Contemporary. The word means ‘of the moment’. This is why it is hard to define this particular style of interior design. But that is also what makes it unique and has a history which borrows from different time periods. It has a little bit of everything which is why you will see a little bit of traditional, modern and art deco design. Sometimes, it gets a little futuristic too.
And the only way to define this style of interior design is to say that it is constantly evolving. And that is never a bad thing. Unlike the other styles, which are predefined and need your input for the setup to look creative, contemporary does its own little performance of quirk to make your home look interesting and exciting.
But just to make things a little easy for you, at the moment when we say contemporary, we are saying curvy lines, neutral colors and minimalist design.
The Elements of Contemporary Style
Every design has certain elements that define it. Contemporary is also referred to as modern sometimes not because they are both the same but because they are often mixed and matched for a great outcome. As mentioned before, this style has a little bit of everything. So even though contemporary design is not the same as modern, it does borrow a few elements from the latter.
The kind of contemporary design that is gaining traction today is the one with a heavy mix of minimalism. This is a fluid concept and the design is quite eclectic. It is inspired from different eras unlike (strictly) modern design which follows minimalism, clean lines and balance. Contemporary furniture with a few curves. It also uses the concept of silhouettes whereas modern design uses strong, straight lines.
Contemporary design is a blend of comfort and sophistication while giving a fresh look and feel. This means metals like nickel, stainless steel and chrome are popular choices for furniture in this style concept. Speaking of materials…
The Use of Materials
In the contemporary style of design, metal, stone and glass are used quite generously. Both opaque and clear glass find a home in this design. Heavily textured fabrics are used in plain colors, especially for windows, pillows and rugs.
The idea is to keep the space plain and hence, prints that are colorful and fussy are avoided in this style. The best way to incorporate contemporary style is to use two-tone prints. Let’s look at some examples to understand this.
A zebra print pillow on a black leather chair works. A leopard-print pillow on a plain floor is contemporary. A bold of heavily textured striped rug works on a solid-colored piece of furniture. These are all trademarks of contemporary style of design.
Plants and flowers are also a big part of this design. Large and dramatic flora and fauna in simple containers is the way to go. Large flowers with interesting leaves are a big yes. They are more contemporary than smaller arrangements which are typically found in minimalist presentation. If you have space, you might want to get some upward-focused lights around a large plant. Rocks and bark chips all over the soil in the pots is another classic contemporary presentation.
You can apply this theme in the kitchen too with your dinnerware. Since this style is about shapes and curves, you can include geometric shapes and bold colors to keep the kitchen and dining area interesting. Texture can be introduced through silverware, napkins, placemats and centerpieces.
The use and arrangement of furniture, light, textiles and accessories are at the heart of executing any design decision well. So let’s look at how to use specific pieces in any room of the house.
Furniture and Flooring
Less is more. This is one of the mantras of contemporary design. When selecting furnishings, that is the statement you want to make. Always try to pair them with smooth and clean geometric silhouettes and straight lines. This means you must look for solid finishes and hues made from natural materials and plain and simple surfaces.
If you are looking at upholstered pieces in the living room, you must pick neutral colors but in textures of natural fabrics like cotton, linen, silk, wool and jute. That look will feel a bit dull. So you must add a dash of color with throw pillows. But remember to keep away from loud patterns. The cleaner and concise the room, the more contemporary the mood will be.
Keep it simple and uncluttered without a lot of decoration. Smooth, clean and geometric shapes are at the heart of this design. To this end, it is quite easy to find upholstered furniture in black, white and other neutral colors. A basic background with a piece of furniture in your favorite color will do the trick in terms of making a bold statement. If you are looking for couches, chairs or ottomans, they have exposed legs. Beds and chairs do not have skirts or trims or fringes. Ruffles, carved details in the excess and floral prints must be avoided. Basic, bare, bold and structural is the way to go.
In this style of design, the flooring is bare and smooth in keeping with the theme. So use wood or tiles of vinyl to get the job done. If you want to use a carpet to control sound or heat in the room, go with commercial grades and add color or texture with area rugs. It is quite easy to find plain or geometric-patterned area rugs.
Lighting and Art
Lighting is an important part of interior design. You might think there is hardly any way to control it. But you forget that natural light is not the only way to do this. When you follow contemporary style, look for track and recessed lighting. This helps wash an entire wall in light. Cove or indirect lighting is a big hit with new constructions and renovations. Color and metallic elements on the light fixtures are quite popular too.
If you want to draw attention to a painting or a poster, you can use spotlights or can lighting directed at the piece of art. Sculptures and framed art are also a popular choice among designers when going the contemporary way. Remember that this stuff must be placed at eye level on a column or a pedestal.
High gloss and matte black frames will look fantastic with the neutral color palette. Natural wood or metal finishes will give a beautiful piece of art that extra edge that it so deserves. If you are going to a collage of different pieces, hang them really close to each other to create one large piece.
But don’t use too many pieces as it becomes cluttered and goes against the very idea of this style of design. Open space is a very important part of this style. That rule applies even when dealing with multiple pieces of art on the walls.
Of Colors, Textiles and Accessories
Now, we have mentioned earlier that this style of interior design is all about clean lines and simplicity. But almost every space needs a little texture or tonal pattern so that the color combinations work. Textiles are a great way of making that happen in contemporary design style.
Neutrals, stripes and geometric prints are a way to introduce character to the space. This will not only add depth but also complement the existing contemporary furniture and accessories in the room.
Since there isn’t much to do with colors and furniture, accessories can be a great way to add a pop of color and creativity to any room in the house. This can be done with lamps or decor objects. Artwork and lighting is also another way (which we have already covered). This design is barebones at its best, so it relies on accessories to bring a little freshness to the room.
The best way to do that is to introduce small elements that are great conversation starters. These elements add depth and personality to the minimalistic design.
As mentioned before, neutral colors are very big in contemporary design. Blacks, whites, tans and grays are all used for the most part of the rooms in the house. Bold solid colors make an appearance but that is mostly to add a little color and they are meant to be used as accent colors.
But here’s the thing. You don’t need to introduce a bold color for the sake of adding depth. Sometimes, dark shades of neutral colors can be used to achieve the same. In that case, though, you will need to add texture so that the room does not look dull.
How to Create Contemporary Design
There are a few tips that will help you in creating contemporary design while adding your own brand of creativity to it. Let’s take a look.
- Walls: After dealing with Victorian walls and wallpapers for many years, the modernists moved on to neutral walls and shades of white or gray for the insides.
- Art Pieces: Modernist art which has vibrant colors and unlikely forms is a fantastic addition to contemporary design. Abstract art and cubism are very popular and go well on the walls of a room in contemporary design. In fact, this was the great artistic response to traditional art. A large piece of such art with a small or no frame is a perfect feature. Remember that a gallery wall does not fit well with this style.
- Lines: Pay attention to lines even when you are breaking patterns. Contemporary designs are all about shapes. This echoes in furniture, decor designs and their arrangement too.
- Keep It Clean: Whether it is walls or countertops or mantels, do not put too many items on them. The visible areas of the room must have as little as possible. Get the trinkets out of sight.
- No Moldings Please: Contemporary households don’t need decorative items like moldings and cornices. Choose cabinets and doors in great neutral colors and that will do. A little texture will give them the depth you crave.
- Au Naturel: All you need are items made of wool, cotton, jute, etc. Don’t go for synthetic products and you will be able to retain form and function the way you want to.
- Open Spaces: Don’t worry too much about barriers and partitions. The free flow of air in the room is what makes contemporary worth it. Use the space to place objects that are utilitarian. This is also useful because when you use a variety of geometric shapes, you will need all the space you can get.
Contemporary design is all about both form and functionality. Nothing is just for show. If it is in the room, it has a purpose too. Form is a key aspect of contemporary design. In fact, it can be called a foundational element of this style. Form is what sets contemporary designs apart from modern style which has similar aesthetics.
In this particular case, the discussion over form starts with a conversation about shape. Contemporary spaces are defined by a mix of straight and curved lines. Some of it is a nod to art deco style. You can incorporate this simply by adding architectural elements like a shapely fireplace or a room divider. You could also try getting your furniture or decor elements in interesting curves.
And although the word is often used interchangeably with modern design, contemporary is its own style. From shapes to colors for furniture and windows and walls, there is a lot that contemporary style draws from.
The confusion comes from the fact that there is no set of dates to define contemporary by.
The style is an evolving organism like you and me. It is the amalgamation of many arts and shines uniquely at the same time.
Contmporary design style has its own rules whilst at the same time defying many others. It is a little mid-century modern, with a touch of minimalist while saluting art deco and drawing from borrowing just a bit from industrial.
Why not have a read of our Definitive List Of Design Styles to see if there are any other styles that take your fancy?