Scandinavian design is a term to represent a design movement characterized by simplicity, minimalism and functionality that emerged in the 1950s in the five Nordic countries of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland. While the term Scandinavia only refers to the three kingdoms of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, it can be used colloquially to refer to all five of these countries.
The Lunning Prize, awarded to outstanding Scandinavian designers between 1951 and 1970, was instrumental in both making Scandinavian design a recognized commodity, and in defining the profile of Scandinavian design. Since 2006, the tradition of a pan-Nordic design award has been resumed with the Forum AID Award.
The idea that beautiful and functional everyday objects should not only be affordable to the wealthy, but to all, is a core theme in the development of modernism and functionalism. This is probably most completely realized in post-WWII Scandinavian design. The ideological background was the emergence of a particular Scandinavian form of social democracy in the 1950s, as well as the increased availability of new low-cost materials and methods for mass production. Scandinavian design often makes use of form-pressed wood, plastics, anodized or enameled aluminum or pressed steel.
The concept of Scandinavian design has been the subject of many scholarly debates, exhibitions and marketing agendas during the last 50 years, but many of the democratic design ideals that were the central theme of the movement survived and are reflected in contemporary Scandinavian and international design.
Danish designer Verner Panton was considered to be a revolutionary in 20th Century furniture and interior designs. Throughout a fifty-year career, he produced innovative, forward-thinking designs that were purely timeless. After completing his education at the Royal Danish Academy of Art in 1951, he was taken on as a work apprentice by another famous architect, Arne Jacobsen. Not one to follow convention, however, the self-proclaimed ‘enfant terrible’ of design left Jacobsen’s workshop for just two years before leaving to pursue his own projects. Panton became well-known for his bold and innovative building designs, including a collapsible house (1955) and the Plastic House (1960). Over the years, his furniture creations became more unusual, culminating in 1960 when he designed the very first single-form injection-moulded plastic chair, the S-Chair. Today, this is by far his most famous and most mass-produced piece. Panton also delved into textiles, designing numerous rugs with patterns. Today, his designs can be found in spaces the world-over.
French industrial design marvel Philippe Starck is known and commissioned all over the world to product beautiful, practical and ergonomic designs and interiors. Born in Paris in 1949, he completed his education at the École Camondo before opening his first design firm at the young age of 19. Always entrepreneurial, he is known to be fearlessly creative; a colleague recently quoted that Starck designs “in the same way a director makes a film. He develops scenarios that will lift people out of the everyday and into an imaginative and creative mental world.” Starck’s experiment with furniture began in 1982, when he designed the Ghost Chair for an Italian firm. Widely acclaimed by critics, the Ghost Chair has become a modern design icon. He went on to create the Kong Armchair and Hudson Barstool for the Chinese Restaurant Kong in Paris as well as the sleek Costes Chair for Café Costes in Paris. Still in operation today and taking on more ambitious commissions – including the Virgin Galactic Spaceport – is possibly the most important French designer since Le Corbusier or Pierre Paulin.
Known foremost as an abstract painter and sculpter, Isamu Noguchi’s life was a fascinating one. The JapaneseAmerican artist was born in the USA in 1904 to Yone Noguchi, a Japanese poet and Léonie Gilmour, an editor. Despite his parents keeping in touch, his father was absent throughout most of the boy’s life. Flitting between Asia, Europe and the USA, Noguchi tinkered with medical school before chance encounters with leading creatives of his day persuaded him to pursue his passion. In 1924, he began taking night classes at the Leonard Da Vinci School in New York. From then on began a career that would make him the most famous sculptor of the 21st Century. Indeed, it is his origins as a sculptor and artist that fed into his furniture designs, the most famous of which was the Noguchi Coffee Table. Each piece – from his 3 Seater Sofa to the famous Dining Table – individually looks like a piece of finely-crafted piece of artwork. Noguchi went on to achieve many awards and even after his death in 1988, his work became internationally-famous.
Though often solely credited, Charles Eames actually worked in duet with his wife, Ray. Born in America in 1907 and 1912 respectively, this creative duo made major contribution to the fields of architecture and design – as well as fine art, graphic design and film – over the course of their forty-year careers. Both were educated at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where they became close friends with other renowned designers Eero Saarinen and Florence Knoll. The pair were married in 1941. As with their earlier molded plywood work, they pioneered technologies, such as the fibreglass and plastic resin chairs and the wire mesh chairs. Their most famous piece is the Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman.