The Secrets of Scandinavian Family Homes
This piece was created for Cubby, our weekly newsletter for families at home. Want more? Sign up here for a weekly splash of fun and good ideas for families with kids. Join us over on Instagram for more!
Cubby: A Weekly Newsletter for Families at Home
Whether you need smart solutions or fresh ideas, our editors at Kitchn and Apartment Therapy are here with our best meal plans, organizing and design tips, toy recommendations, and more.
It’s no mystery that Scandinavians are admired for their interior style. Their winning combination of simple beauty and functionality has been celebrated in dozens of books. Many iconic furniture designs were created by Scandinavians (see Alvar Aalto, Arne Jacobsen and Hans Wegner), and of course, there’s the ever-popular Swedish furniture retailer IKEA.
But what is it that makes Scandi style so chic? And how do Scandinavian parents manage to balance style and function in their homes? We called on Scandinavian design experts, who also happen to be parents, to discover the secrets of Scandinavian family homes. Here’s what we learned:
A home is for living.
“Despite investing a fair amount into their homes, I have found Scandinavians to be very relaxed about what their children can and can’t do. A home is for living first,” says Niki Brantmark, the founder of My Scandinavian Home. “White sofas? Not a problem, they’ll just throw the cover in the wash.” Having said that they are relaxed about their homes, Brantmark does note that everyone removes their shoes on entering the home. “It’s one of the first things children learn,” she notes.
Function always comes before form.
“A Scandinavian home is practical first and aesthetically pleasing second,” says Brantmark, who is also the author of multiple books on Scandinavian style, including Lagom: Not Too Little, Not Too Much: The Swedish Art of Living A Balanced, Happy Life. “Form never compromises function. [In a Scandinavian home] everything is well maintained and in good working order and as a result tends to be incredibly comfortable.”
Pale palettes dominate.
“White or lighter tones are essential because of our long dark winters,” says Kristina Almer Rasmussen, the wardrobe and interiors stylist behind Scandinavian Stylist and a mom of one. White walls and furnishings naturally enhance the available light in Scandinavian homes. “We place a lot of emphasis on light because it’s good for our wellbeing,” she adds.
But Scandinavians also love color and pattern!
Scandinavian design isn’t just pale wood furnishings and a white-on-white aesthetic: it’s also known for playful color. The historic home of artist Carl Larsson and his wife Karin, which is one of the most famous family homes in Sweden, is a riot of color, including textiles and furnishings of Karin’s design. The textile company Marimekko and textile designer Josef Frank both hail from Scandinavia. New York-based designer Emily C. Butler says she loves to use Frank’s fabrics in family homes because, “Josef Frank patterns create a happy environment–whether that’s for snack time with friends, creative time for kids or as a boost of energy for parents to knock out one more email before the end of the work day.”
Lighting is of the utmost importance.
Scandinavians use lighting to create an intimate and cozy atmosphere. “This is important for lifting the mood and getting us through the dark winter days,” says Rasmussen. Brantmark agrees noting, that at night, homes tend to bask in a “lovely, warm glow,” which is created by a combination of soft, diffused mood lighting and candles. “I have learnt you can never have too many lights—from task, ambient and mood lighting—there is something in every room for all occasions,” says Brantmark. Below a Hay lamp casts soft light on a bookcase.
Nature comes indoors.
Scandinavian cultures have a strong connection to nature, which is visible in their homes. You’ll often find natural wood tones in their furnishings. Scandinavians also use pieces of nature as decor. “Use things you find in nature such as beautiful rocks, berries, branches, dried flowers,” Rasmussen adds. Rasmussen says Scandinavians use wood “as it always gives a warm cozy and natural feel.” Brantmark believes that natural connection extends to color palettes too, “Earthy tones usually resemble nature – and they are something no one ever tires of,” she says.
Hygge is still a thing.
It’s unlikely you missed the huge hygge trend back in 2016, but the parents we spoke to say it really is a way of life in Scandinavia. Hygge (pronounced “hoo-guh”) translates to a quality of coziness and comfort, two words that Rasmussen and Brantmark used over and over again. “Scandinavians love to have candles and subtle music in the background, making the most of our time,” says Rasmussen. “We love a cozy atmosphere while connecting with our family and friends, it keeps us close and promotes a happy feeling.”
Scandinavian value quality.
“We prize quality over quantity,” says Rasmussen. “I’m a strong advocate of having fewer but better quality items in your life. It creates the space we need both mentally and physically.” Rasmussen applies this rule to her home, her wardrobe and even her child’s toys. “It’s worth investing in kids toys that are high quality. Not only do they decorate the room nicely, they last a long time and can even be passed on to others when they are no longer needed.”
They don’t chase trends.
Despite IKEA’s popularity, Scandinavians avoid cheap, trendy furnishings. “It’s about investing in timeless, well-made pieces that will stand the test of time — and that will be enjoyed for generations to come,” says Brantmark, who shared a story about a Swedish friend, who recently told Brantmark ‘cheap is actually expensive’ because she realized you need to replace it over and over again. Rasmussen adds that “even older designs from the 1950s are still considered great style here and are very expensive as they stand the test of time.”
Even Scandi families have clutter.
“Having too much stuff is a universal problem, even in Scandinavia,” says Rasmussen. Scandinavians handle the kid clutter by “making [storage] intuitive by having specific places where things can go, and at the child’s height, so it’s easy for them to tidy and organize by themselves.”
Embrace negative space.
The somewhat sparse look of Scandi interiors is intentional: if you allow more negative space, it allows your items to breathe and stand out, so you can enjoy them. “I believe this ‘secret’ applies to all decor, not just Scandinavian decor,” says Rasmussen, who notes that “Negative space also elevates even everyday items so your home becomes beautiful as well as functional.” It’s also good for kids, “Children have more distractions than ever before, so it’s important to create a space with a good balance of activity and also a space for peace and calm,” says Rasmussen.
Texture is key.
“Natural materials and surfaces that are rich in texture, such as wood, stone, cotton, wool, and linen, help to add depth and interest to a room,” says Brantmark. Rasmussen is particularly fond of textiles for giving a room texture. “Cushions and rugs give a room a feeling of softness and warmth that kids love,” she says.
A home tour is a must.
When you visit someone’s home for the first time, it is common for Scandinavians to give you a guided tour of the entire property — so fun! Brantmark says that there’s a practical angle to this tour; for example, it helps guests to feel at home to know where everything is, including the bathroom. But Rasmussen points out it also “provides an insight to our personalities.”