We peruse every new IKEA collection with the dedication of a private investigator. We pin every tone-on-tone, texture-filled home on Pinterest. Suffice to say that we’re thoroughly obsessed with Scandinavian style—it’s minimal but warm; simple but sophisticated. And we’re not alone in our love for the aesthetic: According to a 2018 survey of Google search data, the favored style in 11 states is Scandinavian. The design envy is real.
But how do you actually master this trendy style? It’s a lot more than just painting your home white, adding a sheepskin throw, and calling it hygge. Capturing the aesthetic so beloved by Nordic countries is an art—which is why we turned to the experts to figure out how to mimic the look in our own homes…even if that home is a tiny third-floor walk-up with a single grimy window. Here’s what they had to say.
There are five cardinal rules to follow, according to Niki Brantmark, author and blogger behind My Scandinavian Home: Declutter, keep it clean and calm, mix and match the old and new, choose natural materials, and use negative space.
“Scandinavians rarely have anything in their homes that is superfluous,” notes Brantmark. And while cutting down to the bare essentials may conjure up images of a stark space, Brantmark says this isn’t the case at all in Scandinavian homes. Those natural materials, like linen, wood, stone, and wool, add texture and warmth, thereby creating a space that feels lived-in and homey.
The Color Palette
It should come as no surprise that the hues that best exemplify Scandinavian style are equally pared down. Brantmark recommends using earthy, muted shades to “brighten up the space on the darkest of days, but also create a wonderfully serene feel.”
Allan Torp, the Danish blogger behind Bungalow5 and author of Scandinavian Style at Home, agrees with this assessment, advocating for a base palette of whites, grays, blacks, and browns. “You might also see other colors introduced, like dusty pinks and rich sea greens, as added accents,” says Torp. “In a classic Scandinavian space, walls are kept white, allowing for furniture and art to captivate.”
The Must-Have Pieces
We also asked our Scandi experts for a decor shopping list. Both Brantmark and Torp agree that the best way to get the look is by purchasing products actually made in the region, rather than imitations from your favorite Stateside retailers. The design staples beloved in Nordic countries are crafted to stand the test of time.
Their top recommendations: the Louis Poulsen PH 5 pendant light; the iconic 1962 Kubus candleholder by Mogens Lassen (Torp recommends the black version to stay true to the piece’s origins); ceramics from Marimekko; any marble-top coffee table; plenty of plants; a classic modular sofa like the Mags couch by Hay; and a lo-fi coffee machine (Brantmark recommends the Bodum Pour Over set) for afternoon fika.
If you’re serious about Scandinavian style, it’s also worth scouring sites like 1stDibs and Chairish for one big-ticket vintage item by a prominent name such as Hans Wegner, Alvar Aalto, or Arne Jacobsen. Looking for something a bit more wallet friendly? Brantmark is a fan of IKEA’s Stockholm PS collection.
The Best Places to Shop
1. Huset: Huset literally means “the house” in Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian, and there’s more than enough to choose from here to decorate yours.
2. Finnish Design Shop: This online store curates pieces from more than 150 brands that fall under the Nordic design category.
3. Design Within Reach: The company may not be based in Scandinavia, but the timeless yet contemporary items it sells are definitely in line with the style ethos of the region.
4. Etsy: How else are you going to find cool, vintage, one-of-a-kind Scandi designs from small brands (other than getting on a plane to Sweden)?
“Avoid entire rooms decorated in a riot of bold patterns and color; instead opt for accent walls or the odd vibrant piece of furniture or accessory,” says Brantmark, who also cautions against overcrowding. Instead, she recommends “creating negative space by decluttering, then grouping objects—this will create a lighter, airier feel.”
Most important, don’t be too hard on yourself. “Scandinavian style is not easy,” says Torp, debunking almost every myth about breezy decor in one sentence. “Remember, it comes naturally to most people living in Nordic countries; just because you light a candle and introduce a few wood elements doesn’t make it Scandi style.” In other words, it’s okay if your home doesn’t look like it belongs to a Copenhagen transplant on the first try. Approach decorating in stages, building your collection with carefully curated items that will last.
See the Scandinavian spaces inspiring us right now:
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