As Steve Howard, head of sustainability for Swedish giant IKEA, calls “peak stuff” have we also hit “peak Scandi”? Even a cursory glance through a well-curated Instagram feed will reveal the current global obsession with all things Nordic. The ubiquitous and pleasingly alliterative “Scandi Style” is characterised by muted colours, natural materials, organic forms and extreme understatement. But is it all too perfect to be true? Is this minimalist style more suited to those little Instagram squares than to real life?
A recent trip to Milan Design Week suggests that Italian maximalism might be about to present the answer, as a new generation seeks to assert their identity and their individuality. Every April, the design industry makes an annual pilgrimage to Italy to find out what’s hot and what’s not—and this year, they were in for a surprise. Led by Milan-based Dimorestudio’s showcase of their new collection and Corian’s ‘Cabana Club,’ colour, pattern and overstatement dominated what has, in recent years, been a fairly subdued affair.
Are people tired of the demands of minimalism and ready to embrace the rebellion and excess of a more full-on style? And if so, is Italian design about to take the reigns from Scandinavia?
As is usually the way, it seems the reality is a little more complex. For many people, the words ‘Scandinavian design’ equate to minimalism, but in fact you only need to walk into destination design shop Svenskt Tenn on Stockholm’s harbour front to see that there is a long history of maximalism in the Nordic nations.
“Svenskt Tenn and Josef Frank are special cases—highly bourgeoisie phenomena that in a funny way shaped Swedish design history and homes in a major way,” says Petrus Palmér, founder of Swedish furniture brand, Hem. “But they are not isolated and they are part of the modernist movement—you can draw a line from Alexander Girard or even Josef Albers. In Sweden we had designers like Stig Lindberg who did both graphic abstract patterns and very decorative floral patterns, such as the Herbarium.”
And the same is true in other Nordic nations—twentieth century design brands such as Norway’s Catherineholm and Finland’s Marimekko have been embracing colour and pattern for a long time.
So if even the Swedes are embracing maximalism, where does that leave the Italians? The truth is that designers have a much more global outlook than their predecessors, drawing influence from all over the world. “It crosses borders—and you don’t have to understand the context to enjoy it,” says Palmér. “Look at contemporary designers such as Jaime Hayon, Bertjan Pot or Tord Boontje. They have all mastered the highly figurative yet simplified. That bold yet refined look is very enticing.”
Italian designer Luca Nichetto admits his style has been subconsciously influenced by his move to Sweden (he has offices in Venice and Stockholm) and founders of Dimorestudio Britt Moran and Emiliano Salci agree that designers are no longer defined by their country of origin: “Everything is a source of inspiration for the other worlds,” they say. In the UK, this notion is exemplified by the work of artists such as Camille Walala who draws the inspiration for her bold, colourful style from sources as disparate as the Italian Memphis Movement, South Africa’s Ndebele tribe and the Hungarian-French master of optical art, Victor Vasarely.
So the future is neither Swedish nor Italian. It is bright, but complicated—and what could be more maximalist than that?