Interiors: Vikings' Nordic chic conquers our shores
Scandinavian designers' distinctive style and class goes way beyond what the excellent Ikea has to offer, writes Eleanor Flegg
'I thought I could organise freedom," sang Björk in 1998. "How Scandinavian of me." Although her lyrics are more about personal responsibility than interior design, I reckon that the Icelandic song goddess hit the nail on the head. Organisation is a Scandinavian obsession. That's why they're so damn good at it.
Turn to page 40 of the current Ikea catalogue: "Organisation is the key to stress reduction at home. When you've got it, life is easy. When you haven't, it's chaos." The next 20 pages show how design can improve your quality of life.
"Seven ways to leave home without forgetting a thing?" Bring it on!
"In Scandinavian design there are no frills," explains Maxi Goodwin of Inreda Design Shop, "You have only what you need but those things that you need must be beautiful. It comes from the religion."
In countries like France, Goodwin explains, interior design reflects the decorative opulence of Catholicism. Scandinavian design, in contrast, is a product of the calm austerity of the Lutheran Church.
Goodwin, who was brought up in Sweden, feels that Swedish design is also a product of the country's socialist history.
"Design is not just a pretty face. It's not about changing shapes and colours to create a new look. It's about social justice and the idea of a good quality of life for everyone."
This, I suggest, is what Ikea is all about. Goodwin agrees.
"Ikea is a great invention – the best ever. The designs are great but the only thing is that they copy a lot. It's not so good for young designers who have just a few designs to make a living from and then they get copied by Ikea and everyone can buy it. On the other hand, it's hard to stay where imitation starts and inspiration stops."
The Inreda Design Shop, formerly of Dublin's Camden Street, went digital over the recessionary years. Now, like many others, it is cautiously beginning to manifest itself again in the analogue market place.
While continuing to sell Scandinavian furniture and accessories online, Inreda is also about to open a new outlet under the wing of the RHA gallery in Ely Place.
"It's a small space," says Goodwin, "so we are going to be selective about what we show and change the display really often to keep it interesting."
Inreda furniture is pitched at the upper-middle end of the market, with an emphasis on quality furniture that will last. Their selection includes design classics, like the gloriously plain String System of modular storage. Expect to pay €1,985 for a String cabinet shelving and work desk combo. If this is beyond your touch (and pocket), turn back to the Ikea catalogue, where you'll find any number of cheap and effective storage systems.
Inreda also shows the work of new designers like David Geckeler, whose gracefully geeky Nerd chair won the Muuto design competition for Scandinavian design schools in 2011.
Inreda also stocks small design treats, like the Taika range of ceramics from Iittala (Taika means "magic" in Finnish).
These are my own particular personal weakness. It's a bit indulgent to pay €41 for a pair of mugs but they do bring great happiness to me.
"Design is a part of life, like food, but it's also an industry," Goodwin points out. "And design in Ireland could be so much more than it is now. There's very little connection between young designers and industry." She feels that Ireland could learn from the precepts of Scandinavian design.
A few designers do manage to make that difficult connection with Irish industry, including Per Plough (originally from Denmark) who won a bronze medal at the 2014 A' Design Award held in Italy.
His Veizla table, named after an old Norse word for banquet, is designed and manufactured in Ireland. The elegant and substantial eight-seater sells for an equally substantial €3,850 from www.pemaradesign.com.
Caroline Flannery (below), designer of the showhouse for the recent Ideal Home Show, chose Nordic Chic as her theme.
"For me, it's about surrounding yourself with things that you love to a very personal look. In Ireland there's a tendency to buy everything in the one shop. Scandinavian design is the opposite of that."
Flannery interpreted Nordic style for Irish tastes by using rugs and faux furs to warm up the starkness of plain wooden floors and by accessorising her showhouse with objects in glass, metallic, pearl finish, brass and nickel, which she associates with Scandinavian craftsmanship. She is especially fond of accessories from Belle Maison (www.bellemaison.ie).
Belle Maison sounds more French to me, but we'll let it go.