Scandinavian Design 101

Artsy Collecting
Apr 29, 2014 10:26PM

There are many pleasures to attending design fairs, but foremost among them is taking in the wide display of covetable furnishings from all over the world. One region deserving extra attention at this year’s Collective 2 Design Fair is that of Scandinavia. Four main countries—Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden—and arguably a fifth (Iceland), while diverse, all contribute to a shared design sensibility marked by clean, simple lines, craftsmanship, durability, and cost-efficiency. Scandinavian design, spanning from furniture, ceramics, and glass, to metalwork, lighting, and fashion, appeals to a global audience due to its natural warmth and straightforward, no-nonsense approach to functionality.

The aesthetic will play a key role in this year’s second edition of the fair. Glenn Adamson, director of MAD, will select from among the Scandinavian designers whose skill and sophistication are on display to curate a capsule exhibition “Collective Focus: Scandinavia.” There will also be a talk, “Nordic Influence: Designers Discuss the Scandinavian Legacy,”  as part of Collective Conversations on Saturday, May 10th. Here, we spotlight the Scandinavian galleries, booths, artists, designers, and pieces (both vintage and contemporary) of note.


Denmark has a centuries-old heritage of furniture-making (special craft-based schools were founded there as early as the mid-1700s). Many modern Danish designs grew out of these handicraft traditions in woodworking and cabinetmaking where unique craftsman–designer collaborations were common. The smallest of the Nordic countries, with a main peninsula and over 400 bridge-linked islands, Denmark has long relied on imports. During the mid-20th century, rosewood from Brazil and teak brought in from Thailand distinguished Danish furniture from other Scandinavian countries whose designs instead incorporated their native blonde woods. Many Danish classics balance a practical quality with a sculpted, organic aesthetic.

Danish artists/designers to know:Grete Jalk, Axel Salto, Poul Kjaerholm, Finn Juhl, Borge Mogensen, Hans Wegner, Verner Panton, Erik Magnussen, Arne Jacobsen, Michael Geertsen, Poul Henningsen, and Nanna Ditzel.

Danish booths at Collective 2: Modernity highlights classic Scandinavian mid-century pieces, Hostler Burrows provides expertise in Scandinavian ceramics, while Dienst + Dotter Antikviteter largely focuses on antiques from the 17th to the mid-20th century and Vance Trimble shows Danish cabinetmakers and Scandinavian modern masters. 

Highlights at the Fair:

Poul Henningsen, Adjustable Bedside Table Lamp, circa 1933–1939, at Dienst + Dotter Antikviteter

Finn Juhl, BO64/Two-and-a-half Person Sofa, 1946, at Vance Trimble

Philip Arctander, Armchair, circa 1940s, atModernity

Sandra Davolio, Sculptural Vase, 2013, at J. Lohmann Gallery

Frits Henningsen, Rare sofa, circa 1930-1940, at Dienst + Dotter Antikviteter


Over three quarters of the land in Finland is covered in forests, and the landscape includes 60,000 lakes (the most of any country worldwide). An abundance of pine, spruce, and birch wood, which is relatively inexpensive, focused the country’s design on practical goods for the everyday, including significant developments in the creation of plywood furniture. More than its Scandinavian neighbors, Finland is generally unencumbered by historic styles (largely owing to its late independence in 1917) and has used design to define its identity. Finnish designs tend to be innovative and experimental, while retaining ties to the country’s rural heritage, creating spare, economical forms with a sense of austerity.

Finnish artists/designers to know:Tapio Wirkkala, Alvar Aalto, Ilmari Tapiovaara, Yrjö Kukkapuro, Eero Aarnio, Eliel Saarinen

Finnish booths at Collective 2:Hostler Burrows provides expertise in Scandinavian ceramics, while Dienst + Dotter Antikviteter largely focuses on antiques from the 17th to the mid-20th century, and Modernity highlights classic Scandinavian mid-century pieces for Collective 2.

Highlights at the Fair:

Tapio Wirkkala, Wooden Dish, 1954, atModernity

Alvar Aalto, Armchair, 1940-1949, atModernity

Eero Aarnio, Armchair Tomaatii, 1971, at Modernity

Eliel Saarinen, Set of dining chairs for Keirkner residence, Helsinki, 1907, atModernity


The last settled country in Europe and one of the most isolated, Iceland has the youngest design heritage. Though the Icelandic word for design (hönnun) did not become a part of the language until the middle of the 20th century, the country has a strong and enduring folk culture, particularly in music and literature. This, paired with a high level of craftsmanship—weaving, needlework, carving—has contributed to a vocabulary that reflects the language of design.

Icelandic artists/designers to know: Sveinn Kjarval, Brynjar Sigurðarson, Guðjón Samúelsson, Sigurður Guðmundsson


Furniture design was late to develop in Norway as the country was slow to embrace modernism. In addition to the influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement and the Art Deco style, Norwegian design reaches back to the ornamental dragon motifs of the Vikings, and has a longstanding association to craftwork and the decorative arts, particularly in enamelware and silverware.

Norwegian artists/designers to know: Peter Opsvik, Torbjørn Afdal, Andreas Engesvik, Hans Brattrud, Anderssen & Voll

Norwegian booths at Collective 2: Fuglen

Highlights at the Fair:

Andreas Engesvik, Desk, 2002, at Modernity

Grete Prytz Kittelsen, Unique, 1960, at Fuglen

Birger Dahl, S-30016 lamp, 1952, at Fuglen

Fredrik Kayser, Kryss-stolen chair, 1955, at Fuglen


The largest and most industrialized nation in the Nordic region, Sweden also has an abundant supply of natural resources. European influences dominated Swedish design until the country began to elevate its own aesthetic around the 19th century. Overarching themes found in Swedish design are robust colors inspired by nature, and a commonsense approach that combines technical solutions with accessibility.

Swedish artists/designers to know: Bruno Mathsson, Front Design, Axel Einar Hjorth, Stig Lindberg, Erik Gunnar Asplund, Josef Frank, Eva Hild

Swedish booths at Collective 2: Modernity highlights classic Scandinavian mid-century pieces, Hostler Burrows provides expertise in Scandinavian ceramics, while Dienst + Dotter Antikviteter largely focuses on antiques from the 17th to the mid-20th century.

Highlights at the Fair:

Carl Hörvik, Gilded cabinet and pair of small armchairs, 1925, at Modernity

Axel Einar Hjorth, Sandhamn table, 1929, at Hostler Burrows

Kersten Horlin Holmquist, Sculptural Chaise Longue, 1955, at Hostler Burrows

Bruno Mathsson, Bench, 1967, at Modernity

Eva Hild, Structure, 2004, at Vance Timble

Tiffany Lambert

View more Scandinavian design at the fair.

Explore Collective 2 Design Fair 2014 on Artsy.

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