Bye-bye Minimalist White – The New Scandi Style is All About Colour
The Scandinavian colour palette is moving away from pale, cool shades, with hot new hues appearing on walls and floors
Why have Scandinavians suddenly welcomed colour, and how is it being used? With the help of trend studies, forecasts and a look in the rear-view mirror, we follow the journey of colour into Nordic homes.
Scandinavian homes have traditionally been designed to maximise sunlight. Stockholm is the Nordic region’s sunniest capital, with about 1,800 hours of sunshine a year, and that figure is at least 1,000 hours short of the amount enjoyed in Madrid, Sydney and Miami.
“The foundation of Scandinavian design, and our Nordic homes, will always be brightness and simplicity, because it’s simply what we need due to the lack of sunlight,” says Karl Johan Bertilsson, creative director at NCS Colour Academy, which offers colour consultancy services to manufacturers, architects and designers around the world.
But now the spectrum is changing again. At Nordic trend exhibitions and fairs, interior design has moved away from the pale blues and violets of the past towards clearer, stronger colours – most recently, orange, pink, yellow and red.
“Trends often represent a reaction to what used to be,” Bertilsson says. “The fashion industry is always the quickest to react, but the interior decoration and design industry isn’t far behind. Since the turn of the millennium and until now, neutral colours, such as white and grey, have been the dominant shades in most Scandinavian homes. The [brighter] colour that’s now becoming increasingly popular is simply a response to that.
“However, it’s important to remember that trends are both speculative phenomena and processes that sometimes overlap, and they’re only able to gain ground when we’re mentally ready to accept them,” Bertilsson says.
“They’re afraid of making decisions and mistakes,” he writes. “We Westerners are governed too much by our fears. Life isn’t colourless! Even in early spring, when Sweden is as pale as ever, there are approximately 7,000 nuances if you look out of the window. I don’t understand why designers and creators would want to represent a fictional environment?”
Who predicts which colours we’ll be using in our homes?
Bertilsson points to studies that NCS uses to develop its trend analyses. “There’s research that shows colour trends are cyclical,” he says. “Austrian [design consultant and psychologist] Leonhard Oberascher has studied colour psychology and been able to prove that colour trends repeat in cycles of 10 to 15 years. When everything is white and neutral, you grow tired after a while and eventually want to go to the other extreme of the spectrum. Humans work in the same way with everything, and colours are no exception.
“What [Oberscher has] been able to pinpoint specifically are the stages we go through along the way,” Bertilsson says. “Everything was very neutral in our homes a few years ago, then the blue and violet colours took off. This was followed by the chromatic colours. These will subsequently be dampened and darkened, before the brown and beige nuances step in, followed by a return to the neutral colours. The reality exactly follows the patterns that Oberascher has been able to map out.” This is true internationally, but with the Nordic homes as early adopters.
“We’re all affected by trends, whether we like it or not,” says Bertilsson. “Swedes and Danes enjoy a privilege, given our geographical, social and cultural environment, in the sense that we don’t only have the will, but also the means, to carry out extensive home redesigns. Therefore, as the chromatic colour trends are on the way, we’ve not been late to embrace them.
“In a lot of other countries, people decide to repaint their walls when the colour has started to peel off. In Sweden and Denmark, paint shops look like interior design stores, because when we buy paint, we try to achieve a wholeness. We want to fulfil an idea where the colour plays a big part,” he says.
“The fact that so many questions popped up about the colour was in part due to the timing, as white walls had been dominating for years, and also because people were eager to try something else,” Bradford says. “But it’s also because it’s so difficult to find the right colour, and that particular one is so unbelievably nice. If you see a colour you like, you might as well ask for the colour code.”
So, despite the fact that Scandinavians have begun painting with colours, they appear to do it within specific boundaries – the hues are subdued, rather than brash and bold, for example. “We dare to use more than just white, but I still think the end result is quite similar everywhere, since most people choose the same colours – as in the example of my bedroom wall,” Bradford says.
Check out 10 more ways to use pale green in your home
“Coloured walls have come and gone in Swedish homes repeatedly throughout history,” Fridell Anter says. “What has mainly determined the choice of colour is the availability of different shades and current style trends. The trend pendulum keeps swinging as a counter-reaction to the past, but the difference is that the pendulum is swinging ever faster.
“In the 1970s, we painted and wallpapered with strong colours and large patterns that resembled those of the Baroque period. The 1980s represented a counter-reaction that featured brighter pastels, and the 1990s again saw the return of mottled walls in earth tones, such as terracotta, or navy blue and/or bright yellow,” she says.
“Further back in time, things didn’t happen as fast, and the difference between rich homes in the big cities and farming households in the countryside was bigger,” Fridell Anter adds. “What the peasant community wished for was in many ways an imitation of what had already existed for many years in the trendsetting upper-class homes.”
“No,” says Fridell Anter. “The purpose of interior painting in Sweden has always been to make the home look beautiful and to manifest something – to show via themes on the walls, the selection of colours or the decorations that you were a pious person, rich or aware of trends that were dominant in other cultures on the continent.
“In the same way that contemporary Swedes express themselves via interior decoration, the home was a status symbol in previous centuries, too,” she says.
“Up until the Stockholm Exhibition in 1930, when the concept of functionalism was presented, decorative painting had been popular,” Fridell Anter says. “Painted surfaces hadn’t been a single colour, but instead featured pictures or patterns, or imitated marble or wood. Functionalism represented a change in trends in the sense that people started painting entire walls in one single colour, perhaps with a different one on the next wall. What we’re seeing now, with monochrome rooms and painted ceilings and woodwork, is an extension of that.”
“We believe controversies will be the dominating factor in coming years,” NCS’s Bertilsson says. “The unrest in the world, increased urbanisation and stress lead, on the one hand, to a crudeness that’s influenced by the industrial style, with cold, hard colours. At the same time, the very same factors lead to increased escapism, where we dream of exotic places that inspire us, such as the unknown depths of the oceans and the colourful tropics. Trends will be triggered by upcoming world events, such as the Olympic Games in Brazil.”
The big difference between the company’s 2015 analysis and this year’s is that the colours are more extreme than before – moving from bright and soft nuances to more dramatic and darker colours.
“There’s definitely a connection,” Bertilsson says. “Last year, our main interpretation of escapism was that it revolved around dreams about the countryside. When urbanisation makes us live closer to each other, in smaller houses or flats and with more noise, we create other mental worlds – we dream about lush trees and open fields.”
Swedish wallpaper company Sandberg recently released a collection that follows this theme. In its trend report, Sandberg has suggested that an unsafe environment leads to greater interest in one’s home. “Interior decoration has become more important and complex. With a serious environmental consciousness, we try to find ways to consume as little and as consciously as possible, while, at the same time, wishing to stay updated with news and trends.”
Stockholm-based colour company Alcro suggests that Scandinavians incorporate nature themes into their homes with some of its 2016 colours, which, it says, “bring to mind forest creatures, misty meadows and bewitching dreams that take place in the hours of dawn”.
With hindsight, Scandinavians seem to be quick to follow interior decoration trends. As such, the question isn’t whether they will all follow the trend towards using more colour in their homes, but, rather, whether they have time to do so. Unlike centuries ago, when it took several decades for colour trends to reach Swedish farms, the wheel is spinning faster, and changes are taking place in a digitised, globalised world.
So perhaps there’s no reason to debunk the myth of the white Scandinavian home after all. The newly painted colourful wall might not even have time to dry before the trendsetters have painted it white again.
What do you like about the new colourful direction that Scandi interior design is taking? Share your thoughts on this and on more familiar Nordic all-white interiors in the Comments below.