Understanding the Key Similarities and Differences between Scandinavian Design and Minimalism
If you follow trends in contemporary design, two terms you will often hear are “minimalism” and “Scandinavian”. And ever since Ikea rose to prominence, the two terms have often been conflated.
But while the two styles share similar roots, minimalist and modern Scandinavian styles do differ in a few substantial ways.
They reflect different mindsets. They demonstrate different reactions to social and environmental conditions.
But how do two seemingly similar styles represent a clash in conception? And how does that difference manifest itself aesthetically?
Keep reading to learn more about these two styles and answer these questions.
Modern Scandinavian vs Minimalism
The way people decorate their homes reflects the society in which they live. In this respect, both styles reflect similar but distinct reactions to industrialization.
As the 19th century ended, the effects of the Industrial Revolution crept into day-to-day life. What we would now call “modernism” was beginning to manifest.
This point is important because the two styles we are looking at demonstrate two different ways of reacting to a changing cultural landscape.
The term “minimalism” first appeared in the 1960s. It was used to describe the work of American visual artists like Robert Morris and Anne Truitt.
The movement was a reaction to contemporary art. Specifically, abstract expressionism, which the minimalists felt was self-indulgent and stale.
Abstract expressionism relied heavily on a biographical component to relay meaning. Presented in a vacuum, a piece would appear either incomprehensible or meaningless altogether.
This was one of the primary philosophical differences of the minimalist mindset. Eschewing biography, they attempted to make art that could be anonymous. In a way, this also made it more universal.
This reaction would extend into all areas of art, including interior design. Minimalist design is defined by functionality, geometry, and its penchant for prefabricated industrial materials.
Its functionality comes from the absence of clutter. Say you knew nothing about minimalism but the word. You would still probably image an open-concept floor plan with sparse ornamentation.
Minimalist design is also characterized by bold, clean lines and geometric patterns. In terms of color, it favors a neutral base with accents of black and chrome.
In regards to how minimalism reflects changing attitudes, it embraces modernism.
Scandinavian design as we now know it was codified around the same time as minimalism. The style emphasized sleek, accessible, affordable furnishings and interiors. It also drew inspiration from the region’s climate.
During Scandinavia’s long winters, the days are cold and short. The popular design reflects this by contrasting that reality as much as possible.
Light, for example, is a key aspect of Scandinavian design.
The style combine open spaced-floor plans, pale colors, and minimal ornamentation. All aspects which contribute to an effort to maximize the amount of light in the space. The idea is to make the home bright and inviting as a reprieve from the cold gloom of the outside world.
Functionalism is another defining attribute of Scandinavian design. Again, due in large part to how harsh the Scandinavian climate can be, function has long been favored over form.
As part of the effort to de-clutter the space, single-function areas like dining rooms are eschewed. Instead, the open design is intended to be flexible. Each space can accommodate a variety of activities, maximizing the economy of space.
But that is not to say that Scandinavian design is just about empty rooms with muted walls. On the contrary, it expresses a desire to marry function and form rather than favor one over the other.
It takes inspiration from nature in its choice of materials. And that distinction is one of its big differences from minimalism.
Material and Mindset
A primary distinguishing characteristic between modern Scandinavian and minimalist design is the materials used.
Minimalism is distinguished by its industrial inspirations. It incorporates materials like steel, chrome, and lacquered plastics. While minimalist spaces can feel open and streamlined, they can also feel sterile and cold.
By contrast, modern Scandinavian seeks to move in the opposite direction. In creating a respite from winters of northern Europe, modern Scandinavian goes for a space that is open, but still lively.
It incorporates natural materials and organic shapes that appeal to the human eye on a basic level.
Minimalism can feel almost brutish in its utilitarian functionality, Scandinavian design is softer. It is cozy, without being overly rustic.
It is still defined by functionality but lends itself much more to a home than to a factory or a workplace. It typically allows for a wider range of colors than minimalism. Using bursts of blue as an accent is a trendy choice in Scandinavian design right now.
Further, if minimalism is industrial in nature, then Scandinavian is lived-in by contrast. Gently worn leathers and other natural textures are ways in which the style makes itself feel homier and more inviting.
If minimalism is embraced modernism, that Scandinavian subtly resists it. Its penchant for natural materials and organic forms is something of a throwback. It brings to mind the arts and crafts movement of the early 20th century. Which itself was a sort of post-romantic resistance to industrialization.
This places the two styles in contrasting positions.
A Homestead or a Workshop
While the two share some core similarities, the difference between them is primarily a matter of philosophy.
Minimalist design is an offshoot of an artistic movement that drew inspiration from the inorganic and was in part defined by its anonymity.
Modern Scandinavian came about in response to the environment. It was to provide a warm, inviting escape from a long, dark winter.
This difference in philosophy manifests itself in the choice of material, form, and color.