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Nordic Design Then & Now

Scandinavia may be a bit north of the beaten track, but its design sensibility is always center stage.

Photography by Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images.


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The magic spreads from the farthest Nordic latitudes throughout the entire world of design. Indeed, more than any other region, this corner of Europe—with its dark winters, white nights, and enchanted forests—has influenced the look and feel of the modern home with a signature style that speaks to clean lines, impeccable craftsmanship, and, especially, organic forms that impart warmth to functionality. Here, a country-by-country breakdown of historic highlights, familiar classics, and new innovations, illustrating the best in Scandinavian design.


ROOM TO RENT Arne Jacobsen's Radisson SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen is widely regarded as a masterpiece of Danish design. One room has been preserved in original sixties form: See it in the book Room 606, or reserve the room (800-333-3333;

TOY STORY LEGO, which got its start in the thirties, takes its name from the Danish words leg godt, meaning "play well."

BUSINESS MODEL Bang & Olufsen, founded in 1925, became one of Denmark's greatest design exporters. Its 1964 slogan was "For those who discuss design and quality before price." The ethos remains unchanged today.

DESIGN LEGEND Verner Panton, the king of mod, brought Denmark into the psychedelic sixties with funky, futuristic plastic furniture.

THE PIECE It may not be organic, but this glazed stoneware vase, meant to look like a tuft of grass, is the freshest-looking alternative we've seen. Crafted by design duo Claydies, it comes in three sizes. $80-$240. At the Shop at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, 2 E. 91st St., New York; 212-849-8355;

HOT SEAT Hans Wegner's most famous piece—simply called the Chair—became hugely popular after its use in the televised Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960.

DESIGN CENTER Located in the heart of Copenhagen, the Danish Design Centre was founded to spread the word about Denmark's designers on the global scene. At 27 H. C. Andersens Blvd.; 45/3369-3369;

UP-AND-COMING Louise Campbell caused a stir with her wool felt-covered neoprene Prince seat at a 2002 competition to design a chair for the Crown Prince of Denmark. She has since earned raves for her modern take on traditional ornamentation.

DESIGN LEGEND Georg Jensen, famous for silver objects wrought in the modernist style, has its silverware on display in more than 100 museums worldwide.

CHAIR PROJECT Missoni and Paul Smith are among the 13 fashion houses reinterpreting the Series Seven chair for its 50th anniversary. This spring, all—including Louis Vuitton's leather swing—will be auctioned off to benefit the Danish AIDS Foundation.

OBJECT Made of layers of steel leaves, Poul Henningsen's Artichoke ceiling lamp was made for the Langelinie Pavilion restaurant.

COOL SHOP Housed in a former cinema, Normann Copenhagen is the place to find the best in contemporary design. At 70 Østerbrogade, Trianglen, Østerbro;

STYLE Karen Kjaeldgard-Lârsen enlarged details from Royal Copenhagen's 1775 Blue Fluted pattern for her Blue Fluted Mega dinner-ware, created in 2000. $75-$275 a piece. At TableArt, 7977 Melrose Ave., L. A.; 323-653-8278;

NAMES TO KNOW Bang & Olufsen, Fritz Hansen, Arne Jacobsen, Georg Jensen, LEGO, Verner Panton, Louis Poulsen, Royal Copenhagen, Hans Wegner


CROSSOVER HIT In 1937 Saab was founded as Svenska Aeroplan Aktie-bolaget, a manufacturer of military aircraft. Riffing on tradition, its first car—in 1947—was noted for its unique wing shape.

INNOVATOR Josef Frank's textiles are considered classics of Swedish design. Take, for one, his Dixieland textile; it uses celebratory images and colors. Just Scandinavian,

INDUSTRY Electrolux—the world's largest producer of cleaning appli-ances—may sound all-American. In fact, it was founded in Stockholm.

STYLE Erika Lagerbielke's Big Blue vase is produced by Orrefors in a limited edition of 200. 800-433-4167;

OBJECT For a bit of the unexpected, view Anna Kraitz's new Lust porcelain teapots at Each one comes with two lids hiding a hand-painted flower underneath.

OBJECT The Tray side tables by Monica Förster for Offecct are made in natural or lacquered wood. The tops conveniently lift off and can be used as trays.

HOME RUN Established in 1943 in the farming village of Agunnaryd, IKEA—with 200 stores in 33 countries—is the world's largest furniture retailer.

COOL SHOP Founded by Josef Frank and Estrid Ericson, Svenskt Tenn sells the latest in cutting-edge Swedish design. At 5 Strandvägen, Stockholm; 46-8/670-1600;

HOT SEAT Bruno Mathsson's Grasshopper chair—with a webbed seat and curved wooden armrests and legs—was made in 1931 for a Swedish hospital. It was seen as being so distastefully modern that it was immediately sent into storage. Now it's iconic.

DESIGN DISTRICT When visiting Stockholm, don't miss SoFo, the area South of Folkungagatan, which has become the city's hot spot for cool design shops.

LANDMARK EXHIBIT Showcasing new functionalist possibilities for industrial and home design, the 1930 Stockholm Exhibition was an important turning point for Swedish—and, big picture, for Scandinavian—design.

MASTER BUILDER Erik Gunnar Asplund, Sweden's most prominent architect and a proponent of the Swedish neoclassical style, is best remembered for his design of the Stockholm City Library.

DESIGN LEGEND Bruno Mathsson, originator of the classic 1941 Eva high chair, gave nearly every piece of his furniture a woman's name to match its particular style and personality.

UP-AND-COMING Four young, hip women make up the design collective called Front, best known for the innovative "Animals" series. See their work at

NAMES TO KNOW Erik Gunnar Asplund, Kosta Boda, Electrolux, IKEA, Josef Frank, Bruno Mathsson, Offecct, Orrefors, Saab, Volvo


SHOW TO SEE Take a look at the Sauma traveling exhibition, featuring contemporary Finnish design—everything from mod kitchen concepts to new takes on the sauna.

UP-AND-COMING Designer Harri Koskinen's wildly popular Block lamp was inspired by industrial glass brick and, of course, ice.

OBJECT Tapio Wirkkala created an internationally recognizable symbol of Finland with his "ice" bottle for Finlandia vodka, which was used from 1969 until 2000.

UP-AND-COMING A recent graduate of the University of Art and Design Helsinki, Aki Kotkas makes art, as well as functional objects, using recycled materials.

RAISE THE BAR(GLASS) In 1958 Kaj Franck developed the Kartio glass for Iittala—since then, millions have found their way into mod kitchens around the world.

ARCHITECTURE Eliel Saarinen, father of the renowned architect Eero Saarinen, won second prize in the 1922 competition to design the Chicago Tribune Tower.

DESIGN LEGEND Alvar Aalto's Finnish Pavilion for the 1939 New York World's Fair familiarized Americans with Scandinavian design.

HOT DISTRICT Since its grand opening last summer, the downtown Design District Helsinki has become a mecca for contemporary Finnish design stores and attractions. It spans west from the Esplanade.

COOL SHOP The Design Forum Finland and its shop promote Finnish industry and culture through design. At 7 Erottajankatu, Helsinki; 358-9/6220-8130;

STYLE Hanna Korvela's Encore rugs, available in an array of colors, are made from handwoven cotton and paper yarn. $460-$2,550. At Finn Style, 115 Washington Ave. N., Minneapolis; 866-346-6474;

OBJECT The son of a surveyor, Alvar Aalto based his design for the famous Aalto vase on Finnish landscapes and lakes. The sensuous curving vase was created for Iittala and the Paris World's Fair in 1937.

REINVENTED CLASSIC The Ruusupuu plywood tray is laminated with a reissued Marimekko fabric from a 49-year-old pattern. $28. At Kiitos Marimekko, 1262 Third Ave., New York; 800-527-0624;

INNOVATIVE COMPANY Artek, still producing Alvar Aalto's furniture designs, was founded in 1935 by a group that included Aalto.

HOT SEAT Rocking chair meets chaise lounge in designer Saara Renvall's stainless-steel and birch Sunnuntai chair prototype for Imu.

NAMES TO KNOW Alvar Aalto, Arabia, Artek, Kaj Franck, Hackman, Iittala, Marimekko, Nokia, Eero Saarinen, Timo Sarpaneva, Tapio Wirkkala


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