In pictures: Why is Nordic design so hot right now?

Design agency Studio Esinam investigates together with why the world is falling in love with Nordic style.

In pictures: Why is Nordic design so hot right now?
Scandinavian design. Photo: House of Beatniks

Swedish design traditions have certainly always been strong, but right now it seems like the world cannot get enough of the simple but striking aesthetic that comes from the Nordic countries, sometimes called New Nordic.

But what is it that makes the New Nordic style so popular, everywhere from Los Angeles to Beijing? Does it have to do with lifestyle approach and how people live, rather than colours and materials? Or is it a design tradition that is based on function and form that feels innovative at a time when disposable things feel outdated and out of time? We asked three insiders who know the industry well.

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Muuto - around coffee tables

What characteristics of Nordic design do you think makes the aesthetics so popular around the world today?

Kristian Byrge, founder of Muuto: “Scandinavian design is often called the democratic design, because it is aligned to the masses, with products that are accessible and that they can afford. But even though it goes under mass design, the shape is always the focal point. To focus on functionality while creating beauty is an important but difficult balance – that is the basic principle of Nordic design. The dark winter days and few hours of daylight encourages designers to create bright and functional rooms with traditional methods and clever utilization out of the raw materials being available. These historical principles are being used in the new Nordic design, with usability and simplicity in focus, and a charitable aesthetics.”

Adam chair

What do you think when you hear the term New Nordic?

“It is an exceptionally popular expression right now. Design democracy is at the heart of the New Nordic, and is probably the cornerstone behind its popularity. To access beautiful and functional modern design, to so many people, is a democratic view on society. At Muuto, democracy is a watchword when developing new products. We have also gone from the clean minimalism, which for a long time was the Nordic designs characteristic, to a softer and more colourful style.”

Inspiration for your wall

Why are Scandinavian brands and design popular in the US?

Fredrik Carlström, founder of Los Angeles and New York-based interior design store Austere and C&CO: “I have read a lot Ellen Key lately, the Swedish philosopher, feminist and critic. She was one of the founders of what is now called Scandinavian design, and in 1899 wrote the text 'Skönhet För alla' ('Beauty For All') [translated and published in the US by MoMA in 2008].”

E27 Pendant Lamp

“To live in Sweden 1899 – and furthermore to be a woman – can not have been easy. Ellen Key wanted to use design to change and improve society. She argued for fewer but better things, things that work well and are beautiful. I think that her ideas are highly relevant today, and is one of the reasons to why so many people are interested in Scandinavian products and lifestyle.”

Lifestyle images, muuto producs

In what way does Nordic design differ from other countries?

“There are a lot of international designers who create 'Scandinavian' design: Ilse Crawford, Jasper Morrison, Marc Newson and Ross Lovegrove, all inspired by but who have also strongly influenced the Nordic design.”

Prints on the wall

How is Nordic design and trademarks perceived in the United States?

“For many, Scandinavian design is mostly defined by light wood and minimalist homes. But the reality of homes in the Nordic region are warm, relaxed and welcoming, full of furniture and things that are practical, functional and beautiful. Our environment shapes our design. I do not think it's a coincidence that some of the best lights in the world, for example, was created in countries that exist in darkness most time of the year.”

Prints on the wall
Why do you think Nordic design is so popular on the US market?

Josh Mintz, purchasing manager, Dwell Media/Dwell Store: “Nordic design has withstood the test of time thanks in part to the versatility of minimal design, the commercial appeal of functionalism, and the goodwill of brands rooted in quality. In the 80s and 90s here in America, we saw the rise of mass retail where the shopping experience became more and more homogeneous. Fortunately, in the late 90s the internet helped push the pendulum in the other direction. Similarly, it marked the beginning of a new creative era encouraging individuality and expressing one’s identity through the way we consumed, even literally, with food.”

Nordenskiöldsgatan 5

What is the difference between Nordic and American design?

“Our iconic designers of the mid-century modern era, that best represents American design, such as couples like Ray and Charles Eames, has its roots in Scandinavian design. The new wave, which is now annually displayed at NYCxDesign (ICFF, Wanted Design, etc), is based on the same basis. They use new technologies but strive to achieve the same timeless, thoughtful results. So maybe it is simply that we in America, are a few generations behind our Nordic colleagues and are still working on seeing design as an investment for the future rather than letting costs come before quality.”

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Can I get a Swedish mortgage without permanent residency?

The Swedish rental market is notoriously difficult for immigrants to break into, so many consider buying a property instead. But can you get a Swedish mortgage without a permanent residence permit?

Can I get a Swedish mortgage without permanent residency?

The answer, as with many of these questions, is ‘it depends’.

Do I need permanent residency?

There is no legal requirement that mortgage holders in Sweden must be permanent residents, citizens, or even registered in the country. On the other hand, there is no legal requirement for banks to accept mortgage applications from just anyone either, which leaves them perfectly within their rights to deny applications to temporary residence permit holders if they deem them to be too big of a risk.

Why might a bank say I need permanent residency to take out a mortgage?

One reason your bank could require you to have permanent residency is that they deem it too risky to lend to someone who they think might not be staying in Sweden for long enough to pay off their mortgage.

Banks want to be reassured that they will get their money back if they lend to you, and if you don’t have permanent residency in Sweden, there’s always a chance your temporary residence permit will run out and a renewal might not be approved, leaving you forced to leave Sweden before you’ve had time to pay off your loan.

Similarly, banks which may once have been more willing to approve mortgage applications to more ‘risky’ applicants may be more wary in the current climate, where house prices are dropping and interest rates are going up.

Ultimately, a temporary residence permit is one of many risk factors for a bank – if you’re forced to (or choose to) leave Sweden after a short while and your property has lost value, that could leave you in a position of negative equity – where you owe the bank money after you sell your property.

Is there anything I can do to make sure I don’t get my mortgage application rejected?

First off, mortgage applications are often stressful – you’ve successfully bid on a property and you’ve set a date for signing the contract, so you want to get your paperwork in order and make sure you can finance the property quickly.

Additionally, banks are slow, so the last thing you want is to wait days just for your bank to turn you down for a mortgage.

The best way to ensure you get a mortgage approved in time is to keep your options open and apply to multiple banks, as different banks weigh different risk factors more highly than others.

Danske Bank, for example, appear to reject mortgage applications for people without permanent residency, as I was told when my mortgage application with them was rejected.

Be aware though, that every time a bank takes out a credit check on you, this affects your credit rating. A good way to get around this is to apply for a mortgage via services like Ordna Bolån and Lånekoll, who take out a single credit check for you and use that to apply to multiple banks on your behalf.

Another way to increase the chance of your application being approved is to borrow less money, if you can. Just because your bank has given you a maximum budget you can buy for in your lånelöfte or lender’s note, doesn’t mean you have to buy for that much, and the less money you apply to borrow, the more likely the bank is to approve your application.

There’s another benefit to this, too – it lowers your belåningsgrad, or the percentage of the property’s value you’re financing with your mortgage. If you loan more than 70 percent of a property’s value, you have to amortise (pay back) 2 percent of the value of your mortgage per year. If you loan between 50 and 69 percent, you must amortise 1 percent of your mortgage per year, and if you loan under 50 percent of the property’s value, you don’t have to amortise anything (although it could still be a good idea to do so, if you can).

Additionally, in Sweden there is something called a skuldkvot or “debt quota”, meaning if the amount you’re loaning is more than 4.5 times your yearly salary (or the yearly salary of you and your co-applicant, if you’re applying with someone else), you need to amortise an additional 1 percent per year, on top of anything you have to amortise based on the percentage of the property’s value you’re borrowing from the bank.

This means, if you can put in enough cash to reduce your belåningsgrad from above 70 percent to under 50 percent, as well as loaning less than 4.5 times your yearly salary, you can cut down your amortising from 3 percent to nothing.

This will all be factored in by the bank when deciding if you can afford to pay your mortgage, too, so cutting down your monthly costs will make it more likely for them to approve you.

Finally, have a look at the driftkostnad (running costs) for a house, or the avgift (monthly fee) if buying an apartment or terraced house in a bostadsrättsförening (BRF) housing co-operative. The lower this is, the lower your monthly cost, and the more likely your bank is to determine that your monthly costs aren’t too high in relation to your income.

Are there any other reasons foreigners might be rejected from buying property in Sweden?

Many – but not all – banks require mortgage applicants to be registered in the Swedish population register (this means you need to have a personnummer) and have your salary paid out in Swedish kronor.

If you earn money in another currency, this doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t get a mortgage, but it could mean that you can’t loan as much as you could if you were paid in Swedish kronor.

This is due to the fact that banks will always be conservative in their calculations when deciding if you can afford to pay back a loan (especially so in the current climate), and will calculate your budget based on how much your income would be worth if the currency you are paid in became much weaker than the krona, despite the fact it could be much stronger at the time you apply.

Some may require that you have BankID in order to apply for a mortgage, which in practice also means you need to have a personnummer and a Swedish bank account.

These criteria aren’t usually published on the banks’ websites and could change now that the market is becoming less stable as lenders seek to reduce their risk, so call your bank in advance to ask if you want to be sure.