Ask an American what a typical Scandinavian home looks like, and you'll probably get the same response: minimal and all-white. Sure, the Swedes are known for perfecting the whitewashed look, but colorful Scandinavian décor does exist. After a recent trip to Denmark and Sweden, I realized the reason their interiors are so stunning isn't actually the lack of color—it's the sparing use of it.
When I walked into my Airbnb in Copenhagen's meatpacking district, the first thing I noticed was the unique choice of colors: Natural materials like raw wood and buttery leather peppered the room, while muted, dusty hues added depth. Colors that I'd never even considered decorating with—amber, moss green, and rust—worked seamlessly in the pared-back space, almost as if they were neutrals.
"We always look to nature to inspire the colors we use," a Norwegian friend explained when I asked about the interesting choice of hues in her home. "The washed-out greens and blues of the fjords are a good example; Mother Nature never gets it wrong."
She's right—every Scandinavian home, restaurant, and the hotel I saw during my trip featured a similar palette of six colors: dusty pink, amber, deep blue, forest green, moss, and pale ice blue. By layering a few accessories in these colors on a white or cream base, Scandinavians make their homes look effortlessly cool. Fresh back from the trip, these are some of the lessons I learned about decorating with color the Scandi way.
Look to Nature for Inspiration
Decorating with color needn't be intimidating. Rather than choosing bright, statement hues, Scandinavians opt for subtle shades inspired by nature. That way, you know it'll never look forced or out of place. For example, moss green pairs easily with other forest hues like mottled cedar or charcoal.
If you're nervous about introducing unusual Scandinavian colors like dusty pink or rust in your home, start small. Translucent accessories like a colored glass votive are a great way to test out a new hue.
Add Warmth with Wood and Leather
Just as Scandinavians look to the landscape to inspire their choice of colors, they do they same with materials. You'll find worn wood floorboards and buttery soft leather chairs in almost every cool Swedish home, adding natural warmth to an otherwise white-and-cream space.
It's worth pointing out that quality is key here. Scandinavians invest in well-made furniture so that the leather or wood wears well with time. Choose a quality item like a statement leather chair that'll only look better with age.
Use Greenery to Experiment with Color
The Danish are obsessed with plants. The streets of Copenhagen brim with dedicated cactus and succulent stores, and every shopfront and home has a windowsill packed with plants. Aside from adding a touch of life and texture to a home, plants also inject color—in a totally non-committal way. Interestingly, I noticed that greenery in Danish homes wasn't actually green. Instead, Danes often choose plants that add unique colors to the room, like dried red leaves or a purple-tinged rubber plant.
Embrace Dusty Hues
Time and time again, I noticed one color stood out in every cool interior: amber. It's not a shade we see in many American homes, but in Sweden, it's used in abundance. While first skeptical, I eventually saw why amber works so well in Scandinavian homes. It's dusty and muted, like the other colors in their palette, and adds a hint of warmth to rooms that feature white, blue, and charcoal. In some cases, amber items were so subtle that they basically appeared to be another neutral.
Create Character with Mismatched Accessories
Our favorite American interiors are often styled to perfection, but Scandinavian homes are the polar opposite. In fact, imperfection is prized, and it's not strange to see a dining table styled with an odd assortment of chairs in mismatched shapes and colors. This eclectic approach to decorating makes it easier to add streaks of color—it's not precious; it's playful.
Layer Different Shades
We hear you: Mixing and matching colors can be a stressful ordeal, so Scandinavians have found a solution. Simply choose one color, like blue, and layer accents in different shades of that color to add subtle variation. As you get more comfortable with that color, you can dial up the intensity or pair with similar shades, like teal or fjord green.
This post was originally published on July 10, 2017, and has since been updated.