Contemporary design is not easy to pinpoint because, as its name suggests, it is ever changing. Its fluidity places it apart from modern design, which refers to the staid timeframe from around the 1920s through the 1950s. Today’s contemporary design won’t be the same as the contemporary design of the 2030s because of its roots in the moment. But, generally speaking, contemporary design basically represents a redirection from the customs of traditional design and décor.
In this article, we’re going to take a look at 20 traits for furniture that would find their place in today’s contemporary design. Of course, because contemporary design borrows bits and pieces from other décor eras, the potential for eclecticity is high; however, if you follow the one rule of design that maintains you should choose what you love, you will be able to create a space within contemporary design that you love for years to come.
Mid Century Modern Vibe.
Although “modern” and “contemporary” are words often used interchangeably in design, they are not exactly the same. Modern refers to a specific time period (early to mid 20th century, in fact), while contemporary design is design of the moment. Right now, however, the two words are often used together because many elements of mid century modern design – particularly furniture – are incorporated into contemporary spaces.
Simple, Clean Lines.
In traditional furnishings, the more detailed and ornate the elements, the more desirable and luxe the piece would be. This is not necessarily the case in contemporary furniture, although comfort and quality are still important. Contemporary designs, quite like mid century modern designs, involve a simplification of the detailing and an innate clean-lined aspect.
Despite the emphasis on the horizontal-vertical relationship, contemporary design maintains its balance with some curving variations. These, of course, revolve largely around simple geometric forms, though, such as waves, circles, and cylinders.
Along with the clean lines of contemporary furniture, smooth planes are preferred in contemporary design today. Where ornamentation was once popular, the current shift is toward much more straightforward furniture faces where appropriate.
No Slipcovers or Skirts.
For the highest amount of design impact, contemporary furniture eschews slipcovers and skirts. Those types of details actually detract from the clean lines and striking profiles of the piece itself. To keep the bare legs of furnishings in balance, contemporary design will generally involve something low-slung, like a sofa or coffee table, or even some cylindrical end tables to add a little floor-level gravitas.
Contemporary design often thrives on the eclectic side of the spectrum. This is largely because the very nature of “contemporary” is ever-changing, pulling in facets of a variety of styles, times, and places. It is no surprise, then, that contemporary furnishings and accessories involve unique shapes.
There is a subtle difference between “unique” and “offbeat,” and contemporary design involves them both. Where unique simply can refer to the originality or uncommon aspects of a given piece, contemporary pieces with an offbeat vibe embrace the quirky, kitschy, or peculiar…and turn it into contemporary chic.
Neither Warm Nor Cold.
Where traditional design bends over backwards to accentuate all the warmth and welcome that inanimate objects could possibly exude, modern design tends to err on the other side of the spectrum. Contemporary design, however, puts both feet into neither of those pools but rather hangs out in the space between. It’s neither overly jaunty or chilly; rather, the blend might be seen as reserved but friendly.
Contemporary design loves the concept of blurring the line between interior and exterior furnishings. What was traditionally “porch furniture” is now used in a sophisticated way in contemporary interiors, for example. This sort of thumbing-the-nose stylistic rebellion is viewed as liberating and delightful.
“Contemporary design celebrates what isn’t there as much as what is”.Similar to modern design, contemporary design embraces an open concept in its furnishings. Plenty of “white space,” whether perceived or actual, is incorporated into contemporary furniture. Leggy and airy-looking pieces are the norm, balanced with a piece or two of low-lying visual substance.
While contemporary design often prefers bare floors, this is not a requirement. Contemporary area rugs are chosen strategically to fit the design of the space – they are often of a simple textural weave or geometric design. Carpet tile grids are also a popular contemporary option.
Sparkle & Shine.
Polished, high-gloss surfaces are quite at home on furnishings within contemporary design. This might include any finish such as lacquer, chrome, glass, steel, plastic, and many more. The reflectivity of these materials bounces and reflects light throughout the space; contemporary furnishings tend to incorporate mixed materials for depth and variance. Of course, the shine should be balanced with strategic elements such as matte faces or textural ribbed glass.
Trim, finishes, and accents on furniture of contemporary design may include plenty of natural elements. Stone is common, as is wood such as cedar or fir. These natural touches are an extension of the “bring the outdoors inside” concept continuum, and they serve to soften the straightforwardness of contemporary furnishings.
Colorful, detailed prints on upholstered pieces have been replaced in contemporary design with solid fabrics, or at the very least subtle patterns. This is in keeping with the simplification of aesthetic busy-ness that is desirable today.
Large Yet Simple Art.
To adorn the bare walls that generally accompany contemporary design spaces, overscale art pieces are often an excellent choice. Some popular contemporary options include simple gallery art walls (especially black and white photos), unframed or clean-framed canvases, or maybe an edgy piece or two.
Contemporary design builds its foundation on sophisticated neutrals, such as white, cream, beige, tan, grey, and black. Contemporary furniture often follows a monochromatic or analogous color palette within these neutrals while using its clean lines and smooth surfaces for visual interest and emphasis, although the occasional “pop of color” is incorporated where necessary for stylistic energy.
In a contemporary home overall, comfort is among the top priorities within the scope of design. This holds true for furnishings of contemporary design as well. The most clean-lined of sofas will not do in a contemporary space if it lacks the real-life comfort factor required by the home’s residents.
As the globe shifts to prioritizing sustainability and renewability, contemporary design inherently includes that conscientious desire. Sustainable materials, including but not limited to bamboo and wool, are also used a great deal in contemporary furnishings.
A Minimal Feel.
In today’s world, where “less is more” is becoming the trend, minimalism extends into the design of contemporary furniture as well. Minimalistic accessories and accents are preferred over large collections or displays. Poignant vignettes, again with plenty of white space, have taken the place of surface-covering décor exhibits.
Quality over Quantity.
Certainly, quality over quantity is the name of the game with contemporary design, in both the furniture itself and the compilation of the entire space. This correlates precisely with the mantra that less is more. Contemporary design would rather have a single, excellent chair in a space than two sofas of poor taste.