Striking a balance between comfort and chic when designing a home is definitely an art. One region we can always rely on to get it right is Scandinavia. Let's face it, we all want to decorate like a Swede, style our boudoirs in their minimal aesthetic, and adorn our homes with their iconic Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish furniture designers. Scandinavian design never fails to satisfy, so when we needed a few pointers on how to achieve the cozy look with that signature minimal touch, we asked Niki Brantmark, founder of the popular My Scandinavian Home, to show us the way.
Meet the Expert
Ahead, Brankmark and a few other design experts share their top tips for decorating a cozy home the Scandinavian way.
Adopt the Art of "Hygge"
While there is no direct translation for the Danish word "hygge," Brantmark tells us the general meaning relates to a feeling. "You know, the one you get when you create a warm, ambient space that highlights the good things in life, surrounded by good people (of course) or simply the content feeling you get just being by yourself," she said. "Or as Meik Wiking so deftly puts it in The Little Book of Hygge, 'It's about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things.'"
If you want to achieve this Scandinavian style at home, mimic this sentiment of focusing on the feeling of an environment rather than things in the room.
Keep It Simple
When it comes to design rules, the Scandinavians aren't privy to just one. However, there are a few things you can keep in mind. Their signature design guideline is to strip it back and keep things simple. "Scandinavians are renowned for keeping their homes simple and pared-back," Brantmark said. Keep decorative accents minimal, such as elegant ceramic vases in organic shapes.
Add Warm Texture
Most people think minimal when they think of Scandinavian design. "This could appear cold if it were not for the layers of texture. Think chunky knit blankets, sheepskin throws, natural wood, and leather," Brantmark says. "All of these add interest and warmth to the overall look."
Combine Wood and Metal
Scandinavian design has always been known for its generous use of wood in structures and furniture, but recent trends incorporate metal finishes such as brass and copper sconces. These elements mix it up and add a bit of warm glimmer and shine to the space for added dimension.
Perfect the Lived-In Look
While there is an obvious minimal feel to the Scandinavian look, creating a lived-in look is the key to making it feel warm instead of flat or clinical. And even Brantmark agrees, there is definitely a knack to this. "The key is to make the space look lived-in," she said.
Embrace the Messy Bed
If there's one room in the Scandinavian house that takes precedence over all else, it's the boudoir. It's the holy grail of bedrooms, and we guarantee you've pinned just as many of their messy bed styles as we have.
"Messy, creased, stonewashed linen in earthy colors is almost a must right now," said Brantmark. "Opt for different shades. For example, a dark gray linen duvet cover with light gray pillows and a fresh white sheet will add interest and an element of coziness. A soft blanket at the end of the bed will also make your bed look inviting."
To adopt that quintessential hygge appeal and simplistic Scandinavian style, stick to a relatively neutral palette. Think about neutral, earthy, and washed-out shades often associated with nature.
"Generally speaking, Scandinavians prefer to stick to neutral earthy colors such as white, off-white, grays, and any shades which run along the grayscale spectrum," said Brantmark. "In recent years, there has been a surge in accent walls in dark blue, green, gray, and even black, which do wonders for a cozy, cocoon-like space."
Keep Floors Light
One thing you will not see in Scandinavian design is wall-to-wall carpeting. Natural or light-colored hardwood floors are a trademark element of this style of decor. They exude a warm and inviting atmosphere while making the home feel bright and spacious.
Marry Fashion With Function
When designing a room, it doesn't matter if you're styling it in the Scandinavian style or in another much-loved format from around the world, the main ingredient is balance. One of the mesmerizing things about a Scandinavian home is the perfect marriage between form and function.
"A living room will generally look beautiful, but it will also have everything you need to feel comfortable," said Brantmark. "In the planning phase, think about everything you need to make the living room work perfectly for you and your lifestyle.
Ask yourself what surfaces you need and whether you want a standard or modular sofa. When it comes to furniture, consider very high-quality natural materials such as leather, wood, wool, and linen, which will stand the test of time, and remember to add plenty of blankets, cushions, and candles.
Incorporate Plants and Flowers
"Scandinavians often draw on the nature outside them for inspiration, which is why plants and flowers are popular. You can also gather pebbles and shells from the nearby beach," says Brantmark.
If you don't live near the coast, Brantmark says conkers and acorns from the forest also make a lovely seasonal display, especially when arranged in a glass jar with a simple white candle at the center. A living element of beauty and color in the home makes us feel even closer to nature.
Clear the Clutter
Probably the one golden rule of Scandinavian design is to keep your space clutter-free. Less is more, so make optimal use of storage spaces, and most importantly, be willing to let go of any unnecessary items taking up precious space. The result will be a more visually relaxing atmosphere.
Create Proper Lighting
With fewer hours of daylight, it's crucial for Scandinavian homes to use lighting properly. Additionally, nothing sets the mood more in a room, which is why candlelight and candelabras are so popular.
"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. "If you have the space, you could even create a window nook with cushions and a sheepskin throw. It's perfect for enjoying a morning coffee."
Limit Window Treatments
According to Brantmark, the window is an important feature in any Scandinavian room. In order to let as much light in as possible, window treatments are typically kept to a bare minimum.
"Curtains are kept simple and fuss-free and often in a beautiful sheer linen," she says. "I love them when they are a little longer so they pool on the floor. 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."
Infuse Scandi Pieces
When you're trying to achieve that Scandinavian style, there are a few go-to brands Brantmark recommends to finish the look. She's a big fan of the classic midcentury furniture designers such as Hans Wegner, notably the Flag Halyard, and the Wishbone chairs which are at the top of her wish list. But it's the new Nordic designers that are really taking her fancy, such as Muuto, Hay, and Tradition.
"I buy a lot of things from smaller Scandinavian designers such as Finnish duo Saana ja Olli; my good Swedish friend Maria Gustavsson, who designed the Little Darling Lamp; and Danish artist Silke Bonde," she said. "One of my favorite items at home is my Z1 cotton pendant lamp which hangs over my bed."
With fewer daylight hours, plenty of warm layers are needed at the ready to bundle up and stay cozy. Think thick, natural materials, but be mindful of the pieces you layer with. "Add one thing at a time, be careful not to overwhelm the space with too many items, and always ask yourself why you're bringing a new décor item to the space," says Brantmark. "Each one should have a practical or aesthetic purpose that doesn't overtake the room. They should all work in harmony with each other."