How to decorate with a Scandinavian-inspired color palette – designer's tips for a calming, understated space

From neutrals to earth tones, here's how to decorate with Scandinavian-inspired colors

Scandinavian decor in a bedroom, living room, and kitchen
(Image credit: Jennifer Robin/Photography John Merkl, ballonSTUDIO/photo Aubrie Pick, Naked Kitchens)

Home decor that feels balanced and calming is more appealing than ever before. With the fast-paced nature of the outside world, having a home that allows us to relax and recharge is important to so many of us.

Scandinavian decor is one of the best interior aesthetics to embrace if you're seeking to cultivate such a home. Defined by a focus on form and functional design, Nordic design is unfussy and simplistic, celebrating quality craftmanship and longevity above all else. 

When it comes to choosing a color scheme for a Scandinavian decor scheme, decorating with neutrals takes precedence. Soothing neutrals and quiet hues reminiscent of the natural world are not only timeless but they're also known for aiding spaces in feeling calm. 

What colors are used in Scandinavian decor? 

Within the category of neutrals, there are endless color variations. For a Scandinavian-inspired color palette, it's all about neutral tones that are clean and slightly warm-toned, such as taupe, as well as classic whites.

Interior designer Kathy Kuo explains: 'When I think of Scandinavian color palettes, I first think of clean neutrals that feel warm as well as crisp. Think sand, taupe, ivory, and cream – basically, if it makes you think of fresh timber, it's Scandi-approved.'

But beyond these pared-back neutral tones, muted earthy colors can also be introduced to a Scandinavian color palette. This mainly includes subtle blues and greens which are inspired by the natural world.

Interior designer Bethany Adams explains: 'My heritage is Swedish so I like to think I have a natural affinity for Scandi style, but really I just love the soft color palette of greens, blues, and grays that are pervasive. I would advise a base of Benjamin Moore's Revere Pewter paired with a ceiling in Mt. Rainer Gray. Cheyenne Green and White Dove look beautiful with these colors too.'

How to decorate with a Scandinavian color palette

Below, we've explored how to decorate with a Scandinavian color palette, with interior designers sharing their favorite ways of designing a room around Nordic-inspired colors. 

1. Opt for light-toned, sleek furnishings

neutral bedroom with a hidden tv in the base of the bed

(Image credit: Jennifer Robin / Photography John Merkl)

Minimalist decor forms a key part of the Scandinavian home decor aesthetic, so it's important to keep this in mind when choosing furnishings. Furniture that has clean lines and soft furnishings that stick to neutral tones will work best in a room designed with a Scandinavian color palette, ensuring an uncluttered, clean look. 

Interior designer Megan Paulson, founder and principal designer at 22 Design House explains: 'When incorporating Scandinavian interior design into a home and understanding the hygge style, you have to realize that you’re creating the feeling of being content while enjoying life’s simple pleasures. Some basic elements to follow when trying to create a Scandinavian hygge-inspired space is to start with a neutral color scheme of muted whites, taupes, and grays. Then layering these colors with soft textiles and minimal furnishings is key.'

This pared-back approach extends to your lighting ideas, too. Rather than harsh lighting, opt for fixtures that gently diffuse light around the room to further enhance the calming neutral color palette. 'Forget the overhead lighting and stick to natural or accent lighting throughout the area as it enhances the mood and elevates all of your calming senses,' adds Megan. 

2. Elevate your neutral scheme with bolder accents

neutral living room with dark green sofa and round wall mirror

(Image credit: ballonSTUDIO, photo Aubrie Pick)

If you enjoy decorating with slightly more color than you would typically expect from a Scandinavian-inspired color palette, you can choose to incorporate bolder hues. With a considered approach, adding accents in richer variations of earth tones will allow you to create a more impactful look. This is demonstrated in the living room above designed by San Francisco-based ballonSTUDIO, which adds a statement forest green sofa to the neutral color scheme. 

Interior designer Kathy Kuo explains: 'Mix your wood-inspired neutral tones with subtle pops of color like sage green, sky blue, and pale yellow; and if you want a little bit of a bolder Scandi look, try adding a bit of navy, forest green, or an 'unexpected red theory' moment.'

The key to adding bolder colors yet maintaining the Scandinavian decor aesthetic is to do so sparingly. Consider how you can add color through furniture and soft furnishings so that these hues don't overshadow the claiming color scheme.

Melissa Read, Creative Director at Studio Burntwood adds: 'You can enhance a neutral and simple color palette by incorporating accents of calming blues and greens through upholstery and accessories. It's important to maintain a sophisticated balance between light and dark tones.'

When it comes to choosing metal colors to pair best with a Scandinavian color palette, consider black finishes to establish a modern look and provide contrast against natural tones. Melissa adds: 'If you're looking to incorporate some modern design elements into your space, consider introducing matte black metal finishes. This design approach is influenced by the minimalist principles of Scandinavian design and can add a sleek, sophisticated touch to any room.'

3. Decorate with natural materials

scandi kitchen with white cabinetry wooden island and base cabinets and green larder

(Image credit: Naked Kitchens)

Central to decorating with a Scandinavian color palette is pairing neutral hues with plenty of natural materials. 'To add warmth, natural materials such as solid oak are commonly used in flooring ideas, wall cladding, and key furniture pieces,' explains Melissa Read. 

While solid, natural wood furniture makes a great choice alongside a Scandinavian color palette, it's important to choose light-toned woods rather than anything too dark and heavy. 'Adding wood elements in lighter tones throughout the room adds the warmth that’s needed to ground the palette,' adds Megan Paulson.

Beyond decorating with wood, your Scandinavian color palette will also pair well with other natural materials, such as linen and ceramics, as Melissa explains: 'Embracing natural textures such as wool, linen, and ceramics will enrich the tactile experience and embody the essence of refined Nordic design.'

A Scandinavian-inspired color palette is a celebration of gentle neutral tones while interest is added through richer earth tones. Decorating with wood and other natural textures will add warmth is added to your decor scheme, ensuring the use of neutrals doesn't appear stark. 

Emily Moorman
News Writer

Emily Moorman is a News Writer at Homes & Gardens, working across a range of topics spanning interiors, celebrity and emerging trends. With a background in the fashion industry, Emily is well-versed in the world of design and trend cycles. Her undergraduate degree was in Fashion Communication and Promotion which she studied at Norwich University of The Arts, specialising in writing and digital communications.