Britain’s love affair withall things Scandinavian seems to know no bounds. From pop bands such as Abba and TV series like The Bridge to the growing popularity of Nordic restaurantsand even Sarah Lund’s jumpers, the past few decades have resulted inScandinavia influencing British culture more than ever before.
However, the area in whichBritain has been looking north for longest is in the field of design, furniturein particular. There is something about the way in which the designers ofnorthern Europe embodied the basic principles of modernism that appealedspecifically to British consumers. Much of this philosophy revolved aroundtheir seemingly innate ability to marry functionalism with a clean, effortlessstyle that changed the way Brits thought about interior design.
Our current mania forScandinavian furniture and decor can be traced back to the 1950s. In postwarBritain citizens had become accustomed to filling their homes with utilityitems that, while fulfilling their function, had little to offer in the way ofattractiveness. By contrast, the heroes of Nordic design ensured that theirproducts were as pleasing to the eye as they were useful.
For instance, the creationsof Copenhagen born architect Arne Jacobsen dominated fashionable Britishinteriors in the 1960s, with his Drop, Egg and Swan chairs. Allegedly inspiredby chairs made by Charles and Ray Eames, Jacobsen designed hisgroundbreaking Model 3107 in a variety of guises, from a simple four-leggedmodel to anoffice chair with five wheels to a barstool. It was alsomanufactured in a variety of upholstery materials and the chairs featuredadditions such as armrests and writing tables, making them perfect for college and university use. The Model 3107 really was a chair for all seasonsand could be seen in private homes and institutions all over Britain.
Eventually, the Britishpassion for Nordic design would result in the birth of companies like Ikea,which specialises in the mass manufacture of furniture, decor and otherhousehold items. This has resulted in Scandinavian style being more accessiblethan ever before, but has also had the less helpful side-effect of makingfurniture more disposable, as families tend to discard pieces every time theymove home. Ikea’s famous 1996 advert, persuading potential customers to “chuckout your chintz” was a massively successful salvo in the battle againstinterior design permanence. Naresh Ramchandani, whofirst came up with the slogan, later admitted it was a deliberate attemptto persuade the British public to change their relationship with theirinteriors and it succeeded brilliantly.
However, Jonathan Stewart ofWharfside, a Shoreditch-based company that wassourcing and curating famous Scandinavian designs in the 1960s when ArneJacobsen’s creations were first being shown in the UK, and specialises in classic solid-wood furniture, has noticed a movement backtowards the idea of heritage pieces. “The kind of furniture we sell isbuilt to last a very long time. We make sure we work only with workshops that use sustainably produced hardwoodand, of course, the fact that each object is expertly constructed usingtraditional methods means it can be handed down from generation togeneration.”
Twenty years on from chuckingout the chintz, today’s more discerning consumers are changing theirrelationship with their interiors. Companies like Wharfside are helpingeco-conscious people furnish their homes with pieces that combine all thehallmarks of first-class Scandinavian design with long-lasting, hardwearingwood. “There will always be a place for solid-wood furniture,” says Stewart.“Our clients are looking for that special dining room furniture, sofa,bed or coffee table that will stand the test of time in every way. Designerssuch as Jacobsen, Juhl, Fodder, Panton and Wenger are still influencingcontemporary furniture. It is striking to note how fresh and modern many of theproducts of the 1950s and 1960s still look.”
There is also the small issueof meeting the needs of customers who have no desire to be part of a disposableculture and want to develop long-term relationships with their surroundings.“Clients can always have furniture altered if they move,” says Wharfside’s Stewart. “Over the years we have gained considerable experience inextending cupboards and wardrobes to suit a new home. It’s not even so much amatter of cost, of not wanting to waste money. Our customers are genuinelyconcerned about the environment and want to combine a great look with aguarantee that the wood used in their furniture is obtained from sustainableforest and woodland. They want to live with items that will be part of theirlives for decades. Scandinavian design is not only a constant source ofinspiration to today’s furniture designers, its timeless quality means itwon't be subject to changes in fashion.”
Inspired by the ideals of theBauhaus movement, founded in the early days of the 20th century, the cleanlines and practicality of Scandinavian design continue to find favour with21st-century consumers.