History of Scandinavian Furniture


In the 1920s and 1930s, European design movements focused on industrial materials and mass production. In Germany, Bauhaus austerely combined arts and crafts to eliminate ornamentation. In the Netherlands, De Stilj ("the style") expected to create an art language independent of human emotion by filling geometric black and white patterns with primary colors. In contrast, because the Industrial Revolution came late to Scandinavia, designers of Sweden, Finland and Denmark created modern design using traditional materials and handcrafts.

Stockholm Exhibition 1930

  • The Stockholm Exhibition of 1930 was a trade fair that featured radical industrial design in both architecture and furniture, with an underlying political agenda that promoted socialist reform. Radical functional furniture design was equated with radical functional social design. The exhibition included industrial architectural designs and prototype workers' apartments with mass-produced furniture made of industrial materials. The Stockholm Exhibition broke with the mood of Sweden's Gothenburg Exhibition of 1923, which had featured designs that applied excellent craftsmanship of the past to a humanist control of machine-craft.

Carl Malmsten

  • Carl Malmsten is regarded as the father of Scandinavian furniture design. He was bitterly criticized as a reactionary anti-Modernist when he refused to participate in the 1930 Stockholm Exhibition. Malmsten advocated the survival of folk traditions in craftsmanship and their application to modern design. He regarded modernism as short-lived because it failed to see that humans and human needs had not changed because of industrialism. Malmsten designed in simple lines that reflected nature and included woven elements, such as wicker.

Bruno Mathsson

  • Bruno Mathsson (1907 to 1988) gained an international reputation for Swedish design. He learned cabinet making from his father, a fourth-generation master craftsman. Mathsson attended the Stockholm Exhibition and used Modernist concepts in his 1931 chair, "The Grasshopper," an ergonomically contoured, laminated beech wood design. His work was featured at the 1937 Paris World's Fair and at the opening of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York in 1939. His designs combine beautiful form and natural materials into functional furniture.


  • Professor Kaare Klint (1888 to 1954) founded Denmark's Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 1924 to guide the development of Danish modern design. Kaare Klint felt the foundation for modern furniture must be an understanding of classic furniture construction. His own furniture directly references proportions of the human body. Arne Jacobson studied with Klint and became a master designer and architect. Jacobsen's 1958 aluminum and upholstery Swan Chair was created for a hotel lobby. It wraps the body in comfortable contours like an eggshell.


  • Finnish architect Alvar Aalto (1898 to 1976) worked with molded plywood in shapes that were influenced by Modernist use of tubular metal. His designs featured the use of the light-colored birch that is native to Finland's forests. His thin, light contoured chairs were made of laminate techniques originally used for creating strength in ski equipment. Although his furniture designs were accomplished using industrial technique, his forms remain organic and soft. His designs were featured at the Paris Worlds Fair in 1937 and at the New York World's Fair in 1939.

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