Scandinavian Minimalism: A Nordic Approach to Design & Lifestyle

Home » Scandinavia » Scandinavian Minimalism: A Nordic Approach to Design & Lifestyle

Is your life a little too cluttered? If you're overwhelmed with busyness, perhaps you should take a few lessons from Scandinavian minimalism.

Many people around the world have long been intrigued by Scandinavia. Whether it's the approach to society and welfare or the Nordic take on art and design, Scandinavian philosophies reach far beyond the region.

Scandinavian minimalist lounge with white walls.

Minimalism is absolutely one of those philosophies. Of course, it's important to be super clear that by no means does everyone in Scandinavia live such a lifestyle!

But there are notable examples of Scandinavian minimalism that can be found in design and lifestyle throughout the region. If you're looking to simplify your life, there are many lessons to be learned.

First things first, a comment on naming. We use Nordic and Scandinavian interchangeably in this article, although the regions are different. Denmark, Norway and Sweden make up Scandinavia. Those three plus Finland and Iceland are the Nordic countries.

A minimalist approach to design and life

Scandinavian design is characterised by a minimal, clean approach. Simply put, the concept combines attractive design with functionality. This means there's a focus on simple lines, light spaces, and a lack of clutter.

A light Scandinavian living room.

Conceptually, adopting Nordic minimalism means bringing peace and nature into your home without creating an uninviting or cluttered space.

Better known minimalism movements in America and Japan tend to be more austere, whereas Scandinavian minimalism emphasises comfort and coziness. Although many people associate minimalism with strictness, Scandinavian minimalism shows it can also be warm and inviting.

Beyond design, minimalist characteristics can be seen in many aspects of Scandinavian lifestyle. Minimalism also features in Scandinavian fashion.

Characteristics of Scandinavian minimalist design

If there's one phrase that sums up Scandinavian design principles, it's that “less is more.”

The reason this principle developed was one of necessity. Even to this day, most Nordic homes are small when compared to those in the UK and especially the US. Such small spaces didn't allow for extravagant decoration.

A Scandinavian minimalist approach to interior design.

Scandinavian design has developed out of this need. There is a focus on efficient storage solutions. Walls are often left bare and spaces left sparse. Nature is highlighted through large windows or feature plants. Even many toys are simple, wooden objects.

Something else that helps explain this minimalist approach is the Swedish term lagom. Stockholm-based photographer and author Lola Akinmade Åkerström explained that the closest translations into English are ‘moderation', ‘just enough', or ‘the right amount.'

This concept goes well beyond design principles. Lagom applies to all aspects of daily lifestyle. Think frugality, fairness, and all things equal. So it's no surprise that lagom also creeps into design.

When Scandinavian minimalism became famous

Signature elements that came to define the Nordic minimalist style including white walls, wooden floors and modern Scandinavian furniture, started to achieve global recognition in the 1950s.

The reason? The establishment of the Lunning Prize. Launched by New York-based Danish design importer Frederik Lunning, the prize was awarded to Scandinavian designers annually for about 20 years.

The award was given to “support talented and original Nordic craftsmen and industrial designers – preferably young persons – for whom a carefully planned and lengthy period of study abroad stands to be of great or decisive importance for their artistic development and practical performance.”

A simple Scandinavian lounge concept.

As editor of ‘House Beautiful' magazine, Elizabeth Gordon also played an important role. In 1954, she arranged a touring exhibition of Nordic design known as “Design in Scandinavia” that helped to popularise the style.

However, the style began in Scandinavia itself decades before. In contrast to more elaborate styles seen elsewhere in Europe, Scandinavians desired a functional, aesthetically appealing environment that was affordable to the general population.

The focus on functionality without sacrificing good looks was popular in the north. Limited daylight in the long winters meant making the most of light and space an important priority. By the 1930s, this minimalist style had taken hold in Sweden, Denmark and Norway.

A Scandinavian minimalist lifestyle

It wouldn't be true to say that most Scandinavians live minimalist lives. In Norway, most people have good salaries and enjoy a high standard of living. This means, they do buy their fair share of gadgets.

But there are elements of Scandinavian lifestyle that lean towards minimalism. In particular, their relationship with nature.

Many Life in Norway readers will be familiar with friluftsliv, the Norwegian love of the outdoors. The lifestyle is all about spending time as close to nature as possible, whether on the hiking trails, cross-country skiing trails or overnight in a remote mountain cabin.

Solo hiker in the Norwegian mountains

Some minimalists from the region also advocate a child-free lifestyle, although this is by no means a universal trend. That being said, the birth rate in Scandinavia is much lower than the historical norm. In fact, in 2020 Norway set a new record low birth rate.

Leading minimalists from Scandinavia

The internet has given a global platform to minimalists from the region to share their philosophies with the world.

Susanna Heiskanen of the Nordic Mum podcast is based in Finland. She often talks about Nordic lifestyle in general and why the region is considered to be so happy. She often shares tips on simplifying your life along Nordic principles.

For example, her view on minimalism is it doesn’t necessarily mean throwing everything away: “There has been lots of noise on social media about minimalism being the same as decluttering. Well, it is not the same. But it is a way to get started with the minimalistic way of living.”

Jenny Mustard is a Swede living in Berlin. Her YouTube channel shows off her minimal style and home decor, along with her love of monochrome colour schemes. She shares a lot of Swedish lifestyle tips along with minimalist fashion advice.

Japandi: an emerging trend

On the face of it, Japan and Scandinavia have very little in common. Scratch the surface a little though and you’ll see a lot of similarities in their approaches to design. Both regions focus on simplicity, comfort and natural elements.

Perhaps then it’s no surpirse that Japandi is the latest trend in design. More and more designers are combining the Japanese and Scandinavian aesthetic together, creating a fusion that feels entirely natural. Expect to hear a lot more about Japandi design in the months and years to come.

What do you think about Scandinavian minimalism? Is your life a little too cluttered? Let us know in the comments! If you enjoyed this post, why not share it on Pinterest? We've got the ideal pin for you. Just hit those social sharing buttons.

About Life in Norway

Sometimes, more than one person in the Life in Norway team works on a story. This was one of those times!

Norway Weekly Subscribe Banner

Leave a Comment