What Is Scandinavian Minimalism?

Scandinavian minimalism living room with fireplace

KatarzynaBialasiewicz / Getty Images

Scandinavian minimalism is a simple, practical approach to design that produces a way of life surrounded by the natural world. The goal of this interior design style is to have a simple life lived in harmony with nature, while embracing the great outdoors.

With its practical functionality and natural feel, Scandinavian design continues to grow in popularity. Learn more about this soothing interior design style and how you can incorporate its key principles into your space.    

The Origins of Scandinavian Minimalism

Scandinavian minimalism started in the 20th century. This design style emerged out of a desire to create functional but aesthetically appealing furniture and decor that was easily accessible to the general population. It stood in contrast to the elaborate decor and style embraced by the wealthy of Europe in the pre-World War I years.

The focus on functionality without losing a sense of beauty quickly gained traction. This was especially true in the northern areas of Europe, where the long winters with limited daylight made maximizing light and comfort a top priority. By the 1930s, this simple style really took off in Sweden, Denmark, and Norway.

During the 1950s and onward, this style spread worldwide after the Lunning Prize was awarded to a number of Scandinavian designers. To this day, Scandinavian minimalism continues to gain popularity for its simple functionality and everyday comfort. 

Scandinavian minimalist kitchen interior

The Spruce / Sarah Crowley

Key Characteristics

Unlike some design styles, Scandinavian minimalism is not defined by exact guidelines. It is a bit more open for experimentation, making each space feel unique. However, some key design choices make these spaces emit that iconic, comforting hygge feeling. 

Functionality is key; every piece of furniture or decor needs a purpose. When items are practical and useful, the space will have meaning rather than a collection of items that just take up space. But this doesn’t make a room cold or unwelcoming. Rather, Scandinavian minimalism excels at making environments comfortable and inviting by combining practicality with cozy, natural elements. Think wood, stone, wool, cotton, and greenery. Natural light from large windows and well-placed lighting arrangements keeps the space airy and welcoming. 

Scandinavian minimalism focuses on well-made items and furniture pieces that can be used for many years to come. It avoids trendy items, opting for quality, durability, and functionality. In fact, many of the furnishings found in this design style have more than one use or purpose, making every space purposeful and useful. This approach also helps reduce waste, encompassing Scandinavian minimalism’s focus on the natural world. 

Scandinavian Minimalism vs. Minimalism

Minimalism and Scandinavian minimalism both focus on simple functionality. However, these two design styles are also very different in several key ways.

Minimalist design focuses on clean lines, simple, functional pieces, and simple color palettes. These spaces are often found in black and white with geometric patterns and clean, sharp details. They feature open concepts and airy spaces. Commonly used materials include metal, lacquer, marble, or other clean, crisp materials. 

Scandinavian minimalism also focuses on simplicity and functionality but adds warm and nature-inspired tones into the style as well. As opposed to black and white color palettes, Scandinavian minimalism utilizes creamy whites, neutral tans and grays, and soft, nature-inspired pastels. Materials used in this style are natural, such as wood, stone, and wool. 

Scandinavian home interior with natural textures
Example of a Scandinavian home interior

Trinette Reed / Stocksy

Minimalist home interior
An example of a minimalist home interior

Collov Home Design / Unsplash

Decor Tips

You can incorporate Scandinavian minimalism into any room, from the bedroom to the kitchen. To help you bring this look home, keep these design points in mind. 

  • Eliminate the clutter. Each piece of furniture and every decorating element is chosen for a reason, not just to take up space. By keeping a space clean and free from clutter, you make room for only the pieces that add value and functionality to a space.
  • Choose colors inspired by nature. Soft, creamy whites, neutral tan and gray tones, and soft pastels such as sage or blue keep the space feeling light. These colors help bring in as much natural lighting as possible, which is perfect for the Scandinavian regions where long, dark winters are a part of everyday life. 
  • Soft, cozy lighting is key. Take advantage of natural sunlight by incorporating large windows. Incorporate other sources of light, such as lamps, overhead lights, ambiance lights, and candles. Opt for warm lighting options instead of brighter blue tones. 
  • Bring nature indoors. Use houseplants or raw, natural materials to bring in the natural world. Natural wood tones and stone are used to bring the natural elements indoors, while wool and cotton add a layer of texture. 
  • Keep things simple, functional, and high-quality. Handmade items are often found throughout Scandinavian minimalism. Simple, well-built pieces of furniture that can serve more than one purpose are a key part of this style. Avoid pieces that are ornate, showy, or trendy, and opt for timeless, well-built pieces. Choosing eco-friendly options is another key aspect of Scandinavian minimalism.