The term Scandinavian design was first used at an exhibition held in 1951 at Heal's department store in London. The event showcased new furniture and accessories from Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland.
Although modernist in its adherence to 'function before form' and 'less is more', the movement had little of Le Corbusier's concrete-clad austerity. The warmer palette of materials used created space on a human scale, filled with sunshine and geniality. Although few can afford a house designed by a top Scandinavian architect, it's possible to achieve the overall look by creating the right interior.
Keep colours light and natural (brown, cream, grey and green) and aim for an interesting contrast of textures.
Use simple window treatments such as timber shutters. Flooring should be either bare or polished timber.
When it comes to furnishings, a few key pieces work best. Scandinavian design is all about light and space, so clutter is out. The living area might team a classic Hans Wegner sideboard with an Egg or Swan chair (below) by Arne Jacobsen and a sofa by Borge Mogensen. The more thrifty of us might look at Ikea's comfortable Poang armchair (below right).
In the dining room it's hard to surpass the gorgeous Super Elliptical table by Piet Hein (1968), teamed with a set of classic Series 7 chairs, designed by Jacobsen in 1955. These can be illuminated by the classic PH 5 pendant, created in 1958 by Poul Henningsen. In the bedroom, a simple box-frame bed and timeless white cotton linen can be enlivened by some colourful Marimekko cushions. For bedside tables, there are iconic Artek 60 birch stools, designed by Alvar Aalto in 1933. Ikea has a much more affordable version called the Forsta, the brainchild of Gillis Lundgren.
Jytte Laulund from Great Dane (www.greatdanefurniture.com), which sources original 50s and 60s Danish furniture, says Scandinavian design has its roots in Shaker, Georgian and even Chinese furniture. 'The essence of the design is the clean lines, and the no-nonsense approach to form,' she says.
Laulund says the Scandinavians began experimenting with plywood in the 20s and 30s. 'Although the earlier pieces were usually made from birch, oak and ash, the furniture of the 50s and 60s was dominated by teak and rosewood,' says Laulund.
American designers Charles and Ray Eames captured the essence of Scandinavian design with their plywood creations for Herman Miller. The duo's Lounge Chair Wood (voted by Time magazine as Best Design of the 20th Century) makes an excellent accent piece.