Striking the right balance between comfort and style is a challenge in any home. But it’s a task that Scandinavia knows how to tackle. Scandinavia—a region known for its long, dark winters—has mastered the art of spending time indoors, and it’s got the cozy-chic interiors to prove it. Scandinavian words, like the Danish “hygge” and the Swedish “mys” (both loosely meaning “coziness”), have entered our modern-day lexicon. And while they don’t have direct translations, they immediately conjure up images of impossibly simple, impossibly cozy interiors that just work.
“Scandinavian design is simple and intentional,” Jennifer Davis, founder and principal designer at Davis Interiors, says. “Everything has a purpose, and overall, it is a very clean look.” Expect to see soft neutral colors, natural materials, and lots of cozy textures.
“The next time you see an interior that elevates your soul and warms your heart, you’ll know you’ve spotted the hallmarks of what makes Nordic design so enticing,” Emily Yeates, owner and principal designer at Urban Revival, says. “Scandinavian design excites the eyes and warms the heart while maintaining an uncluttered simplicity that feels welcoming and safe.”
Since Scandinavian style is both simple and thoughtful, it's not nearly as elusive as it seems, and there are tons of ways to draw inspiration from the design style—even if you’re not preparing for a long, dark winter.
Meet the Expert
- Jennifer Davis is the founder and principal designer at Davis Interiors.
- Emily Yeates is the owner and principal designer at Urban Revival.
Let in Lots of Natural Light
Scandinavia is known for its long, dark winters, so Scandinavians tend to do everything they can to maximize natural light. “When I think of Scandinavian design, I think of spaces that are minimal, thoughtful, and bright,” Sara Cukerbaum, principal designer at SLIC Design, says.
So ditch the heavy window treatments, and let in all the light you can. Consider using reflective accents—like white-filled palettes and shiny tiles—to amplify the natural light streaming through your windows.
Cut Down on Clutter
Though our visions of hygge may involve lots of cozy pillows and chunky blankets, Scandinavian design tends to be pretty minimal. “Scandinavian design really focuses on creating an environment of uncluttered simplicity,” Yeates says. “In an age of overly styled spaces, it’s a breath of fresh air to really focus on what is functional, practical, and socially responsible.”
Instead of embarking on a Scandinavian shopping spree, consider paring down what you already own.
Fill Your Palette With Earth Tones
Scandinavian design puts comfort first, utilizing serene palettes that are easy on the eye. “Instead of bright and colorful patterns, you will see lots of textured upholstery mixed with white walls and cool earth tones,” Cukerbaum says.
And Jade Joyner, founder and principal designer at Metal + Petal, agrees: “To make your space feel more Nordic, I suggest you pare back on color and accessories. Focus on neutrals and wood tones, instead.”
Play With Organic Shapes
Scandinavian design may be minimal, but it’s not all right angles and sleek finishes. “Add interest by choosing interesting and organic shapes that could be found in nature,” Yeates says. “Don’t shy away from curves where you’d predict there to be straight edges or brutalist lines.”
If you stumble upon a curvy coffee table you love, don’t just snag it—make it a focal point in your space.
Keep Your Floors Light
The secret to achieving that coveted Scandinavian look may be right under your feet. “The current trend of white oak floors is a nod to Scandinavian design,” Cukerbaum says. “It's an easy way to incorporate a clean and bright feel to your home.”
Of course, you may not be in a position to fully refinish your floors. But even if you’re navigating some seriously dark hardwoods, you can always brighten them up with a light-colored rug.
Soap-finished floors (and furniture) are a Scandinavian tradition. And soap finishes tend to leave wood looking soft, light, and oh-so natural. While soap may not be the most durable finish around, you can score a similar look by opting for lighter wood species, like white oak, and sticking to more natural stains and finishes.
Put Function First
Scandinavian interiors rarely incorporate furniture or décor merely to fill space. Instead, they put function first. “In Scandinavian design, everything has a purpose,” Davis says. This means filling a room with items you need—and leaving negative space where nothing is necessary.
Favor Natural Materials
In many aesthetics, you’ll find shiny metals, sleek plastics, and textured concrete. But in Scandinavian design, you’ll see earthier options—like thick wools and rustic woods—instead.
“Scandinavian design emphasizes the use of natural materials,” Mary Beth Christopher, principal designer at MBC Interiors, says. “Think: woods and grasses, and fabrics made from wool, linen, nubby cotton, and even fleece.”
Sprinkle in Some Statement Lighting
Searching for a way to add personality to your pared-down Scandinavian space? Add a little statement lighting. Because while the Scandinavians may be known for their minimal approach to interiors, they’re also famous for their playful take on modern design. “Add some statement lighting that is also functional,” Davis says.
Keep an eye out for sculptural lanterns, geometric table lamps, and colorful task lights, and place them anywhere that could use a little light.
Layer Different Textures
Scandinavian interiors tend to be pretty minimal in terms of both color and décor. But thanks to their emphasis on texture, they’re anything but boring.
“Swap patterns for textures,” Cukberaum says. Pair your plushest sheepskin throws with your most rustic wood pieces—and throw in a woven jute rug for good measure.
Open Up Your Space With White Walls
In some design styles, plain white walls would signal unfinished business—a space that has yet to be decorated. But when function is your core concern, negative space is both welcome and necessary. So make like the Scandinavian and learn to embrace the plain white wall.
As a bonus, your white walls will make your space feel even more open and light-filled.
Invest in Built-In Storage
Hoping to get that uncluttered look without giving up all your hobbies and possessions? Invest in your storage set-up. “Adding built-in cabinetry and hiding all the clutter is an easy way to bring this minimalist style into your space,” Cukerbaum says.
Add Some Cozy Finishing Touches
Don’t forget to sprinkle in some cozy finishing touches. Little items—like cozy candles and plush rugs—may not top your to-buy list, but they’re the things that’ll make your space feel warm and inviting.
“Once you have a clean foundation, you don’t need to add much,” Davis says. “A few plants, a textured rug, a cozy throw, a beautifully scented candle—anything that makes the space feel welcoming and restful.”
Let the Outdoors In
Windows aren’t just a great way to let in some light—they can also connect you with the outdoors, putting a striking view on full display. “I try to capitalize on the opportunity to bring the outdoors in,” Joyner says. “I really contemplate the use of space and how to capture the exterior views and make them feel one and the same with the interior.”
Embrace the Beauty of an Unmade Bed
Scandinavian design may be sleek and minimal, but unmade beds are very welcome. “The key is to make the space look lived-in,” Niki Brantmark, creator of My Scandinavian Home, says. So leave your blankets bunched up, and welcome a few wrinkles in your sheets. “Messy, creased, stonewashed linen in earthy colors is almost a must right now,” Brantmark adds.
Add Color With an Accent Wall
Despite the emphasis on earthy neutrals, there is a place for color in Scandinavian design. “In recent years, there has been a surge in accent walls in dark blue, green, gray, and even black,” Brantmark says. “These do wonders for a cozy, cocoon-like space.” And if you’re not willing to commit to a new coat of paint, don’t fret—you can get a similar look by hanging dark drapes over one of your walls.
Fill Your Space With Greenery
One easy way to add color to your space, without disrupting your sleek Scandinavian palette? Sprinkle in some plants. “Scandinavians often draw on the nature outside them for inspiration, which is why plants and flowers are popular,” Brantmark says.
And Mary Beth Christopher agrees, noting that a lack of plants is one of the biggest mistakes she sees people make when designing Scandinavian interiors. “Adding in beautiful green plants not only adds color, but gives a space life,” Christopher says.
Buy Directly From Scandinavian Designers
Scandinavian designers lay claim to some of the most iconic furniture designs of the last century. “Invest in one beautiful Scandinavian piece of furniture and build your space around it,” Joyner says. Pay homage to the great designs of Jens Risom or Hans Wegner, or check out some designs by Scandinavia’s many contemporary designers. (Brantmark notes that Muuto, HAY, and Tradition are some of her favorites.)
Perfect the Lived-In Look
Minimal interiors can come across as cold and impersonal, but Scandinavian spaces manage to feel both sleek and cozy. How? They keep the focus on everyday life.
“Scandinavian style is simple, but it is not necessarily minimal,” Yeates says. “Instead, Scandinavian design focuses more on ordinary life, versus a strictly minimalist lifestyle.”
Once again, this means prioritizing function over form. So don’t swap out your cutting board the moment it gets a few scratches. Instead, put it on display—wear and all.
Layer Different Wood Tones
Wood is a key ingredient in any Scandinavian interior. (Really, virtually every designer we spoke to cited “wood tones” as a hallmark of Scandinavian design.) And the good news is: you don’t have to stick to just one type of wood. By layering different wood tones—some light oaks, some rosy pines, some dark walnuts—you can craft a space that feels both dynamic and warm.
Mix Old With New
Scandinavian interiors may be filled with sleek, modern pieces. But resist the urge to stock up on all-new-everything.
“I can’t tell you how many high-end homes miss the mark with Scandinavian style by making it too new,” Tony Mariotti, CEO and founder of RubyHome, says. “The key is to make your space look lived in.”
Balance out your sleekest pieces with a few weathered antiques. These history-filled pieces should add harmony and personality to your home in equal measure.
Add the Occasional Playful Print
Prints may not abound in Scandinavian design, but that doesn’t mean they’re off the menu entirely. Snag a few printed cushions or add a pop of playful wallpaper. As long as you don’t overdo it, these cheeky touches will complement your sleek aesthetic.
Snag Some Great Handcrafted Pieces
“Scandinavian design centers around truth to materials and craftsmanship,” Yeates says. Visit some local artisans or stop by your nearest flea market and see what they have to offer. A few handmade objects can be the perfect way to add personality to your space.
Consider introducing sculptures, unusual ceramics, handmade furniture, tapestries, and other handicraft products.
Cut Back on Curtains
Drapes make a classic addition to many interiors, but in Scandinavian space, you’ll see a much more minimal take on curtains. “Curtains are kept simple and fuss-free and often in a beautiful sheer linen,” Brantmark says. “Don't be fooled, though. There is nearly always a near-invisible blackout blind tightly rolled up behind the linen for summer nights when the sun barely dips below the horizon.”
Keep your daytime curtains simple and sheer. But don’t be afraid to unroll some thick, cozy blinds during the evening.
Play With Rustic Elements
Don’t feel like you have to turn your space into a sleek showroom. “True Scandinavian interiors are anything but trendy,” Yeates says. “They’re classic and often rustic.”
Embrace exposed structural beams and rustic wooden furniture. When paired with sleeker, more modern pieces, these rustic touches are what “designer dreams are made of,” Yeates says. (At least, she adds, they’re what her designer dreams are made of.)
Add Pops of Color Where You Can
One mistake people often make with Scandinavian design? “Adding in too much gray,” Christopher says. Balance out your neutrals with some thoughtful pops of color. She recommends using decorative accents, like pillows, to sprinkle in “accents of rich, saturated color.”
Some of her favorite striking shades? Navy, forest green, and rust.
Spring for a Little Mood Lighting
Scandinavian spaces may be bright and light-filled during the daytime. But come evening, some mood lighting may be in order. “A dimmed lamp or lit candle (kept well away from the curtains) on the windowsill ensures a warm and inviting feel both inside and out,” Brantmark says.
Favor Clean Lines
When crafting a Scandinavian space, try to stay away from chunky pieces. “Think: clean and simple lines,” Sarah Simon, interior designer and president at Handsome Salt, says. Stock up on furniture boasting sleek shapes and clean lines, and opt for pieces that are free of ornamentation.
Keep Your Palette Warm
If your space starts to feel too cold or sterile, try bringing some warmth into your palette. “Scandinavian design is about warmth, and too much grey can make a space feel cold,” Christopher says. “The key is balancing out the more neutral color palette with warm wood tones.”
Sprinkle in some earth tones, and let them warm up your space. What’s nice? “These warm tones also play nicely with more saturated colors,” Christopher says. So they should set you up to add some bolder pops of color, too.
Build Your Space Around Activities
Putting function first isn’t just about scoring practical pieces. It’s also about laying out your space in a sensible way. “Scandinavian interior design focuses on functionality—finding a space and place for activities and things,” Cukerbaum says. Think about how you actually use your space. Then, make decisions that’ll make your go-to activities as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.
Add Contrast With Dark Neutrals
Even with a pared-down neutral palette, there are still opportunities to create some drama. “I love working with natural wood and the high contrast of black and white tones,” Davis says. So balance out your lightest pieces with a few dark accessories. (Pillows, art, books, and candlesticks are all capable of adding some contrast to your space.)
Pick Quality Every Time
One bonus of a scaled-down Scandinavian interior? Needing fewer pieces means you can splurge on a couple of show-stoppers. “There’s a strong emphasis on quality over quantity,” Christopher says.
Invest in a couple of high-quality pieces, and use them to elevate the rest of your space. (Your budget-friendly IKEA favorites will look a lot more expensive when paired with some fancy wood furniture.)
Design for All the Senses
A space is a multi-sensory experience—not just a visual one. So think about how you want your space to feel, in addition to how you want it to look. “Scandinavian spaces are intentionally created to prioritize function, improve mood, and provide a sanctuary-type environment to return home to every day,” Yeates says.
Cozy up your couch with a textured throw, freshen up your space with some fragrant candles, and treat yourself to a portable breakfast-in-bed tray.
Pull Elements From Different Design Styles
Love another aesthetic as much as you love Scandinavian style? Draw inspiration from both. “Scandinavian design pulls from both modern and midcentury design, so don't feel pressure to commit to just one design style,” Cukerbaum says.
And Yeates agrees: “You can appreciate several different styles and incorporate various elements in a tasteful way.” Keep the focus on pieces that work for you and your family, and you’re likely to end up with a space you love.
Layer Pieces in, Bit by Bit
Designing a space takes time. So let your space come together layer by layer and bit by bit. “Take time to choose tasteful, functional pieces,” Yeates says. And Davis agrees: “Begin with a neutral palette, then add key pieces that bring you joy and are highly functional.”
What’s nice about this approach is that by taking your time, you’re unlikely to overwhelm your space with clutter. And you’ll naturally end up with the curated aesthetic that makes Scandinavian design so special. “There isn’t a lot of extra stuff, but what is there is warm, inviting, and comfortable,” Davis says of classic Scandinavian design.
"Your Guide To Scandinavian Soap Finish For Wood Furniture And Floors". Woca Woodcare, 2021.