Scandinavian Christmas decor is all about creating a stylish, pared-back festive interior. A look that is elegant, simple and a far cry from the typical red, green and gold kitschy style so synonymous with this time of the year. Put away your plastic, your colorful decor, and this time Christmas go for something refined and Scandi-chic.
‘Christmas is full of traditions and togetherness, of family-time and of contemplation, and while we believe that these elements are the most important, there is something truly special about marking the passing of time when decorating the home with unique ornaments passed through generations,’ says Emma Jo Ejskjær Sørensen of Norm Architects.
‘In Scandinavia we take great pride in creating homes that exude a modest simplicity in a sincere devotion to the craft and the ambition to work with high-quality materials. Christmas time is no different – it’ a way to be mindful when creating the outline of our everyday lives.’
Read on for our favorite Christmas decorating ideas to inject a bit of Scandi style into your festive scheme this year.
Scandinavian Christmas decor ideas – what are the pillars of the look?
When it comes to Scandinavian design, colors are muted, decor is kept to a minimum, and there are references to nature and the great outdoors throughout the home. This might be in the form of hardwood flooring, plywood paneling or furniture, and a light-stained wood. ‘It is clean, simple, and functional,’ says Maija Rasila, the interior designer at Finnish Design Shop (opens in new tab). It is hardly ever based only on aesthetic matters, instead it’s the function that leads the design process.’ The concept of Hygge plays an important part and is renowned for encouraging feelings of comfort, coziness and contentment.
So how do the Nordic countries take these principals and apply them to Christmas when this time of year is so much about over-the-top decor, tinsel and baubels adorning every inch of the home? For a Scandi Christmas, these interior design pillars of muted colors, minimal decor, and nature still apply, but in a festive way. Think muted decorations, no plastic in sight, foliage taken inside to give the home a wintry makeover and outdoor Christmas decoration on windowsills and doors to usher you inside and out of the cold. It’s a hard art to master, but we’ve go to grips with how to get this Scandi style spot on with some help from the designers that know the traditions of the land inside out.
1. Go for real foliage
A Scandinavian Christmas is first and foremost all about embracing nature in your home. Think natural materials such as wood, and take to the great outdoors to hunt around for pine cones, interesting twigs and pieces of bark and colored berries. Get creative and arrange the garden foliage artfully by decorating your dining room table, in vases or on a mantelpiece for a unique Christmas living room decor idea.
‘I love creating small stylish displays with branches of evergreens or dried plants and twigs which can be dotted around the house,’ says Kashi Shikunova from Yam Studios (opens in new tab), a practice that specializes in minimalist and Scandinavian interior design. ‘I like to have cotton branches which create a soft and comforting feel.’
These displays can be a nice complement to the Christmas tree. ‘Also if people don’t have a lot of space for a Christmas tree these displays can be a nice supplement,’ says Kashi.
2. Decorate with pieces that show craftmanship
Scandinavian Christmas is all about tradition and craftsmanship. ‘Most people will have old decorations sometimes handed down through generations which will come out in December bringing a sense of history and tradition,’ says Nina Hertig of Sigmar London. ‘These pieces will often be glass or wood and vary to reflect where in Scandinavia you are.’ To celebrate Christmas craft, toys and decor are made out of natural materials like wood or paper. Picture small wooden elves or dainty houses which are fun for children to play with. Handwoven or knitted ornaments are also common and gives that tactile element to decor. When it comes to where to buy Christmas decorations like these, look to local Christmas markets.
‘Christmas is all about tradition in Scandinavian countries,’ says Danish designer, Cat Dal of Cat Dal interiors (opens in new tab), a studio which is rooted in the Scandinavian design ethos. ‘Just like my grandmother gave to my mother, now my mother every year gifts us a Georg Jensen tree ornament. They are gold-plated and a lovely thought that is all about passing down from family to family and creating new magic in a home. We hang ours in the windows or on a branch suspended over the dining table.’
3. Go for a calm and muted color scheme
Your color scheme is also important when planning a Scandi-inspired Christmas and should appear early on in your Christmas checklist. ‘Like the rest of the year, it is good to keep it calm and muted in order to bring out the Scandi feel,’ says Kashi from YAM. When it comes to decor, think white, layers of neutrals, greys and some black, keeping things simple. Where you might have a glimmer of color is in the handcrafted toys that are passed down the generations in traditional Scandinavian Christmas culture.
‘We use a calm color scheme inspired by the nature,’ says Kristina Dam, design and brand director of Broste Copenhagen (opens in new tab). ‘If there is any color involved, we like the darker toned-down red.’
4. Curate a feast for all the senses
Part of the decor is creating an immersive festive experience, so subtly introduce the Christmas theme by exploring the senses. Try spice-scented candles and burn incense to make the experience special. ‘Orange and cinnamon give off a beautiful scent,’ says Cat. Using candles and incense around the Christmas fireplace will add a cozy and inviting ambiance, bringing this feeling of hygge into the home.
5. Decorate your windowsill
A huge part of a Scandinavian Christmas is all about beckoning visitors inside from the cold with beautiful Christmas window decor ideas. ‘This is the darkest time of the year and it is all about the intimate spaces and comfortable light,’ says Nina of Sigmar. ‘It is about bringing in parts of nature as it is nicer to be inside than outside at this time of year,’
Tie a ribbon garland on your window or hang baubles. Remember to light tall candles, which can be enjoyed from both inside and out. On the outside, frame your window and decorate your door with a wreath and string lights.
6. Light the room with candlelight
Lighting also plays a huge role in Scandinavian design, and it’s hugely important to get the right atmosphere for Christmas time. Turn off the overhead lights or dim the light to a low level, layer your lighting and stick to softer light from lamps, lanterns and fairy lights. Candlelight is hugely important in a Scandi Christmas too, so dig out the candelabras and mix and match your candle display, from tea lights to long spindly candlesticks.
‘The winter months are cold and dark in Scandinavia, which is why we use light as decoration – there’s nothing cozier than the flicker of a candlelight and its shadow play on the walls,’ says Emma Jo. ‘Even though shadows can feel mysterious and intimidating, they can also provide a feeling of safety and comfort when embracing us in the most reassuring way on a cold winter day, making us want to retreat to it with great pleasure.
If you can, take your lighting outside too for some beautiful outdoor Christmas decor. ‘Scandi Christmas is always about light. Back in the day the candles would even be on lanterns in the trees,’ says Cat. Why not recreate the look by hanging lanterns on a garden tree, welcoming in visitors from the cold.
7. Hang a paper mobiles
Christmas is a time to get crafty, so master the art of oragami and use blank white paper to create tasteful decorations. Hanging mobiles are another popular way of decorating the home in Scandi culture, using natural materials to handcraft your own paper snowflake or wall hangings. ‘I have an angel paper hanging mobile that I absolutely adore, the way it dances in the wind, the gold flickers in the light, it’s so simple but atmospheric and magical,’ says Cat.
8. Don’t forget the advent calendar
An advent calendar is a particularly Scandinavian tradition and a nice addition to your festive home. Advent calendars are a huge part of Scandinavian culture because the day of Advent is when the festivities begin.
‘Four Sundays before Christmas marks the first of advent, and a candle is lit to start the countdown. On December 13th, we celebrate Lucia, a 400-year-old custom that commemorates the martyr Lucia of Syracuse,’ explains Kristina Phillips of Kristina Phillips Interior Design.
‘When the fourth advent candle is lit, Christmas eve has finally arrived. Unlike the States, Swedes open gifts on Christmas Eve, after Santa has dropped off his bundle and continues his way around the globe.’
Instead of a giant chocolate advent candles or beauty bundles however, use your adventure calendar as another method of decor, hanging ndividual paper envelopes with dates or go for an advent calender made of felt to bring that texture. Advent candles are also popular on the continent.
How to create a Scandinavian inspired Christmas centerpiece
When it comes to dining on the day itself, a Scandinavian Christmas centerpiece might look like a beautiful advent wreath in the center of the table. Elevate a candle in the middle of your rectangle or oval table, and pick a candle with a wider circumference to create contrast next to tea lights or spindly candlesticks. Get some garden foliage, like holly and ivy, and wrap it around your central candle. The result will be simple and elegant.