Scandinavian interior design first appeared on the world stage some 70 years ago, and has continued to grow in popularity ever since. Characterized by minimalist elements, a fresh aesthetic, and bold, black and white contrast, it’s a great choice for bathrooms of any size.
Follow these design rules and decor ideas to achieve the clean and effortless look of Scandinavian style.
What is Scandinavian Style?
Scandinavian style is a subsection of minimalist design, albeit with a few differentiating factors. For one, Scandinavian style assumes a more warm and comforting aesthetic than that of minimalism. Megan Buerger at Domain writes that Scandinavian interior design is marked by pale colors, leggy furniture, and natural materials and was a practical response to the short days and long nights of the region. The bright, clean aesthetic emphasizes natural light and is meant to keep people feeling warm during long winters.
Scandinavian interior design also places an emphasis on function. Meaghan O'Neill at Architectural Digest says that homes in Scandinavia are designed to appeal to a wide variety of people. By staying minimal and focused on function, various rooms in the house can be adapted and changed to different groups of people and their needs. While the bathroom’s function obviously can’t be changed, it’s worth noting that this type of design is supposed to be universally appealing and always relaxing to anyone who enters the space.
Defying Design Rules
Scandinavian design also has a tendency to defy traditional design rules. For example, a piece that would seem boring or insignificant to most is often made the centerpiece of a Scandinavian-styled room.
Similarly, items that would normally be hidden in a closet or under the bed are seen as focal points, says Anna Decilveo, merchandiser at Swedish-founded company Tictail. Another approach is to repurpose unexpected materials into home decor. For example, designer Tara Ballantyne created tree stump tables out of a fallen electric pole found on the side of the road. After sanding and polishing the cylinders of wood, they effectively serve as side tables or stools that can work in any room — including the bathroom.
Scandinavian interior design is all about creating drama. Black and white elements are ubiquitous in Scandinavian bathrooms, as they create a high-contrast look that makes a bold statement. In a bathroom showcased by Niki Brantmark at My Scandinavian Home, vintage chrome piping and white fixtures are balanced with black decor. There’s also a minimalist row of black tiling along the upper border of the white tiled wall for a subtle boost in drama.
For a different tile option, subway tiling is a go-to Scandinavian element that never goes out of style. Kimberly Duran at Swoonworthy explains that the darker grout commonly used with rectangle subway tiles helps a bathroom maintain a refined, high contrast look. Additionally, she suggests combining white tiles with a dark wood floor to add even more impact to a small bathroom.
High contrast is important for a Scandinavian look, but bathrooms with this design don’t always have to be black and white. Specifically, neutral walls can easily stand in for white walls when paired with black elements. For example, in a bathroom crafted by designer Lotta Agaton, gray and tan walls are paired with deep black floating fixtures for a sleek, high contrast vibe. The use of a neutral tan adds warmth to a space that might otherwise feel somewhat cold and stark.
Metallic hues also add contrast without opting for black and white. Plus, they’re a sophisticated way to incorporate modern flair and contrast to Scandinavian interiors. According to art researcher and managing editor Sophie Lambert and creative Irina Young, it’s all about balancing industrial, hypermodern elements with warm, natural ones. Since metallic accents are cold and bright, they’re the perfect contrast to wood, plants and other nature-based materials. Copper and brass can be added to bathroom fixtures, sinks and decor to warm up stark features.
Inviting elements are perhaps the hallmark of Scandinavian design. Inspired by Finnish culture, which emphasizes togetherness and sharing, Scandinavian design turns to warm, wooden features to invoke a cozier feel.
Wood can be incorporated into accent shelves or decor, or it can play a larger role. Interior design writer Sandy Mitchell says that hardwood floors are common in Scandinavian rooms. In particular, she writes that light-colored woods such as maple are the best choice. If wood floors already exist in a home but aren’t the right finish, they can be bleached or painted. Stenciled wood is also popular in Scandinavian homes for added intrigue and drama.
To create a space where wood elements truly take center stage, consider the look of the Koti hotel designed by Linda Bergroth. The hotel is comprised six wooden cabins, with a common space at the center where everyone eats. The cabin doors are painted in pastel colors, including a mint green and a light salmon, but these are the only colors in the space. The emphasis on wood makes people feel comfortable and at home, which Scanadavia is all about.
Another way to make a bathroom inviting is to add round elements amidst stark square and rectangle ones. In a bathroom vanity setup designed by interior stylist Anu Reinson, for example, a large round mirror and a small green plant soften the hard edges of a concrete sink. These two elements elevate the space from ordinary minimalism to stylish Scandinavian.
Sabina Green at Mummy Matters says that “hygge” (a Danish term used to describe the feeling of being cozy and content) can also be used to create a more inviting look. While hygge is usually used to reference being together with friends and family, keeping that feeling in mind can guide a homeowner towards choosing elements like scented candles, soft linens and other warm and comforting features.
Scandinavian style also differs from minimalism because it allows room for whimsical, playful elements. For example, the home of calligrapher Ylva Skarp features overhead globe lamps that illustrate a fun, lighthearted story in the kitchen. The fresh, white paper lights contrast against the dark gray walls and would work well in the bathroom, especially for a homeowner who wants to create more dramatic look.
Whimsy can be added through color and pattern too. After a neutral wall has been added in white or gray, consider where small pops of design could be placed throughout the bathroom. Sarah Roullard Le at Better Living SoCal explains that colorful, modern prints should be mixed in through potted plants or patterned textiles. She says it’s important to let in as much light as possible, as this will support plant life while creating a fresh, airy vibe.