True Nordic: How Scandinavia influenced design in Canada

At first quiet and unassuming, but with incredible power and insight, this dynamic landmark exhibition explores more than seven decades of Nordic aesthetic influence on Canadian design.

Nestled on the top floor of Vancouver Art Gallery, there is a humble strength at play with some beautiful examples of designs inspired by the work of Northern Europeans. Featuring a wide array of furniture, textiles, metalwork, glassware, and lighting, the space curated by Rachel Gotlieb and Michael Prokopow, includes in-depth observation into how Scandi style has been adopted by Canadians designers over the course of the 1900s.

‘Coastal Credenza’
Jeff Martin Joinery

‘Pour me… the self-medicating series’
Jenna Stanton Ceramics
MADE design

These beautiful porcelain water decanters are inspired by vintage thermos’s and historic Medalta whiskey jugs.

‘Park Lounge and Ottoman’

Here at VFW, we have a strong interest in design identity and its influences. We were so intrigued to learn about how Scandinavia has had a significant impact on the development of Canadian design culture. The exhibition, presented in chronological order, examines a timeline documenting how Scandi design was introduced to our country, how its aesthetics and material forms were adopted and transformed, and its future in an ever-evolving aesthetic world.

So what is Scandinavian style? It has a distinctive identity. Often marked by hard and soft lines, references to nature, bold colours and graphics, and a preference for wood, Scandi design is synonymous with functionality, practicality, and social progression. With bold pops of flat colour, the designers often refine an object to its bare bones with clever design twists.

‘Ladder back lamp’
MISOS Studio

This style of design first reached Canada’s shores via travelling museum and gallery exhibitions, showrooms, and articles in popular interior magazines in the early 1900s. However, it was the dynamic influx of craftspeople moving here from Scandinavia who really set the foundations for this new aesthetic, shaping the country’s design and craft movement from the 1930s onward. After WWII, a wave of designers emigrated to Canada and set up studios, introducing this modern style of making.

‘Brud II’
Suzanne Swannie

Suzanne Swannie, a Danish Canadian, wove this abstract colour field inspired by Nova Scotia’s rugged terrain. She used Spelsau wool imported from Norway. We love the vivid green colour.

‘The shared cultural and visual sensibilities between Canada and Scandinavia remain relevant’

The more contemporary pieces on display prove that the cultural exchange between Canada and Scandinavia is still thriving; the Nordic aesthetic continues to resonate. Keep an eye out when you’re observing new Canadian design and you will see the enduring legacy of a historical Scandi influence.


Running until 28th January, 2018, the True Nordic exhibition will be presented at the Vancouver Art Gallery at 750 Hornby Street.