Scandinavian Design from 1900 – 1960
Scandinavians are exceptionally gifted in design. They are world famous for their inimitable, democratic designs which bridge the gap between crafts and industrial production. The marriage of beautiful, organic forms with everyday functionality is one of the primary strengths of Scandinavian design and one of the reasons why Scandinavian creations are so cherished and sought after.

Guided by the conviction that well-designed products can enhance the quality of life through their practical beauty, the Swedish design community’s long-held credo of ‘More Beautiful Everyday Objects will become increasingly valid in the future, as the need for relevant design solutions becomes ever more imperative.

This talk will take a broad look at the overall development of Scandinavian design from 1900 – 1960. It will follow its evolvement from the ornate and fanciful to the basic simplicity of the spirit of design.

Scandinavia is a patchwork of Northern European nation states that form a cultural and regional entity that is very distinct from the rest of Europe.(Slide of Map of Scandinavia).

They share a common economic and cultural history and linguistic roots (except for Finland). They each possess a unique character that reflects their different geographies and environmental conditions. More than anywhere else in the world, designers in Scandinavia have instigated and nurtured a democratic approach to design that seeks a social ideal and the enhancement of the quality of life through appropriate and affordable products and technology.

Modern Scandinavian design, since its birth in c. 1920, has been underpinned by a moral humanist ethos, the roots of which can be traced to Lutheranism, which stresses truth and reason, and teaches that salvation can be gained through honest work that benefits one’s fellow man. It is this moral belief in social imperatives that has formed the philosophical bedrock from which Scandinavian design has evolved and prospered.

Those who can properly call themselves ‘Nordic’ number around 22 million, and are to be found living mostly along the coasts or in the rich agricultural areas of the south, where nearly all the big towns are located.

Each Scandinavian country has enjoyed long-established nationhood and a strong identity, and cherished historical Viking associations and myths from which their people have taken much inspiration.

The nations of Scandinavia have achieved a viable and continuous peace with one another for a period of almost 200 years. Despite certain superficial differences, the Scandinavian people remain much alike.

Although there are many similarities and close bonds between the five Nordic states, strong sylistic distinctions in terms of approach to design exist between each of the countries. These are due not only to different industrial, political, economic and social conditions, but also to the fundamentally different temperaments of each country’s population. The design Writer, Anne Stenros, noted: On an emotional level, the Danes are a little more ‘Southern’, the Finns are a little more ‘eastern’, the Norwegians are a little more ‘northern, and the Swedes tick to ‘the golden mean’. The Icelanders have roots all their own. These differences in national character have resulted in diverse approaches to the applied arts and the ‘flowering of design’ at different times in their histories.

Scandinavian designers, in their pursuit of affordable, beautiful, yet useful household objects have historically adopted an approach to design where-by products are developed within a humanist interpretation of the formal, technical and aesthetic principles associated with Modernism. For the majority of Scandinavian people, design is recognized, not only as an integral part of daily life, but also as a means of effecting social change. There has also been an historical tendency among Scandinavian designers to seek an optimum balance between the man-made and natural worlds in their work.

The climate in Scandinavia – 9 months of dark wintry cold and three brilliant months of glorious and abundant summer – has also meant that designers have sought inspiration as much from the delights of the natural world, as from the concept of the warm cheerful home. The Scandinavian peoples have traditionally relied on design ingenuity for their very survival and have become adept at skillfully handling the limited material resources available so as to use them as efficiently as possible.

This reliance on design as a means of survival, has led them to regard it as an important element of their cultural, social and economic welfare. Although the majority of Scandinavian countries have enjoyed a long history of design excellence, it was not until the 1950’s that the concept of “Scandinavian design” was first widely popularized through exhibitions such as the seminal “Design in Scandinavia” show which toured the USA and Canada from 1954 to 1957. The Northern geography and harsh climate have not only bred a deep regard for the home comforts of the domestic environment, but also a pervasive respect for the natural world.

Scandinavians generally possess an intimate understanding of nature and because of this have a heightened appreciation of the intrinsic qualities of raw materials (especially local ones). The long and rich traditions of craftsmanship and folk art that have existed in all five countries demonstrate, not only the Scandinavian peoples’ empathy for materials, but also their desire to infuse everyday objects with a natural, unpretentious beauty. In comparison to the rest of Western Europe and the United State, industrialization came relatively late to Scandinavia and, therefore, the handcraft traditions of each of the countries remained in a far better state of preservation.

By marrying these age-old craft skills to modern design practice, Scandinavian designers were able to produce high-quality objects that were eminently suited to industrial manufacture. During the 20th century, Scandinavian craft skills and design sensibilities became a dominant influence on the development of modern design and came to epitomize the whole notion of “good design”.

It is a widely held belief in Scandinavia that the design of a product, whether a chair, vase, coffee pot or storage jar, is handcrafted or machine-made, expensive or in-expensive, should provide an emotional comfort. The reason for this is that in Scandinavia, well designed and executed objects are seen as vital enrichment to daily living, rather than as status symbols. Scandinavian designers in general are well aware that by harmoniously combining artistic form and practical function, it is possible to create truly useful and relevant objects or ‘brukskunst’ (useful art), as it became known.

Scandinavian design is governed by the main principle of Modernism – to strike the optimum balance between form function, material, colour, texture, durability and costs so as to create democratic design solutions.Designers from Scandinavian countries, however, have long understood than an overtly industrial aesthetic can be alienating, and have therefore sought to develop products that are fundamentally humanizing – PRODUCTS THAT PUT MAN FIRST, THEN THE MACHINE.

Whether a Scandinavian object is mass-produced in a factory or lovingly handcrafted in a specialist workshop, it will almost certainly express the Scandinavian concept of ‘hygge’ – a Danish word that implies a very special charm, a tender and comfortable feeling. Hygge can apply to people, things, or surroundings that give a sense of joy and well-being.

Although the five Scandinvavian/Nordic countries have fostered a regional affiliation based on co-operation but each had its own distinctive national history, political aspirations and social concerns. These distinguishing aspects have led design emanating from each country to display a uniquely different character.

For example, the influence of Regency furniture, American Shaker style and Oriental pottery on Danish design reflects its centuries-old sea-trading activities, whereas Swedish design reflects the country’s strong social agenda, while Iceland, with its scarcity of raw materials, has a long tradition of graphic design, that, thanks to computer technology, has vigorously flourished in recent years.

Despite these regional emphasis in design, the five Scandinavian countries have a common aesthetic culture, that is the result of their shared desire for a social idea. Historically, life has been a struggle in these geographically isolated countries with their limited range of raw materials – conditions that have led to a culture of minimizing waste wherever possible, through common sense practicality in design.

Similarly, an expertise has been passed down from generation to generation in the handling of the materials that are readily available, such as wood from the dense forests. Also, the spectacular scenery around them has contributed to the design motifs and educated them in the realization that nature’s every-changing beauty is the best and most constant source of lasting pleasure in form and colour.Scandinavian design has emerged in the 20th century in every aspect of life – there are many examples of Art for Art’s sake with no functional purpose, other than their life-enhancing beauty.

There are also designers who produce wares for industrial manufacture. There are many large glass works and ceramics factories, such as Arabia and Littala, also Volvo cars, Husqvarna chainsaws and now Nokia mobile phones, which is globally renowned for its functional integrity, understated aesthetics, outstanding durability and superlative quality.

It is the Scandinavian designers’ promotion of Organic Design, however, that has had the greatest influence on the evolution of Modernism over the last 50 years. Through it spreoccupation with the machine aesthetic, the Modern Movement could never gain a real and substantial foothold in Scandinavia, although their designers shared many of its fundamental goals, including the creation of well-designed democratic objects for everyday use. The pure, stripped-down Functionalism of Bauhaus design lacked the humanism that was (and still is) such a vital characteristic of Scandinavian designers who first offered the world a more accessible and less doctrinal form of Modernism, with softened forms and natural materials. By balancing the demands of the machine with human needs, Scandinavian designers did not reject the past, but learnt from it, and in their pursuit of beautiful form and practical simplicity instilled in modern design what can only be expressed as ‘soul’.

Above all else, it is the idea that “More Beautiful Everyday Objects” can enhance life that perpetuates the international recognized phenomenon of Scandinavian design. With the increasing complexities and acceleration of modern life, Scandinavian design continues to offer a haven of timeless simplicity that provides both physical comfort and emotional calm, while at the same time proffering an ethical approach to design that will become more and more pertinent as we face the increasingly worrying environmental and social challenges of the future.

Spurred on by the pursit of a social ideal, Scandinavian designers have consistently provided satisfying design solutions that fulfil both practical and aesthetic requirements, and which are tangible realizations of the five countries’ shared utopian dream.


Vivianna Torun Bulow-Hube, know as Torun was born on December 7, 1927 in Malmo, Sweden. Her father was director of town planning in Malmo and her mother was a sculptor. Torun was the youngest of four children, born after a gap of nine years.

All four children pursued artistic careers with a brother and sister becoming architects and another sister, a poet. But it was Torun who became the most famous, as the first woman silversmith in the world to gain international recognition. Torun studied at Konstfack, the School of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm, beginning in 1945 while pregnant with her first child, Pia.

Eventually she married the child's father, a Danish journalism student. In 1948, Torun spent the summer in Paris meeting Picasso, Braque, Matisse and the other great artists of the day. She married a French architect and lived in Stockholm until 1956 having a second child, a son, Claude.

As early as 1952, Torun exhibited her jewelry, made both in Stockholm and France (and bearing hallmarks from each country) in Paris.In 1956, Torun and her husband divorced and she lost custody of her son. She moved to France with her third husband, Walter Coleman, an Afro-American painter, meeting many of the jazz greats of that time. She designed jewelry for among others, Billie Holiday which Holiday wore when she performed.

The couple moved to Biot in the south of France in 1958 to avoid political problems they were encountering in Paris as a result of the war in Algeria. Torun produced many pieces during this period when young Swedish silversmiths would come to work in her studio, introducing her to new techniques.

Torun renewed her acquaintance with Picasso who lived in the area and an exhibition of Torun jewelry was held at the Picasso museum in Antibes from 1958 to 1960. Torun had two children with Walter, Ira and Marcia. In 1965, her marriage broke up and in 1966, she became involved with the Subud spiritual movement, an association which continues to today.

In 1961, Torun won the Lunning Prize which was awarded from 1951 to the 1970s to someone who had "pioneered a unique artistic contribution". In 1968, she moved to Wolfsburg Germany and in 1975 to the neighboring village of Wendhausen to be closer to the Subud community. She had a workshop and worked with other artists in an association called "Die Schwinge". Beginning in 1967, Torun's production was taken over by Georg Jensen silver.

Since moving to Germany, Torun has worked on things other than jewelry including cutlery, chinaware and handbags. In 1978, Torun moved to Indonesia where she died 2004.

On November 5, 1992, Torun was awarded the Prince Eugen medal by King Carl XV! Gustav of Sweden. The medal ia bestowed for outstanding artistic achievement. In September of 1992 Georg Jensen in Copenhagen held an exhibition to celebrate 25 years of Torun's association with the company, 45 years of working with silver and her 65th birthday.

From October 1992 to January 1993, the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in the Louvre held a 45 year retrospective of Torun's work. Torun's innovative designs include the "figure of eight" ring and the stainless steel bangle watch. The ring Torun calls "Two become One". As she has said, "to me it symbolizes infinite love, and is one of my very earliest pieces-my wedding ring- from the 50s". The stainless watch she made in 1962 as a contribution to an exhibit at the Museu des Arts Decoratifs in the Louvre. The theme of the exhibition was "an object of your dislike". "Well, the relentlessness of time is what i abhor, so i designed a watch with no numbers; it was intended to be an ornament, not a chronometer.

At first it only had a seconds hand, but when Geoorg Jensen began producing the watch in 1967, we added both the hour and minute hands. The bracelet did not completely encircle the wrist but was left open at the outside so as not feel oneself a prisoner of time...". It was the first watch of its kind-audaciously simple, stripped of all but the bare essentials. The dial was like a mirror, so whenever you looked at it, you saw your own reflection, a reminder of the present moment...the very second. It was the first watch ever produced by Jensen."It is a search for the source, the simple and natural, that impels Torun's creative work.

Inspired by the art of primitive cultures, African, Oceanic, Egyptian, she creates her forms not for the sake of beauty alone; but carefully considers both the form and function of each piece of jewellery she makes. A practical detail such as the fastening is not concealed but on the contrary accentuated. She subscribes to the philosophy that what is functional is also beautiful".


Under the Danish Hallmarking Act of 1893, the content standard for all silver was set at 826 parts out of 1,000, which is slightly lower than the standard for sterling which is 925. The remainder is usually copper with very small amounts of iron, lead and traces of other metals. The Danish mark, 826S was used until about 1915 when silversmiths raised their silver content to 830 and eventually to 925.

Georg Jensen did not switch to the sterling standard until 1927 although he occasionally made special orders in 925S for the American market much earlier. Until 1961, Danish silver was identified by a stamp with three towers. After that an 830S or 925S imprint was used. (A mark with two towers means silverplate.)