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From Zen to Hygge: An Overview of Minimalist and Scandinavian Design

Stressless sofa in minimalist interior

Whether our idea of home is a city in the desert or a small town next to a fjord, our physical environment and culture influence every sector of our lives. One area this might especially manifest is interior design. For instance, if you live in Scandinavia with long, cold winters, you may favor large, high windows to get as much light as you can. Or if your environment is too cluttered, you may decide it’s time for a more minimal approach to furniture and possessions.

But what exactly do minimalism and the Scandinavian style look like? And how did they start? Read on for an overview of the minimalist and Scandinavian design movements and how they are connected.


Minimalism in Europe and the US gained ground in the early 20th century and inspired sub-movements in architecture, painting, music, and design. With his “Less is more” philosophy, architect Mies Van der Rohe was one of the luminaries of this movement that sought to strip everything down to its barest and truest essence.

Minimalism also has roots in Japanese Zen. The Zen school of thought de-emphasizes attachment to the material and encourages simple living, which has carried over to today’s minimalist focus on decreasing clutter and focusing on the essentials. When applied to furniture, minimalism often manifests with these traits:

• Clean design, often with flat, smooth surfaces and a “light” rather than “heavy” look
• Simple appearance with very little or no decoration
• Emphasis on functionality or multi-functionality, resulting in more free space
• Neutral, understated colors, prominent use of white

The Serif Laptop Table exudes minimalism in its simple and compact profile. The user can adjust this table’s height and move it around easily, making it a multifunctional and space-saving piece that can be a desk, a side table, or even a dining surface.

Despite its simplicity, minimalist furniture and accessories don’t have to be boring, as shown by the Circo Table Lamp. This lamp has a ring-shaped frame that emits light along its entire circumference, creating a unique look.

Larger pieces can also emanate a minimalist feel, as shown by the Janae Sectional. Though wide enough to accommodate a multitude of sitters, this sectional has sleek, compact seats and a lower profile.


This style has been described as the Scandinavian take on minimalism. The Scandinavian design movement gained traction from the 1930’s onward, rising out of the desire for a local style with accessible and sustainable design. As such, a primary aim of this movement is creating products built to last that remind the user of their connection to nature. Scandinavian design also incorporates the Danish idea of “hygge,” a feeling of coziness that comes from surrounding oneself with fulfilling things, both material and non-material. Scandinavian furniture often shows:

• Emphasis on functionality, comfort, and coziness
• Clean and simple lines, with understated or no decoration
• Use of natural, organic materials, especially wood with a lightened hue
• Neutral color palettes, often light and warm, featuring colors found in nature
• Use of brighter colors as an accent

Each country in Scandinavia has developed their regional twist on the broader aesthetic. For instance, Denmark pioneered the Danish Modern style that gained worldwide recognition in the 1940’s. The founders of Copenhagen, Erik Hansen and Tony Christensen, started the business carrying Danish Modern furniture exclusively. Today, Danish style is seen as the most fashion-forward of the Scandinavian countries, and the most likely to show a playful, colorful mood.

One prime example is the Edge Chair, based on a design from the ‘40’s. With red leather upholstery and a graceful wood frame whose lines evoke the organic shapes of tree branches or antlers, this chair is beautiful, comfortable, and quintessentially Danish.

Bjorn Wiinblad is a noted Danish designer with a famously playful style. His Eva Flowerpot uses bright colors and a whimsical face to bring warmth to cold surroundings.

By contrast, Norwegian design is less concerned with style. It emphasizes functionality and the ability of its pieces to withstand harsh conditions.

Ekornes, the Norwegian maker of the renowned Stressless® chairs, shows a commitment to function and durability in every piece they produce. Take the ever-popular Stressless® Mayfair recliner – it is full of ergonomic features and customers can vouch for its ability to last decades.

Further east, Finnish design loves taking inspiration from nature and incorporating organic lines.

Their brand Luonto is Finnish for “nature” and Luonto’s Halti Sleeper Sectional is named after the highest mountain in Finland. With multiple versatile features that involve an upward motion to use (such as a chaise that hinges upward to reveal a storage space), one subtly feels the influence of the mountain’s altitude in this sectional.

Swedish design is more minimalist in its expression, concerned with crafting pieces that are accessible and appealing to many people. At the same time, Swedish culture also celebrates more colorful local arts and crafts, such as those of the indigenous Sami.

Kosta Boda is a Swedish glassware company founded in 1742 and still making exquisite pieces today, such as the Brick Votive. With its simple cubic design, textured surface, and choice of colors, the Brick Votives are versatile and pleasing.

Finally, Icelandic design is the most experimental and avant-garde of the Scandinavian countries, incorporating materials such as wool and fish leather.

Clearly, one can see commonalities between minimalism and the Scandinavian styles, such as their simplicity, functionality, and thoughtful relationship to nature and material possessions. Indeed, a lot of contemporary furniture is inspired by these movements.

So, what does this mean for you if you’re trying to decide your aesthetic, or make over your space? It can be fun to dive deeper into various art or design movements, but don’t get too lost in labels if they decrease your enjoyment of the process at hand. Maybe you’re in love with the Danish style and want your whole house to reflect it, or maybe you’d rather mix and match different styles – both are valid.

If you ever feel stuck, stop into your local Copenhagen for inspiration or to chat with one of our friendly sales associates who would be happy to help you refine your vision.

Information in this post was sourced from the articles below. Visit the links to learn more about interior design movements and their history:

The story of minimalistic interior design
How to Use Minimalist Interior Design to Simplify Your Home
What is Scandinavian Design?
What is Hygge?