The story about Danish Modern, Scandinavian design, and Mid-century modern

Danish Modern, Scandinavian design, Scandi Style, Midcentury modern: If you have dug a little into Scandinavian style and its story, you will likely have seen these and similar concepts mentioned. Do they all mean the same, or, what’s the deal? Let me give a little bit of background. It’s a fascinating story that started almost a century back in Denmark. Illustrating with a few iconic chairs that I love 😀

Danish Modern

What became known as The Danish Modern style started as a reaction to the previously over-decorated and magnificent styles where decorative carvings, an abundance of colors, and lions’ feet on the bathtub stole attention from the furniture’s actual function. Rooted in functionalism and Bauhaus, the period extends from the end of the 1920s to around 1970. Danish Modern is the most well-known furniture era within Danish design. The classic and timeless furniture pieces, produced in outstanding quality, are still popular today in corporate headquarters, public buildings, and private homes in Scandinavia and the rest of the world. The reason why this particular modern style became so popular in Denmark as well as in the rest of the world was due to a number of circumstances.

Danish modern - the onset of the Scandinavian design movement
Danish Modern book cover, Author Per Hansen, 2016. The chair is the Flagline chair by Wegner

A better quality of life

In Scandinavia, after the second world war, when what is known as ‘the welfare state’ was developed, the period was characterized by optimism for progress, and people believed that they could plan a better world with a better quality of life for everyone. Everything had to be functional and democratic. This was reflected in the architects’ mentality and work, which is why Scandinavian design is known for its functional and democratic furniture.


The whole movement was about giving everyone a better quality of life. Nature heavily influenced the designs, with organic shapes becoming a key feature. A marriage of form and function was high on the agenda. It had to work, and it had to look modern. New furniture construction methods, such as pressed wood, meant furniture could be mass-produced at a much lower cost, giving access to better design for all.


Some of the best-known designers and architects were Poul Henningsen, Arne Jacobsen, Hans J. Wegner, Verner Panton, Finn Juhl, Børge Mogensen, and Poul Kjærholm. Almost all were born within the same 12 years. And almost all of them were educated at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, which the German Bauhaus school inspired at the time.


One teacher in particular, Kaare Klint, left his mark on the entire history of Danish and Scandinavian design. Kaare Klint was one of the first Danish designers to use human ergonomics as inspiration for his furniture. He shared this knowledge and genius with his many students,


The Danish designers’ attempt to focus less on aesthetics and as much on functionality as possible became a style. The style we know today as Danish Modern.

Iconic Danish design by Kaare Klint
The Safari chair by Kaare Klint, 1933. Could be assembled by the owner, without using tools

Quality design for everyone

The focus was always on high-quality and natural materials.  A feature often repeated among famous Danish designers is their preference for wood, even when furniture production was moved from the carpentry workshop to the factories.


In contrast to the joiners, who took great pride in the furniture assembly, the factory furniture could often be taken apart and screwed together later. This made transport abroad, exports much easier, as the furniture took up less space in transport than the traditional joinery furniture.


The furniture was not meant to be expensive. The furniture was designed to be able to be bought by everyone and serve a higher purpose than aesthetics. Therefore, it is ironic that much of the furniture today are expensive collector’s items and a picture of good taste. That picture that good taste implies The Egg, the Cone, or the Swan is gradually becoming an integral part of the history of furniture. When we look at a design by Arne Jacobsen or Finn Juhl, we get a sense of high quality and a great sense of style.

Looking for a way to add a touch of the Scandinavian design style to your home?


Norlii box is the perfect solution. Each Norlii box contains stylish and unique home decor items that will help you create a cozy and harmonious space. Plus, if you subscribe, with six boxes per year, you will always have something new to look forward to!  LEARN MORE about this exclusive Nordic box.

Scandinavian or Nordic ?

Among the brave and daring designers who joined the movement were the Finns Alvar Aalto and later Eero Aarnio. They were some of the most pioneering designers who invented new and ingenious techniques for bending wood and plywood. In addition, they endlessly experimented with plastic and foam without losing the Scandinavian spirit with its bright colors and clear lines, minimalist design approach, and stubborn belief that “less is more,” thus combining functionality and beauty.


But wait a minute. What do the Finns have to do with it all? After all, Finland is not part of Scandinavia. Or is it? No, exactly. Scandinavia includes the three kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, and therefore not Finland. The confusion is increased because this geographical unit is sometimes confused with ‘the Scandinavian peninsula’, which does not include Denmark. So let’s talk about the Nordic countries, the Nordic light, because that’s what it’s all about, the magical Nordic light, the at least fifty different shades of white and the natural beauty. Some of the brands and genres you may know well today were glassware, by littala – Finland, ceramics by Arabia, Finland, tableware by Georg Jensen, Denmark, lighting by Poul Henningsen, Denmark.

Danish design is Scandinavian design
The Design museum Danmark in Copenhagen is the most important Danish museum exclusively dedicated to industrial design and applied arts.
The book 101 Danish Design Icons
The book 101 Danish Design Icons

Scandinavian design


The focus on “Scandinavian design” originates from the design show that traveled the US and Canada under that name from 1954 to 1957. Promoting the “Scandinavian way of living,” the traveling show exhibited Nordic designers’ furniture and interior decoration designs.


In that way, the show established the meaning of the term Scandinavian design that it bears today: simple, functional, and clean designs, inspired by nature and the northern climate, accessible and available to all, with an emphasis on enjoying the domestic environment.


This design show, as well as the more accessible overseas transport and, not least, good marketing, contributed to Danish and Scandinavian design suddenly becoming very popular in the US and Canada.

Simply Scandinavian
Simply Scandinavian, book cover with the "7" chair by Jacobsen. Edited by Sara Normann

Mid-century modern vs. Scandi style

The terms are sometimes used interchangeably. The style known as mid-century modern was an American reflection of the Scandinavian and Bauhaus movements. So there is an overlap between the two, and they both use clean lines, organic and streamlined forms, and no embellishment.

However, one of the main differences between the mid-century modern and Scandinavian styles is the setting. Mid-century modern interiors favor bold colors, patterns, and prints. Open floor plans and lots of glass provide abundant natural light, meaning the rooms can better cope with such vibrant colors.

Scandi-style interiors, on the other hand, typically consist of muted tones. Pure white, sand-colored, or light gray walls. Muted colors are preferred because of their luminescent properties, which are vital in dark winters. Using textures in throws, blankets, sheepskin, and carefully placed candles simultaneously creates a warm and cozy environment in the long Nordic winters.

Mid-century modern design classic
An icon of Mid century design, the Eames Lounge Chair

The spark from nature

Nature is the primary source of inspiration for the Scandinavian design. And again, we will have to talk about nature and the climate up north, where the contrast between the long, dark winter and the short, beautiful summer burst of light creates the surroundings. Functionality has always been essential for survival, as the climate is harsh in this part of the world, and resources are limited. But there is plenty of beauty in the open fields, lush forests and rugged mountain ranges, the plains, and exposed coasts stretching across and through the countryside. Therefore, functionality and beauty are two inseparable dimensions forming Scandinavian design’s core.

Icon of Danish and Scandinavian design; the Egg chair, by Jacobsen
Icon of Danish and Scandinavian design; the Egg chair, by Jacobsen

New Scandinavian design

So does the story end here? No, far from it! The philosophy and aesthetics behind Scandinavian design continue to influence the world by emphasizing the importance of combining functionality and beauty. ’Less is more,’ and an emphasis on quality works well in an era focusing more and more on sustainability.

At Norlii we are humbly standing on the shoulders of the Scandinavian design movement. Focussing on the interior or decorations wee have the same ambition to make the simplistic and functional, yet beautiful  design available to the world.

If you’re looking for a way to add a touch of the Scandinavian design style to your home, Norlii box is the perfect solution. Each Norlii box contains stylish and unique home decor items that will help you create a cozy and harmonious space. Plus, if you subscribe, with six boxes per year, you will always have something new to look forward to!  LEARN MORE about this exclusive Nordic box.

Scandinavian design subscription box
Norlii Box - Scandinavian home decor to your doorstep every two months