted.


The Best Craftsmanship


Earlier in the 1900s, Carl and Karin Larsson, taking their cue from the English Arts and Crafts movement, revived an interest in traditional Swedish crafts and craftsmanship.

Their home at Sundborn, now a museum of Swedish country style, features textiles with simple checked and striped patterns, against a background of sparse wall designs, wooden floors, striped rag runners and furniture brightened with uncomplicated embellishments.

Art Nouveau was an important inspiration. In the hands of Danish designers in the mid-20th century, its fluid decorative lines became part of the quest for a satisfying form that fitted a function, as seen in the chairs of Hans Wegner and Arne Jacobsen from the 1940s and 1950s. Designers also began to heed ergonomic research at industrial companies like the car-makers Saab and Volvo.



Form Follows Function


Today, the adage “form follows function” is taken to a high science in Scandinavia. Aesthetics are fused with efficiency in everything from utensils to welding equipment. Numerous pieces from the early 20th century remain as popular as ever, for example, stools by the Finnish architect and designer, Alvar Aalto.

The success of Nordic design has made it a standard far beyond the boundaries of Northern Europe. Smart Scandinavian design is found the world over. Time-tested pieces, such as the Stokke Tripp Trapp chair (1972) by Norwegian Peter Opsvik, are still best-sellers.

The multitalented Stefan Lindfors burst onto the scene in the 1980s and since then has created everything from chairs and lamps to prefabricated houses, saunas and sex toys! Much of his crockery and cutlery is sold by the Finnish company Arabia.

Other instantly recognisable Finnish designs are Marimekko textiles and Nokia telephones. Swedish glass manufacturers Kosta Boda and Orrefors produce lighting and homeware.

One of the best places to spot up-and-coming talent is Design House Stockholm, which acts as a “publishing house” for around 60 independent designers.


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Want to know more? See all of our articles on Scandinavia...



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