Nordic character: the main thing about Danish design

Nordic character: the main thing about Danish design

Nordic character: the main thing about Danish design


  • National project of the welfare state

    • How it was

    • Object design as a branch of architecture

    • American influence

    • Two concepts

    • Moderate exotic

    • Pop art dissident

    • Newest time

  • The difference between Danish and Scandinavian design

  • Signs of style

Danish design is not just an aesthetic trend. This is a cultural and genetic code, and also part of a state policy that is completely focused on a person and his well-being.

National project of the welfare state

Denmark is one of those countries about which they say that the artistic taste of its inhabitants is in the blood. If our vision of interior and object design, together with the aesthetics of everyday life, is still being formed, then in Denmark all this has existed in the form of a national idea for a hundred years.

The main reason for the development of the design industry is investment and government support. This is exactly what happened in the 1920s and 1930s, when the government decided to invest in design, seeing it as a way to improve everyday life. With each successive generation, the design has been honed to eventually develop into a state-forming industry and a national brand, recognized internationally.

Danish Museum of Art and Design.  Source:

How it was

In 1924, one of the founders of Danish design, Kaare Klint, founded the furniture design department at the Copenhagen Academy of Arts. Education there was based on research and analysis of previous furniture traditions, their optimization and rejection of all unnecessary.

In 1930, an exhibition in Stockholm featured modernist works that impressed the formerly conservative Danish architects. Changes have begun in the furniture industry. If before that in terms of the avant-garde in Scandinavia, Sweden was considered the leader, then by 1950 Danish modernism had become the symbol of Scandinavian design.

Furniture and lamp, Kaare Klint.  Source:

Object design as a branch of architecture

The first Danish designers did not call themselves designers. They were architects. When designing a building, they created a turnkey furnishings for it, after which furnishings – furniture, lamps and accessories – began to live their own lives. Thus, the famous armchairs by Arne Jacobsen “Egg”, “Swan” and “Drop” were originally designed for the interiors of the SAS Royal Copenhagen hotel (1960s), after which they went into mass production and are produced at the Fritz Hansen factory to this day.

American influence

The Americans should be thanked for the high-quality international PR of Danish design: the humble Danes did not seek fame outside their isolated world. In the middle of the 20th century, entrepreneurs and buyers from the United States often came to furniture exhibitions in Copenhagen in order to find something interesting for their compatriots. This marked the beginning of the worldwide fame of Danish design.

The Ant Chair, Fritz Hansen.  Designer - Arne Jacobsen.  Source:

America should be thanked not only for its PR – American design has influenced Danish ideologically as well. Danish product design has been influenced by overseas trends: for example, streamlined shapes inspired by Isamu Noguchi and Alexander Calder, sculptural forms from pressed plywood borrowed from the Charles and Ray Eames. American demand also contributed to the fact that the names of Danish items instead of factory indices began to appear more and more often – “Ant”, “Dolphin”, “Seagull”, “Artichoke”.

Chairs designed by Arne Jacobsen: Ant Chair, Seagull Chair, Series 7 Chair, Grand Prix Chair, Drop Chair.  Source:

Another interesting fact: it was the Americans who brought out Finn Juhl, whose surrealist projects did not find a response from the Danes for a long time, and Juhl was considered a second-tier designer in his homeland.

Furniture designed by Finn Yule.  Source:

Two concepts

When talking about 20th century Danish design, it is worth keeping in mind two independent trends.

The first is the collaboration of architects with high-tech mass-produced factories. At the same time, mass production does not affect the quality – factories are equipped with the latest equipment, they work with modern polymers and noble natural materials, the level of finishing is invariably high. An example is the legendary collaboration of Arne Jacobsen with Fritz Hansen and Paul Henningsen with Louis Poulsen.

The second trend is more intimate: it is a collaboration between artists of applied arts and small craft workshops. They got to know each other at annual furniture exhibitions, after which they released small series of hand-made, almost sculptural objects. This semi-closed community is also recognized thanks to America. The most striking example of this trend is considered Hans Wegner (Hans Wegner).

CH24 Wishbone Chair, Carl Hansen & Søn.  Designer - Hans Wegner.  Source:

Moderate exotic

Some designers – such as Finn Yul and Børge Mogensen – have been inspired by the cultures of Africa, Islam and the Far East, delicately weaving ethnic motifs into a Nordic aesthetic. This is how Mogensen’s “Spanish chair” appeared, as well as Finn Yule’s “Leader’s chair” and Japanese chair.

Spanish Chair, Fredericia.  Designer - Borge Mogensen.  Source:

Chieftain Chair, House of Finn Juhl.  Designer - Finn Yul.  Source:

Pop art dissident

In the 60s and 70s, a new era began: a bright flourishing of polymers and pop art. The work of another Danish designer, Verner Panton, dates back to this period. The author of the famous chair made from a single piece of plastic is still considered one of the most famous designers not only in Denmark, but all over the world.

Panton Chair, Danish Museum of Art and Design.  Source:

Interestingly, the iconic chair was designed for almost ten years, and as a result it was produced not in Denmark, but in Switzerland at the Vitra factory. To implement the project, Panton had to move to Switzerland and work there together with technologists. The designer was generally attracted by bold shapes, colors and innovations, so he never returned to Denmark (he turned out to be too extravagant for her) and carried out orders for other countries. To understand how far Panton has gone from the restrained Danish tradition, it is enough to look at his designs for the Vision cruise ship.

The interior of the Visiona ship.  Source:

Newest time

Since the 1980s, there have been practically no high-profile events in Danish design and no bright names appear – this is a high-quality and solid design that serves the benefit of society and business.

Collection In Situ, Muuto.  Source:

Today, the industry can rightfully be called state-forming. On the market are established factories such as Fritz Hansen, Louis Poulsen, Gubi or Stelton, as well as the young companies Muuto, Normann Copenhagen and Ferm Living, as well as countless small workshops.

Eos Esther Lamp, UMAGE (ex. VITA Copenhagen).  Source:

The difference between Danish and Scandinavian design

Perhaps the main difference between Danish design and Finnish, Swedish or Norwegian is respect for the old way of life, traditions and way of the past, as well as love for culture and restrained bourgeoisie. Denmark’s design is touchingly humble, wise and intelligent. Every item – be it a bottle opener, vase, sofa or bookcase – is created with great love and respect.

Signs of style

  • Timeless aesthetics

Danish design is not subject to global trends and never loses its relevance. His objects can exist both in modern interiors and in interiors that refer to the aesthetics of the 18th-19th centuries, for which the Danes are especially in awe.

  • Respect for the person

Danish design aims to make human life more pleasant and comfortable. Each object should be appropriate and pleasing to the eye, it should not conflict with the environment. Ergonomics plays an important role – it is always thought out to the smallest detail. Even the smallest accessories – for example, wall hooks – are conceived as full participants in the interior.

  • Respect for nature

The Danes were among the first in the world to pay attention to environmental problems: the country was massively engaged in organic agriculture, switched to biodegradable materials and energy-saving technologies. In design, this trend is embodied in high-quality durable materials – natural or polymer, but made from recyclable materials and subject to further processing.

Outdoor furniture Atmosphere, Cecilie Manz.  Source:

  • The beauty of the material

Whether it’s natural wood, textiles or plastic, the materials will always show their best. Materials that “age beautifully” are of particular value.

Contour Chair, Carl Hansen & Søn.  Designer - Borge Mogensen.  Source:

  • Lack of strict geometry

There are practically no sharp corners in Danish design – all lines are gently rounded or curved, following the natural shapes or curves of a human figure. If you disassemble any object into elements, you can see that each of its details is as if alive – it is so elegantly made.

Thimble and Washing Up Brush, Eva Solo.  Source:

  • Discreet palette

The harsh northern nature has seriously influenced the aesthetics of Danish design. Therefore, there is no challenge in the palette – it all consists of soft natural colors and shades. This helps the northern man to go through all the weather tests and save strength.

Form sofa, Icons of Denmark.  Source:

  • Hygge lighting

As early as the beginning of the 20th century, Danish designers noted that they did not like the new electric lighting. Designer Paul Henningsen has come up with a special shade structure that hides the light bulb and only diffuses the reflected light. Warm Danish-style lighting is perfect for cozy northern winter evenings.

Products of the Nuura and Gubi brands.  Sources:,

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About Leona Smith 115 Articles
Hello! My name is Silke and this is my travel blog. I want to show you fascinating places off the beaten track, give you a gentle introduction to history and culture, and help you get around Berlin. After 13 years in Sydney and Andalusia, I now live in Berlin, Germany. I am a travel writer, translator and book author. Read more about me here.

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