Scandinavian Interior Design Characteristics

Rose Morrison

Nov 18, 2020


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Anyone who has ever wistfully paged through an Ikea catalog knows the timeless appeal that is Scandinavian design. With their stylish homes, is it any wonder that our northernmost European neighbors often report high levels of happiness? 

How can you incorporate Scandinavian interior design characteristics into your abode? Go wild with these characteristics of Scandinavian interior design and transform home for a more joyous, stylish winter. 

  1. Light colors
  2. Open spaces
  3. Organic design
  4. Lots of wood
  5. Clean lines
  6. Foliage
  7. Textiles
  8. Natural lighting
  9. Hardwood and soft accent rugs
  10. Minimalist and uncluttered

Principle Characteristics of Scandinavian Interior Design

Scandinavians live in harmony with the natural world, and it shows in their interior design. Their homes feature a light and airy feel that invites greenery and other outdoor elements. Here are ten characteristics to emulate when planning your decor.

1. Light Colors Reign Supreme

a white bedroom with white bedding

You might have heard of the land of the midnight sun, but could you imagine it never rising? Some regions of Norway are so far north of the arctic circle that they enjoy six hours of sunrise and sunset-like skies in which el sol never makes a full appearance. 

Because winters are so dark, one element of Scandinavian design is a light color palette. You will frequently see all-white walls with maybe one soft grey or powder blue accent. In sunnier locations, this characteristic adds rustic, farmhouse-like charm. 

2. Wide Open Spaces

a bare white room for Scandinavian interior design

Originally, Scandinavian homes were quite small. As their dwellings grew larger, Swedes and Norwegians didn’t rush to fill every corner with furniture and knick-knacks. 

Rather, they let their space breathe. Think about it — an open area requires filling with life, not inanimate trinkets. Folks like the Finnish have room to practice yoga in their living rooms without kicking over end tables.

3. Organic Design 

natural, open living room with wooden features

Organic design draws much inspiration from famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. He believed that spaces should flow naturally from one area to the next with no formidable separation when it comes to building design. 

Therefore, you won’t find a dark teal and blue dining room juxtaposed against a sunny yellow kitchen in Scandinavian interior design. Instead, you’ll find one area flowing to the next with harmonious color palettes and complementary materials and textures. 

4. Lots of Wood

a wooden sidetable near a white bed

Inhabitants of a region tend to build with what’s available, which in Scandinavia includes plenty of light-colored woods like pine. They don’t conceal nature’s beauty with paints or stains, either. 

In this style of interior design, builders showcase the material with nothing more than a transparent stain. The light beige tones blend seamlessly with the other airy colors featured in the decor. 

5. Clean Lines

a minimalist white chair & side table

Remember that scene in “Christmas Vacation” where Clark Griswold, aka Chevy Chase, takes a chainsaw to the newel post? He wouldn’t have had that opportunity to go crazy in a home inspired by Scandinavian design. 

This style focuses on clean, smooth lines. Instead of including ornate architectural elements, they keep everything crisp and boxy — think about the minimalistic styling of many Ikea furnishings. 

6. Foliage Galore

a green plant in a woven basket

When you have long winters, you miss greenery. The Scandinavians handle the season well by bringing nature indoors. 

Scandinavian design features ample foliage as accents. Instead of a curio cabinet filled with knick-knacks, you might fill a corner with a ficus. 

7. Tons of Cozy Textiles

a long white fur shag rug with greenery

Hello — it gets chilly in the frozen north. Scandinavians handle the cold with plush textiles — you’ll find cozy throws draped over nearly every available piece of furniture. 

If you are a knitter, this interior design style gives you a chance to shine. You can go crazy with a chunky homemade blanket for every room —  maybe a few for living areas where folks gather. 

8. Natural Lighting 

A large open window in a beige minimalist room

When the sun only shines for a few hours daily, you don’t want to miss it if you’re stuck indoors. You won’t find heavy drapes blocking Norwegian windows. 

If they use window coverings, they opt for thin, transparent numbers that let the light shine. While it isn’t technically a Scandinavian element, a skylight likewise takes advantage of the sun when days grow short. 

9. Hardwood and Soft Accent Rugs

light, hardwood flooring with a streak of light

Even though it sounds chilly on the feet, you won’t find wall-to-wall carpeting in Scandinavian homes. They tend to favor the same light-colored wood used in cabinetry with accent rugs scattered for comfort. 

If you want to recreate the look while minimizing your environmental footprint, look into options such as bamboo, which regrows quickly. You can also investigate reclaimed wood from pallets and other scrap. 

10. Minimalist and Uncluttered

a very clean, uncluttered, and white desk space

The overriding feature of Scandinavian interior design is its uncluttered appearance. As more people seek to embrace minimalism, the decor appeals to their desired lifestyle. 

Feng shui practitioners believe that excess clutter negatively impacts or blocks the flow of chi, or vital energy, through your home. If you ever felt overwhelmed by merely walking into an old curio shop packed floor to ceiling with knick-knacks, you might wonder how much truth there is to their wisdom. 

Ideas for Adding Scandinavian Design to Your Home Today

If you’ve fallen in love with Scandinavian interior design, you might not have the money for a full remodel. How can you begin integrating elements gradually to give your look an overhaul? Here are five tips. 

1. Take Down Your Heavy Blinds

If you have heavy blackout curtains that make your home look like a funeral parlor, shed them and let in the sunshine. One option you have for preserving your privacy is looking for gauzy varieties that filter light without blocking it. 

Another choice is to apply a one-way window film. Such applications reflect heat, providing a cooling effect in your home or office, making them ideal for south-facing windows. Plus, such coatings cut UV radiation, protecting your skin and your leather couch alike. 

2. Unclutter Your Space

It’s time for fall or winter house cleaning. Start with one room at a time, and organize items into three piles — one to keep, another to donate or sell and a third to recycle or repurpose. 

When you finish your efforts, have a yard sale or list your wares on sites like Mercari. The extra money you bring in can make your holidays brighter.

3. Give Yourself a Paint Job

Remember your goth phase when you decided to make like the old Stones tune and paint it black? It’s time to brighten up your life and reform your morbid ways.

You might need several coats to cover a dark shade. Make sure you pick up plenty of primer to keep the old color from bleeding through. 

4. Replace Ornate Furnishings and Accents

If you have deep pockets, you might be able to refurnish your entire home. However, if you have more modest means, take a one-piece-at-a-time approach. 

Granted, doing so may mean living with mismatched furniture. However, in the end, you’ll achieve a timeless look that’s easier to maintain than large, ornate pieces. 

5. Tear Out Your Wall-to-Wall Carpet

Once you work your way down to your flooring, it’s time to have fun ripping out your carpet. Fortunately, genuine hardwood floors last for generations. 

However, quality flooring doesn’t come cheap. If you find this upgrade outside your price range, you have less expensive options like Pergo that offer the same appearance. 

Include Scandinavian Interior Design Characteristics in Your Decor Today

If your decor needs an upgrade, look no further than Scandinavian interior design. Once you embrace this clean, minimalist style, you’ll never go back to clutter.

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