Century of the Child: Nordic Design for Children at V&A Museum of Childhood

Museum of Childhood’s temporary displays are always a treat and I was particularly excited about this one, a retrospective of Nordic kids’ design from 1900 to the present day. Created by Sweden’s Museum Vandalorum in collaboration with Designmuseum Danmark and Design Museum Helsinki, this celebration of brilliant, simple Nordic design has been adapted by MoC’s Katy Canales to suit the museum’s family audience. And, as ever, it’s super toddler-friendly (although, if you’re familiar with this museum you’ll know that the entire thing, including the temporary exhibition space, is totally open-plan, which makes containing feral children nigh on impossible), with nothing out of bounds and plenty to keep them occupied (or at least you’d think so) while you browse the stylish displays.

In keeping with the simplicity of Nordic style (FYI, ‘Nordic’ encompasses Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Finland, while ‘Scandinavian’ generally only refers to the first three), this display is much less ‘busy’ than its predecessor, the super-interactive Michael Morpurgo: A Lifetime in Stories exhibition that ended in February, with the centre of the space left free of partitions and exhibits displayed down either side of the room.

It’s also much more ‘adult’ in terms of content – and by that I don’t mean it’s full of pictures of willies, but that the main display will likely be far more appreciated by grown-ups than little ones with its retro kids’ clothing, elegant wooden toys and chic nursery furniture. From a design perspective I much prefer this to the Michael Morpurgo (and this is a design exhibit after all), but keeping a hyper toddler within your field of vision while you assimilate all the information on display is another matter entirely, and I suspect this one won’t be quite so popular with tinies.

The exhibition is divided into four interconnected themes: Nordic Values and how the culture as a whole has influenced its progressive design; Design for Living, and how the Nordic focus on children and childhood increased as the 20th century progressed, Creative Freedom and the idea of ‘free play’ and escapism; and Eco-Innovations and the use of environmentally sustainable materials to create beautiful, enduring products for children. Alongside the formal display are a series of children’s interactives including Brio and Duplo tables, a little cinema showing Nordic animations, and a recreation of a Norwegian story hut, which I think Bab would have loved even more if there’d been a few Moomin books scattered around for her to read while she was in there.

Overall this is the sort of beautiful exhibition you wish you could catalogue-shop afterwards (at the very least you can buy a few related bits in the shop on your way out) – but if you’ve got a fugitive child and actually want to learn something while you’re here I’d definitely recommend bringing the buggy upstairs so you can imprison them – at least long enough for you to read the captions. That or just come by yourself (if you can) – you won’t regret it.


Bab explores Century of the Child: Nordic Design for Children 1900 to Today at V&A Museum of Childhood. The exhibition runs from 30th March until 2nd September.