Is Swedish Style actually the new Scandi?

For years everyone has referred to Scandinavian style as a catch-all phrase for everything that is minimal, pared back and mostly mid-century modern. But did you know that this is actually more of a Danish look? And I have seen Scandinavians refer slightly crossly to being all lumped in together when they are very distinct countries with their own interior design history and style. This is, in essence, what sparked my idea to write a series on international style for The Financial Times several years ago. I began with Danish and covered Swedish, Icelandic and Finnish, the latter two, as any fule no (sic), are actually Nordic not Scandinavian but, again, they are often all banded together.

image via
image via

However, with interiors magazine and blogs, and even paint companies, acknowledging that grey, while a classic, is no longer in the spotlight, there is also talk that the Scandi-style domination of interiors is coming to an end. They say minimalism is done and we are cycling back to a more colourful – some might say cluttered – maximalist look; one in which wallpaper, colour and lots of stuff is very definitely part of the style.

is swedish style the new scandi image via
is swedish style the new scandi image via

To which I would say you do mean the dominance of Danish interior style has given way to Swedish? Firstly, as has also been quietly pointed out over the years (but no-one has really taken any notice) the Danes, like the rest of their Nordic cousins, have long dark winters, and tend to use white on their walls rather than grey which has long been associated with the look. Secondly, classic Swedish style, as popularised by the artist Carl Larsson and his family, has always been more colourful and cosy in style.

wallpaper salon via entrance makleri sold last year
wallpaper salon via entrance makleri sold last year

Drottningholm Palace, the best preserved castle in Sweden dating back to the 1600s, is a riot of colour and baroque, rococo and revivalism. The founder of Rococco chocolates, Chantal Coady (who is no longer associated with the brand) told me years ago that the decor for her shops, Farrow & Ball’s Hague Blue and Citron, was directly inspired by the Swedish palace’s colour palette.

apartment sold by
apartment sold by

As well as this greenish blue and slightly muddy yellow, the Swedish colour palette includes lots of rich red, a colour that is the legacy of all the Swedish Iron ore (the country has 92 per cent of Europe’s iron reserves) which gave rise to the prevalence of this colour which you see all over the country on the roofs of country houses.

blue and white chequerboard lino floor by beata heuman, yellow curtains, blue damask wallpaper, red patterned wall hanging and blue ikat patterned sofa.
swedish-born london-based beata heuman is one of the most in demand interior designers

If you look on Swedish estate agents (or follow them on instagram) you will note the warm colours, rumpled linen tablecloths and lots of floral wallpaper. It seems the love for William Morris is strong in Sweden. But they also have their own, quintessentially Swedish design. Spring Flowers, designed by Josef Franks, an Austrian who, in 1933 fled the growing anti-semitism in his country and moved to Sweden. He was then 48 and his subsequent work in his adopted country has had a huge impact on the history of the country’s style.

swedish apartment for sale via stadshem with the 1940s josef frank's classic spring bells wallpaper
swedish apartment for sale via stadshem with the quintessential swedish 940s josef frank’s classic spring bells wallpaper

Sofie Izard Hoyer (@izardhoyer) a Swedish interiors stylist, says that while Danes do use colour, they tend to use sharper version than those popular in Sweden, which are warmer in tone.

“Scandinavian style and Danish style are different, I think. Many people think it’s the same thing. Scandinavian homes are often airy, light with light wood and very little furniture. The Danes think more function while the Swedes take the nice before the practical,” she said.

“The Danes are more architectural and more austere. We are more cosy here in Sweden. Danish interior design is more direct, dramatic and playful than it usually is in Sweden.”

pink and green kitchen at sophie robinson house
rubarba wallpaper by gocken jobs at sophie robinson’s house

And many of you will be familiar with the work of designer Gocken Jobs (1914-1995) whose Rabarber wallpaper is in the cosy kitchen of my podcasting co-host Sophie Robinson.

So I put it to you that “scandi” is not dead, it’s just moved its focus from Denmark to Sweden. What do you think? I love these rooms and they all feel right for now. A little warmer and cosier than their very stylish Danish cousins but, perhaps, a little more relaxed now that we are all at home so much more?

apartment sold by
apartment sold by
Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.


  1. Wonderful article, Kate! I love your blog, and the podcast as well, it’s obvious you put so much work, thought and attention in each post and it’s not just pretty pictures like so many interior design blogs! I was wondering, do you know of any books one could read to learn more about the differences between the Nordic design styles? I enjoyed your FT articles and would love to learn more about this subject 🙂

  2. Emerging in the 1950s alongside the modernist movement in Europe and America, Scandinavian modern style prioritized democratic, affordable, and sleek furnishings and interiors. Clean lines, functional furnishings, and a neutral palette were hallmarks of modernist style everywhere.

  3. I love this story and as a Finnish person living in England, I’m so happy to see this being put out there. I hate when people assume that just cause I’m a Nordic person, I would have my house looking like a snow castle. Finns do definitely love white walls, so much so that I can’t really EVER remember seeing non-white walls in a Finnish house, but we also certainly love bright colours in furniture, accessories, curtains (Marimekko), rugs, art.

  4. Carl Larsson style interiors are beautiful and I like the way your shots use William Morris style without being too heavy looking. I hadn’t thought to follow Swedish estate agents before – now fear for my WFH distraction levels!

    1. I loved all the interiors that Kate illustrated her article with, and i also loved the house in the Monocle film (yes, i watched it!). I know very little about interior design so don’t know if the interiors are typically Danish or Swedish but i thought they were wonderful, warm, welcoming and comfortable.

  5. Your so right Kate. I would also add that the Swedes loves their antiques as well and will often have beautiful chandelier lights hanging snd lovely Gustavian wood furniture bits sometimes thrown into the mix. They have long been into their unusual indoor plants long before we Brits evolved on from Spider Plants to anything more interesting!

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