Magnetic north


INTERIORS:Centuries after the Vikings first plundered our shores, Irish homes have been invaded by new generation of Norsemen, and women – Scandinavian furniture designers, writes ALANNA GALLAGHER

But what exactly is it? Scandinavian design is not one brand, says Chrystina Schmidt, the Finnish co-founder and creative director of Skandium, a London retailer of modern Scandinavian furniture, lighting, kitchenware and glassware.

“It is a long, long story,” she says. She lists Sweden, Finland and Denmark as the classic design countries, excluding Norway because “it has been ruined by oil”.

“Each nation has a different style, social structure and set up,” she explains. “They are united by history, tradition and politics. For Finland, design defined a nation freeing itself from the big bear of Russia.”

The godfather of Finnish design is Alvar Aalto, an architect and designer. “[He] visited the Bauhaus school in the 1920s and it blew him away,” she says. “Bauhaus is the precursor of what is now termed Scandinavian design. He spent the next four years trying to bend wood to emulate Bauhaus furniture.”

The story is not confined to designers born in the Nordic countries. Josef Frank, the Austrian-born architect and designer worked for Stockholm-based Swedish Pewter, a company founded by Estrid Ericson. Together they created Swedish modernism.

What is its enduring appeal? “The focus is on quality and craftsmanship,” Schmidt explains. “This is the reason why you still have so many ‘old’ Scandinavian pieces [that seem] very much still alive and kicking. Good craftsmanship lasts longer, gives the person at the workbench a feeling of contributing something worthwhile.

“It gives them self-respect, sustains them and their families, keeps the item relevant for longer, meaning that you’re not over-using natural resources and so are also caring for the environment.”

Many pieces also tell a story. The swivelling and rocking Karuselli armchair was designed by Finnish designer Yrjö Kukkapuro in 1964. According to lore, after he had been drinking vodka Kukkapuro fell down on a pile of snow. He got the idea for the chair from the shape his body created in the snow.

One of the attractions of Scandi chic is that it is affordable. Ikea exemplifies Scandi chic at affordable prices, but there are plenty of others offering value such as Bo Concept, a Danish company celebrating 60 years in business this year.

Its bird sculptures – €29 each – echo the original oak creations made by Kristian Vedel in 1959 and the glass shapes of Finnish brand Iittala. Skovby and Bodum are two more great Danish brands.

Some of the work of Arne Jacobsen, Hans J Wegner, Marimekko, and Verner Panton is overexposed, so if you’d prefer less identifiable pieces from the Scandi canon, consider the collections of Gubi, a Danish brand (pictured above).

Scandinavian design is made for living with not for looking at, says Lenka Teilmann, creative director for the Furninova Group, which includes Soul Lifestyle, a Swedish-based brand. It has 60 outlets worldwide, including one at Beacon South Quarter in Dublin 18.

“We spend a lot of time inside so it has to feel cosy,” says the Slovakian-born creative. The brand’s sheepskin covered Time Out recliner and footstool epitomises this. It is made in Sweden, along with their Woodpoint brand. The rest is manufactured in Poland.

Not all Scandinavian designs are made in the region. Irishman Brian Keaney is the Blackrock-born founder of Tonfisk Design, a boutique ceramics brand based in Turku, a city on the southwest coast of Finland. The ceramicist used to manufacture in Finland but has moved production to China.

Scandinavian design has become one of the dominant stories in contemporary interiors. But what is it? How did it become so successful? What can Ireland’s nascent design industry learn from its success? Centuries after the Vikings first plundered our shores, Irish homes have been invaded by a new generation of Norsemen and women: Scandinavian furniture designers. Resistance has proved futile because Scandinavian design has become the blueprint in our homes.

“We wanted to get consumer prices down and also to start selling through department stores,” he explains. “To do so we needed a price which would work through the logistics channels and unfortunately we would not have been able to achieve this in Finland.”

Scandi chic’s DNA extends beyond its northern borders. Designers influenced by it include Orla Kiely, who told Kathleen Kavanagh-Joyce who runs Liberties, an interiors boutique in Westport, Co Mayo, that Finnish fabric brand Marimekko was an inspiration to her.

“Marimekko’s factories are log cabin-type buildings,” says Kavanagh-Joyce. “The prints are inspired by nature, by their beautiful landscape. The company’s popularity exploded in 1960, when Jackie Kennedy bought six Marimekko dresses, which she wore on the 1960s presidential campaign trail. The brand is environmentally aware and there may be some resonance with us here on the Atlantic coast surrounded as we are by stunning scenery.”

It’s an idea the Craft Council of Ireland is trying to push.

“Governments spend huge amounts of money on high-tech and bio support companies. Why not do the same on 15-20 products and or ideas and see what happens?” says Keaney.

“Smaller companies need to come together to market and sell. As a group, they may find opening doors and participating at international fairs easier than going it alone.”

Scandinavian design has been around since the early 20th century, so how do you make the look feel fresh?

“You need to mix materials,” says Olivia Gregory, an interior stylist and former style editor at House Garden magazine and now freelancing for publications such as Elle Decor.

“The way you treat your walls has to be more decorative in terms of the fabrics, paints and papers you choose.”


Bo Concept ( is asking design students to show their creative talents in designing a cup for its new range. Submit designs online or upload your files. The winner will get a beautiful new Ogi footstool designed by Danish designer Anders Nørgaard. If the design is selected as a winner in the international competition, they will win an Ogi chair, by the same designer. Plus, Bo Concept Ireland will also give them a €1,500 cash prize.

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