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While the American and European mid-century modern movements were developing, a similar design style was growing in the Nordic countries of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden.

Scandinavian mid-century modern design, known as Functionalism, shares many characteristics with America’s version, such as a melding of contrasting materials and eye-catching combinations of geometric and organic forms. The ultimate hallmarks of Scandinavian design – quality and craftsmanship – have enabled this school of design to remain wildly popular even today.

Scandinavian furniture designers during this period, stretching from the late 1930s to the early 1970s, heavily focused on leggy furnishings made from lighter-colored woods, such as oak, teak, rosewood, and pale, bright colors. Many were inspired by the revolutionary styles and designs pouring out of the Bauhaus, the famous German modern art school founded in 1919.

For interiors, the goal was to keep rooms minimalistic and airy with an emphasis on natural light – something Nordic regions are very particular about since their winters last for 8 months or more. Magnifying the light within a room was essential. The overall design was driven by desired lifestyle – a clutter-free and disciplined way of life. Through the use of simple, yet elegant, furnishings, designers saw a way they could help a multitude of others improve their everyday surroundings.

The design aesthetic objective was to create simple, forward-thinking home environments that would be populated with stylish – yet durable and functional – home furnishings. Wood would play an integral role in Scandinavian design as this was the region’s most readily available resource.

Beyond the use of light-colored wood, Scandinavian designers were eager to utilize other newly popular materials of the time, such as fabricated metal with high-quality finishes and new techniques in molded plastic, broadening the possibilities for their design work. For upholstery, the preference was natural fabrics – like linen, cotton, wool, and leather.

These minimalistic furniture designs could have resulted in sterile and sparse living areas. To provide warmth, interior designers balanced refined restraint in furniture designs with contrasting, more elegant elements. Scandinavian interior design embraced the concept of hygge – an interior design that results in a cozy togetherness that brings a sense of contentment and well-being into a living space.

Many of today’s mid-century modern enthusiasts are known for keeping a keen eye out for these stunning Scandinavian originals, both because of their unique styling and also for their reliable functionality and sturdy construction. Although the simple lines and elegant silhouettes of Scandinavia furniture make it a mid-century mod favorite, as the popularity of products from Swedish company IKEA demonstrates, Scandinavian-inspired designs work within a range of design styles, whether it be mid-century modern, shabby chic, dorm room casual, or most any other design motif.

Scandinavian Mid-Century Modern Pieces

The Valet Chair – Hans Wegner

The Valet Chair by Hans Wegner – 1st Dibs

Hans Wegner was a prolific Danish designer whose furnishings were somehow simple and intricate at the same time. His deep respect for wood and other natural materials allowed him to create designs that were soft, minimal, and organic. After a seemingly banal conversation in 1951 about folding a suit to avoid creasing overnight, Wegner came up with the Valet Chair design. Each part of the chair is carefully designed to hold a different piece of a suit so that it will not wrinkle. It even has a small compartment for storing valuables and belts.

The Hunting Table by Børge Mogensen – 1st Dibs

The Hunting Table – Børge Mogensen

Børge Mogensen first trained as a cabinet maker before moving on to design some of the most influential pieces of modern Danish furnishings. The Hunting Table stands as a beautiful representation of his work. Smooth rounded edges show off his passion for accessible furnishings and the narrow top allowed it to fit effortlessly into small spaces. The aesthetically pleasing metal cross bars add visual interest and stability while the contrasting wood joints highlight the craftsmanship of the table.

The Faaborg Chair by Kaare Klint – Palette and Parlor

The Faaborg Chair – Kaare Klint

Kaare Klint is fondly remembered as the father of modern Danish design. He inspired most of the Scandinavian designers who emerged throughout the Functionalism period, thanks to his heavy involvement in founding the Department of Furniture Design at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art. Klint had an incredible sense of proportion and space and designed his pieces based on studies of the human body. The Faaborg Chair was one of his first pieces to garner international acclaim. It was designed in 1914 to be a light, portable seat for visitors of the Faaborg Museum, which opened the next year. Its clean lines and elegant silhouette embodied Klint’s desire to create pieces that did not dominate a space but instead worked in unity.

The PH5 by Poul Henningsen – Lumens

The PH5 – Poul Henningsen

Henningsen designed this fixture in 1958 as a response to the ever-changing shape and size of light bulbs and their blinding, sterile incandescence. With multiple shades emitting light laterally and downward and supplemental colors of red and blue within them, Henningsen was able to create a warmer, more inviting light source.

The Pelican Chair by Finn Juhl – House of Finn Juhl

The Pelican Chair – Finn Juhl

Finn Juhl was a highly esteemed Danish furniture maker and architect with eye-catching pieces designed to bring “completeness” to the spaces they occupied. Juhl designed his pieces with a sculptor’s mindset, meaning he focused on creating pieces with movement that would make the occupant look like they were floating. The Pelican Chair’s animalistic form held up by sturdy oak legs gave it a comfy inviting feel while still appearing light and dynamic.

The Fried Egg Chair by Hans Olsen – 1st Dibs

The Fried Egg Chair – Hans Olsen

Many are familiar with the iconic Jacobsen Egg Chair, but Hans Olsen’s Fried Egg Chair, also known as Model 188, is also a showstopper. Olen emphasizes swooping form and surface with this asymmetrical easy chair. Occupants can sit facing forward or relax with their legs elevated over the ergonomic arm designed especially for casual loungers.

The 29A Sideboard by Arne Vodder – Pamono

The 29A Teak Sideboard – Arne Vodder

Arne Vodder was a student, and later a close friend, of Finn Juhl.  He is known for his sideboards, tables, and hall furnishings, each designed to be free of sharp edges with drawers that did not need any handles to be used. With an emphasis on craftsmanship and versatility, Vodder created the 29A Sideboard with reversible sliding panels and finished the back with the same, warm teak so that the piece did not require placement against a wall.

Thanks to their durability, there are still many original Scandinavian furnishings available for purchase, although their desirability usually makes them rather expensive. That said, IKEA (possibly the world’s most famous furniture store), is an excellent place to shop for Scandinavian-inspired pieces. Once you know what to look for, you’ll be surprised by just how many other pieces of furniture – clearly influenced by the Scandinavian design movement – you’ll find in most any furniture store!