10 of the Most Iconic Scandinavian Designs & Their Stories

March 31, 2017

Functional but warm, minimal but full of life, modern Scandinavian designs are organic where other expressions of modernism are austere. It isn't any wonder that they're so widely sought after in contemporary homes of all styles.

While modern Scandanavian designs date back to pre-mid century (as early as the 1920s), certain specific products have been so enduring—and so endlessly replicated—that their popularity is hard to ignore. The following are 10 of these designs you've probably seen around town. With help from Elizabeth Wilhide's wonderful book Scandinavian Home, we're sharing a little bit of backstory about each one. Starting with the Dansk cookware we just launched in our shop!

Photo by Rocky Luten

Kobenstyle Cookware (1954), Jens Quistgaard

Produced by Dansk—a favorite manufacturer of the Food52 team—Quistgaard's Kobenstyle cookware was designed to be "lighter than cast iron and so affordable, as well as attractive enough to be placed on the table." The lids are even designed to double as trivets.

Shop them here:

Tulip Chair (1955-7), Eero Saarinen

A close friend of Charles Eames and Florence Knoll, Saarinen is perhaps most famous for being the designer of the TWA building at J.F.K. airport (now closed). His tulip chair for Knoll was conceived of as "a part of a range of 'Pedestal' furniture," including a table known simply by his last name.

Photo by Knoll Inc

PH Artichoke Light (1958), Poul Henningsen

Originally designed for a restaurant in Copenhagen, this pendant lamp is construed so that you can't see the light source from any direction, making it completely glare-free. It has 72 "leaves" that make up its shape, which was originally referred to in Danish as a pine cone.

Photo by Janne Peters
Photo by Plastolux

Unikko (Poppy), Maija Isola

Produced by Marimekko on a cotton textile, Isola's iconic poppy pattern was bold at its time (when realistic florals were all the rage) and has become synonymous with the brand.

Photo by Marimekko

Model 45 Easy Chair (1945), Finn Juhl

With a back and seat that are free from supporting frames, this seminal work of Juhl's was "groundbreaking" at its time, according to Wilhide, and "made possible by teak jointing techniques pioneered by Juhl." The lines are fluid and elegant, the kind of chair that begs to be sat in.

Photo by Onecollection
Photo by wunderschon

Vola Tap and Bathroom Fittings (1969), Arne Jacobsen

Contacted by Vola to design a tap that concealed all the mechanical parts, Jacobsen's resulting design was entirely new for its time, super svelte, and is still being produced.

Photo by Vola

Monkey (1951), Kay Bojesen

With a moveable head and arms, this little fella has as much personality as it has had happy homes. "I had Bojesen’s Monkey dangling from modular shelving in my bedroom," Wilhide remembers.

Photo by Poulsen
Photo by Plaza Interior

Kartio Glassware (1959), Kaj Franck

"By paring everyday objects down to their essentials, [Franck] ensured his designs had a timeless quality," Wilhide writes. "Kartio" means "cone" in Finnish, a shape that is used to harmonize the set.

Photo by Ittala Glassware

Y or Wishbone Chair (1949), Hans Wegner

With a curved back, a semicircular top, and "splayed" wishbone support, the wishbone chair—which is now produced in every imaginable wood—"shows Wegner's mastery of form."

Stool, Model No. 60 (1932-3), Alvar Aalto

"One of the best-known of all of Aalto's works," as Wilhide puts it, this laquered birch stool can be used as a seat or a side table—and is praised for using bent "L-legs" that do away with the need for a supportive framework.

Photo by Arden
Photo by Life on Sundays

This article originally ran last year, but we brought it back to celebrate the launch of Dansk kobenstyle cookware in our Shop (it was already listed here—we just added links!).

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“So glad to hear the teal is still being produced. It is a lovely color and is in perfect condition after much use and 57 years.”
— Carol

What are your favorite modern Scandinavian designs? Share in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Amanda Sims

Written by: Amanda Sims

Professional trespasser.


Pati214 February 4, 2022
Carol December 21, 2019
When I married in December 1960 I received a two quart, teal, Kobenstyle pot and a matching small saucepan, with a wrapped handle. The wrapping has long since come off the handle but I still use both pans frequently. So glad to hear the teal is still being produced. It is a lovely color and is in perfect condition after much use and 57 years.
yquinonez April 2, 2017
Dansk, American company, Danish designer, Asia-made...
Bevi March 31, 2017
My husband scored 6 Knoll chairs for a grand total of 40 dollars about 10 years ago. A grand bargain!
amysarah March 4, 2016
Speaking of Wegner, and given current political insanity, it's topical to mention one of his other iconic chairs for Fritz Hansen, the "Heart Chair," which had such a big visual impact (progress! modernity!) at the infamous Kennedy/Nixon presidential debates: (Also a personal fave. I restored a set of vintage ones - would insert photo, but my brain is still melted from watching last night's debate.)