Lifestyle / The Scrapbook

Maria Fitzpatrick: Design in an Age of Austerity

Grey-and-neutral-Scandinavian-interior

Ever wondered how to create the perfect Scandinavian aesthetic in your home when budget cuts need to be made?  MARIA FITZPATRICK knows how…


Maria Fitzpatrick

The Scandinavian aesthetic, with its emphasis on pared-back forms, function, quality craftsmanship, maximising light and finding beauty in nature has produced a roll-call of design classics that are on the wishlist of all furniture fiends.

We’re primed to lap up visual cues from the region, and while we can’t wear snowflake jumpers all year round, or up sticks and move to a remote lakeside cabin in Sweden, we can easily create the simple-but-beautiful mood in our own homes.

Design temples like twentytwentyone, The Lollipop Shoppe and, of course, Skandium, are the traditional hunting grounds if you’re looking for investment pieces – the Hans Wegner Wishbone chairs, Arne Jacobsen stools and Alvar Aalto side tables – but for those of us whose budget doesn’t stretch to the “greats”, there’s now a plethora of more affordable finds influenced by this style – and not just at Ikea.

“The age of austerity has also had its part to play in the current popularity of Scandi style,” says Sally Hudson, the living and dining buyer at John Lewis, which is on the button as ever with its Scandinavian-themed living, dining and bedroom furniture ranges, in oak, created by the prominent Danish designer-craftsman Ebbe Gehl.

“It is simple and unpretentious, and is typical of the “beautility” trend, which celebrates the appeal of functional, everyday items. When people are more careful about how they spend their money, they want to see the work and thought that has gone into a piece of furniture, and the attention to detail we find in Scandinavian design is a perfect example of this.”


Image result for design house stockholm chair


“When people are more careful about how they spend their money, they want to see the work and thought that has gone into a piece of furniture. The attention to detail we find in Scandinavian design is a perfect example of this.”


Magnus England at Skandium, agrees: “People are fed up with superficial items with no heritage and dubious place of origin,” he says. “Quality Scandinavian design might not be the cheapest, but it lasts both in quality and in style – you don’t get bored looking at it.”

First of all, though, the basics: the overall palette is restful and neutral – think white alongside putty, earth, slate and stone colours, anything which suggests a connection with the outdoors. The other key element is wood – particularly if you’re using white as a base – in strong shapes that add interest but don’t shout. This balance of wood versus cold white – used in Ebbe Gehl’s range for John Lewis – works like an outdoor hot tub on a freezing cold day – you feel simultaneously comforted by the warmth and invigorated by the chill.
Design House Stockholm hinges many of its designs on this dichotomy: a highlight is their sculptural table candelabra, “Nordic Light”, which folds into itself – it makes a great house-warming present: glossy white on the side of the arms and wooden on the topside, so you get a glimpse of both. Their “Tablo” side table, with rough-hewn wooden legs, like branches, and a glossy white tray on top, is equally striking.

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The ‘Tablo’ side table by Design House Stockholm


Anything that adds texture, such as a slate floor, stone bathroom basin or Gustavian-style wall panelling, stops the neutrals looking too flat or stark. Scrubbed-effect floorboards, which show the grain detail in the wood more prominently, also roughen things up nicely: Junckers’s “Scandinavian Nature” hard-brushed oak flooring in antique white or mountain silver is spot on. Outdoorsy wooden picnic-style benches in an all-neutral minimalist kitchen surprise the eye, too. Then introduce gloss, earthenware and glazed-enamel finishes, starchy linen cushions or tablecloths and rope-weave rugs and accessories. You can even layer whites successfully if you vary the finish and texture of your accessories: Cox and Cox’s trio of enamelled pitchers and Gesso “display boards” show this off perfectly.

The beauty with this style is that it can go in a slightly industrial, coastal or country direction, depending on which basics you already have – a hint of metal in a pendant light, seaside shutters in a powdery shade or an accent chair upholstered with a cool-toned cotton with peppy-coloured ticking stripes works well. The Sleep Room (changing its name to “Loaf” later this year) has some breezily beautiful wardrobes and bedroom chairs coming in for spring.

While Scandinavian style is pure, it’s not puritanical, so occasional flashes of colour are important, either as a painted finish on select pieces of furniture, or as stripes- graphic Scandinavian-style geometric or folksy patterns or tree motifs in uplifting spring blues, teals and yellows. As Magnus at Skandium points out, there are plenty of joyous Scandi designs that are “far from shy”, including Iittala’s colourful glassware and Marimekko’s bold prints. Woven Ground currently has an enormous cream rug with a pale blue geometric pattern by the Danish brand Hay, but Ikea has similar ideas.


Image result for scandinavian furniture flash of colour


“While Scandinavian style is pure, it’s not puritanical, so occasional flashes of colour are important.”


In terms of paint palettes to dip into for the “beautility” look, Farrow & Ball has “Cool Grey Neutrals” – “for a more hard-edged contemporary tone, with a slight underlying warmth”; “Industrial” – “an urban palette of muted tones that mimic the earthy shades of natural materials, uplifted by splashes of vibrant, zestful colour”; or “Nature”, which is influenced by the environment, with “an urban twist”. Lively spring green plants and flowers will look more vibrant than ever against all those harmonious, cool tones.

Whether the Scandinavians invented the concept of “wellness” as we know it, it’s hard to say for sure, but they’re certainly good at it. You only need to live with their interiors rules in your home for a short time to see that their mantra of doing things simply and properly clears the mind, and, in these stressful times, is perhaps the most inspired design concept of them all.


MARIA FITZPATRICK was an interiors editor for The Telegraph and its interiors editor from 2006 to 2014.


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