Swedish Design Wants to Make You Feel Better—Here’s How
The biggest Scandi wellness trend isn’t a trend at all.
Updated Oct 11, 2018 4:00 PM
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You know you’re doing something right when you consistently rank in the top 10 of the world’s happiest countries. Sweden, with its awe-inspiring stretches of nature and bustling cities, has proven time and time again that its commitment to its citizens’ well-being is strong. That’s why it comes as no surprise that Swedish design has a way of prioritizing and promoting wellness in homes, public places like parks, and even institutions like hospitals. It’s true: Good design can make you feel better.
Many of the recent developments in Swedish design have drawn inspiration from the Nordic Report, a document released in 2018, showing how sustainable design—devised in collaboration between architects, city planners, and designers—could make for more environmentally sound communities that accommodate the health and well-being of their occupants. This isn’t about a certain kind of lifestyle trend (though we will admit our continued love of all things hygge), it’s a push for design that considers how function and form can be balanced in a way that supports people and their environment.
Sweden, in particular, has led the charge with plenty of design innovation that not only looks great but also makes people feel, well, good. You don’t need to read a lab report to know that design can impact your mood, but Swedish experts have taken that fact a step further, drawing from studies wherever possible to hone in on how to create spaces where mental and physical health can flourish while having as minimal effect on the natural world as possible.
Feeling your best doesn’t have to be complicated, and by taking some advice from Swedish design experts at the top of their field, you can make your own home a place for wellness too.
Find your light
You know that feeling of pure bliss that comes along with the first sunny day after a long, tireless winter? It’s a simple fact: Natural light makes people happy, and that’s why it’s an important element in any home. “Daylight has an effect on our circadian rhythm,” says Charlotte Ruben, an architect at Stockholm’s White Arkitekter, specializing in healthcare design. “It elevates our mood, improves sleep, and strengthens our immune system. So when we design buildings at White, we always ensure that it lets in a lot of light—usually more than building regulations stipulate.”
If your space doesn’t naturally have large windows, that doesn’t mean you have to shell out for some construction, nor do you have to consider moving. In fact, to make your space brighter, there’s a simple fix: “Let as much daylight in as possible by swapping heavy drapes for sheer fabric or by removing the curtains altogether,” Ruben advises.
Beyond daylight, consider the other sources of light in your space. “Work with different kinds of light and directions of light—high and low, from the ceiling, inside a shelf, and on the floor,” suggests Lisa Grape, founding partner and interior architect at Stockholm’s Joyn Studio. “That creates an ambient atmosphere.” Don’t just stick to a single ceiling light—consider adding sconces, a floor lamp, and maybe even some string lights if you’re feeling festive.
Explore your woodsy side
There’s a reason Scandinavian design is known for frequently featuring warm woods—it just makes a room feel good. “Wood has similar effects to light. It provides a pleasant indoor climate and has tactile qualities. It’s good for acoustics too,” says Ruben. “We also shouldn’t forget the sustainability aspects of wood—the Swedish forest only needs 60 seconds to produce all the wood required to build a six-story house. It’s nature’s smartest building material.”
Beyond wood, other natural materials can also lend a room a relaxing vibe. “Swedish design communicates comfort and wellness through its connection to the use of natural materials and high-quality products,” says Malin Moreau, project developer and creative director at Malmö design company NOLA. “Organic shapes, wooden details, lightweight, untreated wooden surfaces alongside handcrafted details create harmonic environments and promotes wellness.”
The way you can apply this philosophy to your home is perfectly simple: Avoid using synthetic materials whenever possible and consider going the extra mile to buy nontoxic home goods. “We are very keen on working with natural materials that feel nice against your skin and don’t contain toxic substances,” Grape adds. “Swedes are functionalist at the bone.”
Make it a plant party
The research is extensive and pretty much conclusive: Spending time in nature is good for your health. In Sweden, the right of public access also allows citizens to freely roam, camp, canoe, and more on public lands, so it’s easy to make the most of nature. Still, even if you live in a city or a place where there aren’t necessarily a ton of places to hike or picnic, you can bring the outdoors inside.
“Contact with nature is a proven way of making humans feel good,” Ruben notes. “Add lots of greenery, both inside and out, and blur the boundaries between the two. Dot plants around your home to add greenery or group together to make a statement. Plants will also help keep the air fresh.” Might we suggest some anxiety-relieving greenery?
Buy things for keeps
Many of the new developments in Swedish design are centered around the idea of a sharing economy, in an effort to find a way to deal with expanding populations and climate change. “Since we, in many ways, have just started a circular and sharing approach into our design process and production I think the consumer needs to start a discussion within their family reflecting the choice of aesthetic and material values for long-lasting products that can be shared over a long time,” says Dorte Bo Bojesen, CEO of Malmö’s Form Design Center, which currently has an exhibition based on sharing economies.
A sharing economy—one that has plenty of public spaces to convene with friends, get acquainted with neighbors, and generally feel a greater sense of community—is something that comes about largely through town and city ordinance and architectural development, but this philosophy can be applied to a single household too.
When you buy a piece of furniture, consider how long it will last you and if you might eventually be able to pass it along to a friend or family member instead of disposing of it. Quality is key here. “By using natural materials and focusing on comfort, we can extend the lifetime of furniture and we don’t have to replace it for something new,” Moreau says.
Top it all off with art
Swedes highly value art: That’s precisely why Stockholm has the One Percent Rule, which mandates that one percent of construction costs of any public space go toward artwork that everyone can experience and enjoy. In your home, of course, there’s no limit to how much art can fill your walls.
“Art is an important design factor,” Ruben says. “It adds a visually interesting dimension to a space, makes us pause for thought and perhaps think about something else for a while during hard times. The art you display in your home will express who you are and perhaps be the starting point for great conversations with visitors.” Start small, with one meaningful piece, and then grow your collection bit by bit. Soon enough, your home will be your own perfectly tailored wellness hub.
See more feel-good design: Hey, It’s Not Hard to Turn Your Home Into a Spiritual Sanctuary This Design Advice Will Make You Feel Good 24-7 How to Give Your Space Good Vibes, According to an Energy Healer