What comes to your mind when you think about Scandinavian design? If you picture bright, airy interiors filled with minimalist, mid-century furniture and decor pieces, you're certainly not wrong. This simple, refined interior style definitely reflects Scandinavian sensibility, but it's important to note that Scandinavian style can also be reflected in the overall design of a home.
Not all homes inspired by Scandinavian countries like Sweden, Norway, and Denmark look the same, but when designers talk about "Scandinavian-style homes," certain features come to mind. Modern homes built in the United States maintain some of these homes' original features, but it's important to note they incorporate some other characteristics, too.
Meet the Expert
Katy Flammia is an architect and design director of architecture and interior design at the consulting firm Spacesmith. She lives near Hudson, New York.
Want to learn more about what traits define these homes? Here's what you need to know about Scandinavian-style homes, their features, and their rich histories, according to an architect.
What Is a Scandinavian-Style House?
Inspired by traditional Swedish farmhouses, Scandinavian-style homes are characterized by their two-story wood construction painted in bright colors, lots of windows, and light, raw wood throughout the interior.
What Makes a House Scandinavian Style?
If you've ever been to Sweden, Norway, or Denmark—or if you've ever seen photos of these countries — you've probably seen the picturesque wood-constructed homes painted charming hues of red, yellow, or white, inspired by farmhouses once found in Sweden. "The quintessential traditional Swedish farmhouse is two-story, often red, with a steep pitch tile roof to shed snow," Flammia says. "There is often a lovely little porch or vestibule perfect for donning or shedding warm clothing."
Inside, these homes often had low wood ceilings and raw wood floors, which Flamma says are great at holding in heat in colder climates. "Traditionally and in modern Swedish homes, there is a lot of light raw wood, sometimes on all surfaces," Flammia says. "I remember seeing some homes that gave off the wonderful smell of fresh-cut wood."
To keep residents warm in the potentially harsh winter months, Scandinavian-style homes usually have fireplaces made of beautiful glazed, ceramic tile, along with wood stoves to heat individual rooms. Often, the second floor was like a loft area, with raw exposed wood beams and low, slanted ceilings.
Of course, not all Scandinavian homes share the same traits, certain exterior and interior features define the overall design style:
- Wood construction
- Wood siding traditionally painted red, yellow, white, or black
- Two stories
- Casement windows with many panes of glass and no screens
- Steep-pitch tile roof to shed snow
- Porch or vestibule for donning or shedding warm clothing
- Low wood ceilings
- Raw wood floors, which are good for keeping heat
- Fireplaces with glazed ceramic tile
- Wood stoves
- Stone, wood, and metal materials
- Exposed wood beams and low slanted ceilings in second-floor rooms
- Many connections to the outdoors through windows
- Skylights to allow more light
The History of Scandinavian-Style Homes
As with many home styles, Scandinavian-style houses are rooted in functionality. According to Flammia, Scandinavian homes have their roots in Viking longhouses, which then evolved to farmhouses often attached to barns and outbuildings with courtyards. Many later Scandinavian homes emulate this initial farmhouse design.
Love decking out your home with indoor plants? Consider a Scandinavian-style home with plenty of windows and skylights to keep your greenery happy and healthy.
Contemporary Scandinavian homes may also have some distinct features. For example, Flammia says they usually have a lot of connection to the exterior through windows. "Light is at a premium in winter, and abundant in summer," she says. "Many homes have skylights as a way of getting daylight deeper into the house," she says.
Flammia says this style of home made its way to the American midwest at the peak of immigration from Scandinavia in the late 19th century, but today's interest in modern Scandinavian design probably began in the 1950s when interest in Swedish and Danish designers was high. "There has been a steady interest since then in Scandinavian residential design," she says.
While many modern American Scandinavian homes are painted black, Flammia says this style was limited to low-slung coastal homes built in the midcentury and after, as they tended to blend in with the rocks and trees and "disappear." "You would not find a two-story black house in a suburban neighborhood in Sweden," she says.