Scandinavian Style: How to Create Maximum Impact with Minimalist Design

Make your home merry and bright by embracing the latest less-is-more trend.

Rustic living room with a Christmas wreath, fireplace, firewood, sofa and Christmas tree, an example of Scandinavian decor.
Image: Rymasheuskaya Volha/getty

If you usually fill every shelf and crevice with holiday nutcrackers, snowmen, reindeer, and Santa displays, it may be time for something new. How about Scandinavian-style design, which uses a little simplicity to add a lot of yuletide cheer? You won’t need the bright reds and greens and over-the-top Christmas displays to achieve that jingle jangle holiday spirit.

Scandinavian style is minimalist home décor combined with coziness. Think hygge, the Danish concept that captures coziness and comfort and is a BFF to Scandinavian style. Like hygge, Scandinavian design relies on neutral tones and light and natural elements, like pine cones, fresh pine branches, holly, or eucalyptus.

The Benefits of Scandinavian Style

“The Scandinavian/minimalist trend, especially during the holidays, is a refreshing shift from the often overwhelming décor we see,” says Brad Smith, an interior designer and CEO of Omni Home Ideas in Dallas. Scandinavian style for the holidays is “elegant” and “serene,” he says. Yet it can feel modern and timeless, too.

If you’re selling your home this winter, Scandinavian style can offer that perfect match: Minimalist holiday decorations won’t distract home buyers from envisioning your home as theirs, but you can still dress up your home for the holidays. And if you decide to make some Scandinavian design elements permanent, that could be a plus if you sell during any season. Real estate agents and home stagers say a minimalist, uncluttered look and a neutral palette help a home show well and sometimes sell more quickly.

6 Tips to Deck the Halls With Scandinavian Holiday Decor

Here are six characteristics of this holiday decorating trend for the holidays – and maybe beyond:

#1 Achieve Simplicity the Scandinavian Way: With Minimalist Interior Decor

“The beauty of minimalism lies in its ability to make every piece count,” Smith says. “By reducing clutter, each item in the space becomes more significant and impactful.” Choose a few of your most beloved ornaments and decorations, recommends Artem Kropovinsky, an interior designer and founder of Arsight, an interior design studio in New York City. “A single, large wooden reindeer on a table or a gracefully draped wool throw over a couch can stand out more than a myriad of smaller items,” he explains.

#2 Create a Serene Atmosphere With Scandinavian Style and Neutral Tones

Scandinavian style centers on a neutral color palette of whites, soft grays, and muted earth tones, Smith says. “These colors evoke a sense of calm and serenity, perfectly aligning with the Scandinavian ethos,” he notes. Vivianne Chow, an interior decorator and founder of the home décor blog, says she sticks with neutral colors but adds traditional holiday color pops in muted shades of red or green.

#3 Illuminate Your Interior With Soft Lights

Scandinavians cherish light, particularly during the darker winter months. Ditch the harsh overhead lighting for candles, fairy lights, and lanterns that will illuminate a space with a soft, warm glow, Smith says. Indeed, dimmed, soft lights are key to achieving this style, Kropovinsky says. “These give off a gentle glow, reminiscent of the Northern Lights or a village blanketed in snow.” They also offer up that hygge-like ambiance — especially when combining candlelight with fuzzy blankets draped over chairs or sofas to achieve coziness, he adds.

#4 Embrace Scandinavian Style With Natural Textures and Subtle Accessories

Christmas table decoration with candles and handmade minimalist Christmas trees.
Image: netrun78/getty

Instead of blanketing every tabletop or shelf with Christmas figurines, accentuate your everyday accessories. Kropovinsky suggests integrating natural, wintery elements like pine cones, branches, or berries into existing décor. Natural materials are a signature of Scandinavian style, so look for ways to incorporate wood, wool, and linen, Smith says. Wooden ornaments or a woolen throw “can add warmth without overwhelming a space,” he says.

Chow likes to accessorize with throw pillows that contrast with the neutral color palette. “A plaid pillow is a must-have, along with a cable knit sweater pillow, to cozy up your living room,” she says.

#5 Celebrate Simplicity With Minimal Tree Decorations

Resist the temptation to overdecorate every branch. Chow’s formula for decorating a Scandi Christmas tree: Use a faux, flocked Christmas tree and incorporate red berry picks throughout for a pop of color. She uses just eight berry picks in her tree. For a modern look, she then adds ornaments in simple and neutral colors, focusing on gold, copper, and muted green. For the tree topper, she favors a minimalist LED star. “My favorite tree topper is this Moravian star Christmas tree topper that lights up (like this one), giving a beautiful glow at the top,” she says.

#6 Find Balance Between Scandinavian Style and Family Heirlooms

To complete the Scandinavian style, you can repurpose and incorporate family treasures. (You’ll save money too!) Smith suggests using vintage fabrics, like old linens, that can be repurposed into table runners or napkins.

Kropovinsky recommends turning old sweaters into cushion covers or tree skirts. Or, use family heirloom textiles, like an old tablecloth or quilt, as the tree skirt or draped over furniture. You can even incorporate family heirlooms, like a grandparent’s old sled. Place it in a corner with festive décor surrounding it to make it the focal point of the room. “This merges the old with the new seamlessly,” he explains.

Other ideas to incorporate the old into the new include:

  • DIY lanterns: Repurpose old jars and containers by filling them with fairy lights or using them as candle holders. “This can add a touch of vintage charm,” along with a soft glow, Smith says.
  • Family photos: Frame old family holiday photos in wooden frames for a nostalgic wall gallery.
  • Sentimental ornaments: Chow suggests decorating a tree with Christmas ornaments in a Scandinavian style that also cherishes personal mementos. For example, she started a tradition of using ornaments that have the year engraved and include a frame to hold a picture highlighting an item from that year. She uses Pottery Barn’s dated enamel frame ornaments.

Do’s and Don’ts of Scandinavian Design

Stylish, modern Christmas fireplace decorated in Scandinavian fashion with trees, houses, pine cones and spruce branches on the mantle.
Image: Bogdan Kurylo/getty

Smith offers these tips to keep in mind:

  • Do focus on quality over quantity. Invest in a few well-made pieces rather than cluttering the space.
  • Do incorporate nature. Fresh pine branches, holly or eucalyptus can bring a touch of the outdoors inside.
  • Don’t overdo a theme. The essence of Scandinavian design is simplicity and functionality.
  • Don't neglect comfort. While the style is minimalist, the space should still feel warm and inviting., and your home for the holidays can have a lot of impact with more light and coziness, a modern look, and family treasures.

Minimalism doesn't have to give you "meh" results. When you incorporate Scandinavian style, you'll be more selective about your decor. But despite using less, you'll end up with more light, coziness, and warmth. And those are gifts everyone will want.

Melissa Dittmann Tracey
Melissa Dittmann Tracey

Melissa Dittmann Tracey loves to talk real estate and is obsessed with the design of other people’s homes (but in a noncreepy way!). You can hear her weekly on the syndicated radio show and podcast, Real Estate Today, in her housing trends segment “Hot or Not?” She is also the creator of the Styled, Staged & Sold blog and host of The Housing Muse podcast. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter @housingmuse