10 of the Most Iconic Scandinavian Designs & Their Stories

Endlessly copied, these ten iconic designs are rooted in the Nordic ethos of easy modern living.

August 28, 2023
Photo by Mark Weinberg

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 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 in our shop!

Photo by Rocky Luten

1. Kobenstyle Cookware (1954), Jens Quistgaard

Produced by Dansk—a favorite manufacturer of the Food52 team—Quistgaard's Købenstyle 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:

Photo by Knoll Inc

2. 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 original TWA building at JFK Airport. 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 Janne Peters
Photo by Plastolux

3. PH Artichoke Light (1958), Poul Henningsen

Originally designed for a restaurant in Copenhagen, this pendant lamp is constructed 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 Marimekko

4. 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 Onecollection
Photo by wunderschon

5. Model 45 Easy Chair (1945), Finn Juhl

With a back and seat 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 Vola

6. 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 Poulsen
Photo by Plaza Interior

7. 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 writes.

Photo by Ittala Glassware

8. Kartio Glassware (1959), Kaj Franck

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

9. 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.”

Photo by Arden
Photo by Life on Sundays

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

Wilhide describes this lacquered birch stool as “one of the best-known of all of Aalto's works.” It 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.

More from Food52

This article originally ran in 2016. It was updated in 2017 to celebrate the launch of Dansk Købenstyle cookware in our Shop and in 2023 to reflect up-to-date inventory.

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

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Pati214
  • Carol
  • yquinonez
  • Bevi
  • amysarah
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.)