12 Design Commandments We Learned From Cool Scandinavian Homes

Scandinavian living room design
Haris Kenjar

Scandinavians are to the interior design world what the French are to fashion: They have a distinct, effortless sense of style that exudes cool. I'd long been an admirer of Scandinavian design but hadn't realized how well it translates into real-life until a trip to Sweden and Denmark last year. The aesthetic doesn't just photograph well—it's also incredibly inviting and comfortable. Vintage raw wood chairs aren't too precious to sit on, the neutral color palette reflects natural light, and collected objects tell a story of the owner's past and present. It's a style of decorating that focuses on a home's inhabitants, perhaps the reason it'll never truly go out of style.

Whether you're interested in redecorating your home or just making a few seasonal updates, there are a number of lessons to learn from Scandinavian design. Ahead, we turn to Fantastic Frank, a décor-focused brokerage company, to discover the decorating rules that define Stockholm's coolest homes. Consider these design commandments on your cheat sheet to enviably cool Scandinavian design.

Paint With Varying Shades of White and Gray

Scandinavian homes appear minimalistic, clean, and light-drenched thanks to a unifying white, cream, and gray color palette. Go one step further than painting a room all white, and accent the trim, ceiling, and baseboard with varying shades of neutral paint. Then, add character via furniture and décor, such as a worn vintage rug and modern copper pendant light.

Small-Space Scandinavian Design—Entryway
Fantastic Frank

Add Character With Lighting

Ever walked into a room and felt like something was slightly amiss? Consider the contrasting lines and shapes in the space. Well-styled Scandinavian rooms contrast the straight lines in bookshelves, desks, and sofas with organic curved lines. This stunning studio embodies the mix with a pendant light and sconce in unique shapes.

Small-Space Scandinavian Design—Studio
Fantastic Frank

Choose a Cool Color Palette

Scandinavians draw décor inspiration from nature, which means their color palette often reflects the landscape. Think mottled greens and serene fjord blues as well as natural materials such as creased linens and raw blonde wood.

Small-Space Scandinavian Design—Blue Bedroom
Fantastic Frank

Add an Oversize Plant

A crisp white color palette and minimalist black-and-white furniture can make a room look stark and clinical. Consider bringing the outdoors in via an oversize plant or tree, such as this unique Stockholm apartment. Don't overthink the planter. A rough hessian sack or wrinkled paper bag adds character to the otherwise clean, neutral space.

Small-Space Scandinavian Design—Kitchen
Fantastic Frank

Decorate With Objects of Varying Heights

Scandinavians are experts of styling a perfectly balanced vignette. They follow two key rules when decorating dressers, consoles, and shelves: Objects should be in varying heights, and they should speak to your personality and sense of style. This Swedish bedroom is the perfect example. A tall framed artwork adds height alongside smaller vases and other objects grouped together in a way that appears curated, not cluttered.

Small-Space Scandinavian Design—Vignette
Fantastic Frank

Make the Most of Outdoor Space

Scandinavians are used to living in small spaces and have learned to maximize every inch—including coveted outdoor areas. Make the most of a balcony by stringing a hammock in the corner, hanging plants, and decorating with accessories in hardy natural materials, such as a woven jute ottoman.

Small-Space Scandinavian Design—Hammock on the Balcony
Fantastic Frank

Utilize Every Inch of Storage Space

Bring that same philosophy indoors and examine the aspects of each room that aren't being used to their full potential. Is there a blank wall at the entryway? Add colorful hooks for bags and coats. Is there space above a doorway? Extend a bookshelf like this home did to create a library wall.

Small-Space Scandinavian Design—Bookcase
Fantastic Frank

Embrace White Space

Scandinavians are creative about maximizing their space, but they also appreciate the elegant simplicity of a blank wall. This tiny bedroom would look overly cluttered with framed art, so the owners chose to add color via bed linens and leave the walls empty to reflect natural light.

Small-Space Scandinavian Design—Bedroom
Fantastic Frank

Incorporate Natural Materials

Feel like your space looks overly stark or feels uninviting? Balance harsh lines with accessories in natural materials, such as a jute rug, basket planters, or a woven pendant light.

This oversized pendant immediately draws your gaze up, making the room feel larger than it actually is—take note, apartment dwellers!

Small-Space Scandinavian Design—Basket Light
Fantastic Frank

Use Glass Partitions to Segment a Space

Decorating a small studio doesn't have to cramp your style. Get creative with dividers and install glass partitions the way this Stockholm home did. It visually segments the space without making it feel cramped. 

Small-Space Scandinavian Design—Studio Apartment
Fantastic Frank

Juxtapose Old and New Furniture

Interior designers know that decorating a home is about curation, and if every furniture piece and accessory is brand-new, it runs the risk of looking overly contrived or like a show home. Instead, furniture should tell a story about those who use it. This white bedroom achieves that goal by mixing vintage and new décor in varying materials such as raw wood and brushed brass.

Small-Space Scandinavian Design—White Bedroom
Fantastic Frank

Leave Floorboards Raw

Blonde wood often features in Danish and Swedish homes. It pairs well with the light color palette and adds a raw, natural texture to an otherwise white space. Opt for unpolished wood floorboards and embrace the natural imperfections for an inviting, fuss-free room.

Small-Space Scandinavian Design—Black-and-White Kitchen
Fantastic Frank

Next up: Think beyond IKEA and shop these 14 cool Scandinavian home brands.