The Scandinavian Storm Strikes Contract Interiors

August 20, 2018 by

Scandinavian Spaces debuted its new showroom on the 11th floor of Chicago’s Merchandise Mart at NeoCon 2018. Designed in collaboration with the Ghislaine Viñas Interior Design firm, the Scandinavian Spaces showroom will celebrate the nine progressive brands represented by Scandinavian Spaces, delivering Nordic design to the contract world in North America. Photo: Scandinavian Spaces

If you were walking the halls of the Merchandise Mart during NeoCon this year and wondered why everything felt neutral, natural and inspired by a heavy Nordic influence, you’re not alone. In fact, several dealers and business leaders even approached us and said, “What is the craze around this Scandinavian design theme? I just HAVE to understand it!” We’d be remiss to exclude this trend. Not only was it a notable overarching design principle present in brands like Source International, Herman Miller and its partner naughtone, and the more obvious Scandinavian Spaces, but its subtle underlying influences were present through colors, materials and furnishings throughout the show floors, almost like a silent whispering trend – with a lion’s roar of an impression!


The Defining Principles of Scandinavian Design

When we think of Scandinavian design, the mind often wanders to simple, clean designs, white walls, natural woods, premium materials and modernist design elements – these are the most commonly considered design principles, according to the Swedish Chamber of Commerce blog. Yet, Scandinavian design does include subtle pops of color, usually seen in the warm and natural palettes, though nothing too bright and overpowering. Textiles favor natural materials such as wool, cotton and leather; synthetic fabrics are rarely used. Ever present is the placement of large windows that allow spaces to maximize natural light and create an airy environment that is tranquil and serene, to say the least.


A Brief History Lesson

The principles of Scandinavian design stem from a climate that experiences roughly nine months of winter each year. Native resources inspire design choices that reflect the natural habitat, hence the importance placed on natural materials and the maximization of light. Not to mention, according to the U.S. News’ 2017 Best Countries ranking, more than half of the energy in Sweden comes from renewable sources, so Scandinavian design naturally favors more environmentally friendly choices. At a time when sustainable living has become the “trendy thing to do,” Scandinavian people show they have embraced its principles for generations. As detailed in YLighting’s blog on the topic, Scandinavian design emerged after WWII as a response to furniture and design in the Nordic countries that felt expensive and unapproachable.

The Source International showroom at NeoCon 2018, reflecting a younger generation’s desire foran office that models an authentic, sustainable attitude and a design style that reflects a more home or hospitality-like feel with some visual breathing room. Photo: Source International

There was a social sense that beautiful, modern, well-designed products should be available to everyone, not just the affluent. Also, during that time, affordable materials like plastic, pressed wood and enameled aluminum became easier to mass produce, hence making this vision for democratized design a reality. The term “Scandinavian Design” made its way to the U.S. in 1954 when an international furniture exhibition, “Design in Scandinavia” toured for three years through the U.S. and Canada. Some of the world’s most famous designers were born during this time. Kaare Klint, Finn Juhl, Arne Jacobsen, Verner Panton and Hans Wegner (arguably the most popular) are just a few. Yet as these then-emerging designers were making a name for themselves, an equally impressive influence was making its way into mainstream design.


naughtone at NeoCon 2018, Chicago. “While it’s no surprise that U.S. interior design trends naturally follow what’s happening in Europe, there are distinct reasons for a heavy adoption of Nordic design here today – namely, increasing attention paid to sustainability, a collective urge to de-clutter, and the desire for a simpler life.” Photo: naughtone

The IKEA Influence

To the design novice, Scandinavian design is synonymous with IKEA, which, no doubt, has had a huge impact on the residential adoption of this trend around the globe. According to IKEA’s timeline, the store’s founder, Swede Igvar Kamprad, was born to be an entrepreneur. IKEA was founded in 1947, but Kamprad soon found his store boycotted by manufacturers that were negatively impacted by his low pricing model. Kamprad resorted to inhouse design and revolutionized what we know now as the “flat pack” model, which he sold in his own warehouse. Today, IKEA is a staple for sensible style at an affordable price. The pieces are known for their minimal packaging (and perhaps for their tedious do-it-yourself “installation”), yet few could argue that the brand, which has become a sort of figurehead for the principles of Scandinavian design, has revolutionized the way we design on a budget.


Herman Miller’s Merchandise Mart showroom at NeoCon 2018, Chicago, showed strong Scandinavian design principles. Photo: Herman Miller

The Impetus Behind the Influence

While it’s no surprise that U.S. interior design trends naturally follow what’s happening in Europe, there are distinct reasons for a heavy adoption of Nordic design here today. According to the Nielsen Sustainability Imperative, three out of four Millennials and Gen Z’ers are willing to pay more for sustainable products. And a survey conducted by Masdar on Gen Z’s views of global sustainability found that 59% of Gen Z wants to work or study in areas that are somehow related to sustainability. The environment matters to this generation. Young people also feel overwhelmed
by the clutter in their lives, and one big piece of this is social media. An article by The Guardian found that 71% of the students polled take regular detox breaks from social media, and 63% said they wouldn’t care if it didn’t exist at all. Pair these statistics with employers’ drive to increase employee attraction and retention efforts, and it’s clear that Scandinavian design naturally lends itself as a part of the solution. This younger generation wants an office that models an authentic, sustainable attitude and a design style that reflects a more home or hospitality-like feel with some visual breathing room. And by definition, Scandinavian design principles of an open, airy,  less-is-more approach logically insert themselves into this end goal. The style is so ubiquitous that Architectural Digest notes that it’s an easy one to blend with other pieces from different design eras. Scandinavian design aims to help people find balance and offers a breath of fresh air amidst a busy life. It’s more than just the design style that’s appealing; the style itself transcends into something more – a lifestyle that’s earnestly sought after. Vogue magazine recently published an article talking about the cultural importance of a Swedish phrase “lagom,” which refers to their “not too much, not too little” way of living and comes from the Swedish phrase “Lagom är bäst” (the right amount is best). They talk about it as an “ethos of moderation,” one which is undoubtedly infiltrating U.S. culture today as well. A contrast is stirring: simple vs. complex, small vs. big, less vs. more. And perhaps striking that magical balance of ‘Lagom är bäst’ is where the workspace of the future is headed.


This article was originally published in officeinsight  on August 13, 2018. It is reprinted here with permission.

About the author:Allison Roon is an interior designer, marketing strategist, and storyteller. With deep roots in the contract furniture industry, Allison offers unique insight into what makes spaces and stories meaningful, and how they can be used to engage an audience and impact change. Allison has her BA in Interior Design from Kendall College of Art and Design and went on to get her Masters in Adult and Higher Education from Grand Valley State University. With a background as Director of Design, Marketing, and Product Management, Allison has an incredible ability to create meaningful conversations around the future of work and workplace, and draw out information and conclusions from client discussions that lead to high-level product and market strategy decisions.