THE H&A GUIDE TO NORDIC DESIGN
Ellie Tennant explores the enduring appeal of Scandinavian design, along with the key classics that are making waves at auction
From practical functionality and big-name designers to natural materials and e ortless simplicity, Ellie Tennant explores the enduring appeal of Scandinavian style
Whether it’s ogling the chic interiors we see in ‘ Nordic Noir’ TV dramas, or stocking up on ! at-pack furniture at Ikea, our passion for ‘Scandi style’ seems limitless. Apart from a brief spell in the "#8$s – when there was a generational backlash against the ‘Scandi teak look’ – this pared-back style that marries functionality with beauty appears to have global, timeless appeal. ‘Quality and integrity always endure. For a new generation looking for authenticity and meaning, Scandi design %ts the bill, hence the phenomenal revival of interest in recent times,’ explains design historian and author Charlo&e Fiell. ‘[Danish sculptor and designer] Jens Harald Quistgaard talked about “simplicity without poverty” vis- à-vis his own work, but I think it really sums up what most Scandinavian design is all about.’
With more people renting in the UK – for longer – and urban dwellings decreasing in size, the compact proportions and clean lines of Scandinavian pieces are proving practical features for those of us who are o'en on the move or live in small spaces.
‘Scandinavian style is particularly relevant now because we have such busy lifestyles,’ points out Cajsa Carlson, Sta ( Editor at Houzz Sweden. ‘ We’re online all day, so when we come home we crave a calming, pared- down space – a simple, natureinspired environment.’
Modern Scandinavian style emerged in the )#*$s at the same time as the Modernist design movement was gaining real momentum in America and Europe. In !uenced by short days and wintry light, fashionable Nordic interiors (from Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland) began to feature clean lines and airy open-plan spaces that were cleverly designed to enhance wellbeing. Furnishings were a (ordable and functional – but beautiful – and made mostly from warm, textural, natural materials such as wood, leather and ceramics.
‘ During the post-war period, Scandinavian design o(ered a
much needed aesthetically comfortable and socially progressive interpretation of Modernism – youthful, cool and casual,’ says Charlo!e.
It might seem unlikely that these remote countries with tiny populations became the dominant forces in the world of design during the mid- century era, but their geographical location was one of the reasons that they produced so many leading designers.
‘ Because they were isolated, Scandinavians were good at great cra "smanship with limited materials,’ points out Natasja Jozsa, Merchandiser Purchaser at Vinterior. ‘ That’s what Modernism was all about – making quality design accessible to the masses.’
The inspiring landscapes and the extreme climate of northern Europe also had a huge impact on the global success of Scandinavian
design. An abundance of forests ensured a good supply of wood and inspired organic, natural shapes. While short and dark winter days meant that white-painted walls and well- designed lighting became essentials, as well as clean lines and simple silhoue!es. As Cajsa points out: ‘Ornate decoration doesn’t really work when you can’t see the details properly!’
While it would be amiss to overlook other Scandinavian nations (Sweden had a plethora of successful designers including Bruno Mathsson, while Finland boasted the likes of Alvar Aalto…) it’s fair to say that Denmark became the leading light in the realm of furniture production during the mid- century years. Danish design schools were hothouses for talent,
producing a generation of designers who achieved a blend of practicality and sophistication unmatched by many of their contemporaries in other countries.
Flemming Moberg, owner of Simply Danish in Margate, specialises in dealing vintage pieces from Denmark. ‘ Many of the best Danish designers were also architects, so they wanted everything to be structurally sound, which is why their furniture is so well made,’ he explains. ‘ They would rebuild a chair, and rebuild a chair, and rebuild a chair, until it was perfect in terms of function, form and design. They were perfectionists who had a real passion for design and didn’t care about becoming rich.’
Despite the wealth of talent, Flemming feels that two Danish designers stand out from the crowd: Hans Wegner and Finn Juhl. ‘Hans Wegner was the most productive designer we’ve ever had in Denmark,’ he reveals. ‘ He did such diverse work. For example, his innovative Wishbone chair has round lines, but he also made classic designs that were very square. He designed expensive things and a !ordable pieces.’
Finn Juhl would design everything in a house, from the doorknobs to the desks. ‘ His home is "ve miles from the centre of Copenhagen and well worth a visit,’ adds Flemming. ‘It’s a great example of how simplicity and functionality can be married in a space.’
Danish designs had a huge in #uence on British and American makers. In the early 1960s, G Plan produced the Danish Modern range with the help of Danish designer Ib Kofod-Larsen, which had a huge impact on some of the other pieces they designed in the future. ‘Another Danish designer was Jens Harald Quistgaard, who co-founded Dansk Designs in America,’ says Flemming.
Colourful Finishing Touches
Glass accessories are o$en used to introduce colour and interest
to Scandinavian interiors. If Denmark led the way in terms of furniture, it was Sweden who was the mighty force when it came to mid-century glass. ‘I can think of around 50 big-name Swedish glassmakers, whereas Finland only has about four,’ says glass specialist Andy McConnell of Glass Etc. ‘That re!ects the broader picture.’ A"er the Second World War, Sweden was rich, which was a huge catalyst for the production of fashionable glassware. ‘In a very short period of time, there were suddenly 40 signi#cant glassworks in Sweden and the country a$racted the best design students,’ says Andy. ‘The Swedes turned out tonnes of glass and ceramics. They found an international market, too. Twenty per cent of Swedish decorative arts production was exported to the USA.’
Scandinavian designers in!uenced everybody else, from the British and the Americans, to the French and the Belgians. ‘Swedish glass became an international design template,’ says Andy. For example, in England, Dartington’s factory employed master Swedish glassblower Eskil Vilhelmsson and a team of 17 glassblowers to work and to train local men.
In an era when female designers were rarely
celebrated in the same way as their male counterparts, the Swedish glass designer Gerda Strömberg was a pioneer.
‘She was the world’s # rst famous female glass designer and she opened the doors to other women. She’s the High Priestess of Modernism,’ enthuses Andy. ‘ You can put her work in any se"ing – on Chippendale or Eames – and it will look beautiful. Just give it light and it will work.’
Many of her no-frills glass creations, which Andy calls ‘monolithic’, are inspired by wintry Scandi landscapes. ‘Her vessels are like mighty blocks of ice-blue crystal,’ he adds.
Folk In uences
As well as elegant glassware, colourful textiles are essential components in Scandinavian interiors to create a cosy feel. ‘ Nineteenth- century folk design was revived in the 20th century by the likes of Austrian-born Josef Frank and Swede Estrid Ericson, who founded Svenskt Tenn. They produced beautiful natureinspired fabrics,’ says Cajsa. ‘ Today, Ikea and Marimekko are inspired by heritage but make it relevant for a modernday audience, so they do
something similar to a certain extent.’ While Scandinavian interiors have traditionally involved white walls and pale neutrals, a shi ! has begun. ‘ It’s really exciting,’ says Natasja. ‘ New colour schemes that incorporate the more dramatic tones of the landscape – dark blues, forest greens and quartz pinks – show that Scandi style is still evolving and relevant.’ It’s also fashionable at the moment to combine Scandi style with the eclectic ‘ boho’ look, originating from America and embodied by brands such as Anthropologie. It seems Nordic interiors are destined to appeal for years to come. ‘ The mid- century Scandinavians were be"er at design than anyone else,’ says Andy. ‘ They distilled the spirit of the north in a way that somehow touches us all.’
The quietly elegant and calming living room of Finn Juhl’s open-plan house, north of Copenhagen. The Danish architect designed the house (built in 1942) and the furniture in it.
Rare mid-century vintage Swedish teak Modernist 1960s desk,
LEFT TO RIGHT Arne Jacobsen’s Egg chair in production in 1963; the chic interior of designer Finn Juhl’s house epitomises Nordic style; Arne Jacobsen created the Drop chair in 1958 for the legendary SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen (also designed by him), which was the first design hotel ever built.
TOP Drop, Egg and Swan chairs, new 60th anniversary editions – design icons that Arne Jacobsen originally created for the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen in 1958 and made by Fritz Hansen. ABOVE, LEFT TO RIGHT Danish designers Arne Jacobsen, Hans Wegner and Børge Mogensen.
THIS PAGE FROM LEFT Writing bureau designed by Børge Mogensen for Bornholm Mobler in the 1960s, on sale at Vinterior for £1,295; iconic vintage CH24 Wishbone chairs by Hans Wegner for Carl Hansen & Son; Hunting table, designed by Børge Mogensen for an exhibition in 1950 and made by Carl Hansen & Son.
FROM TOP This 1960s Swedish Shell light costs £450 at Elliott & Tate; Scandi style looks good with eclectic ‘boho’ accessories from Loom + Kiln for a fresh look. BELOW Halabala lounge chair in Manhattan linen by Josef Frank for Svenskt Tenn, £1,050, Vinterior; Gerda Strömberg glasses c1933, £150 each, Glass Etc.