Contemporary design style is defined by its subtle sophistication, simplicity, clean lines and deliberate use of texture. This is a style that focuses on color, shape and space. In fact, it showcases space rather than things.
Overall, Contemporary Style is based today on the features of:
- Hard surfaces made of natural materials
- Clean, sharp lines - vertical, horizontal or curved
- 90-degree angles on furniture
- Minimal form and simplicity
- Pieces chosen for their individuality and uniqueness
- Space over stuff - less is more
- Impressive lighting and use of natural light
- Black, white and neutral color palettes with colorful accents
- Current artwork and technology
Background to Contemporary Style
Born in the 1970s, Contemporary Style is the most misconstrued style in the world of design and often thought not a truly definitive style at all.
This confusion hails from its blend of styles and borrowed elements from modernism and postmodernism with ideas plucked from deconstructivism, futurism and art deco - all leading to a unique vision. Now, it’s all about what is trendy or more specifically, it’s defined by its departure from traditional design principles. Contemporary style is considered a fluid style that breaks rules, rather than making them.
Contemporary Style Influences
Some state that Contemporary Style began with influences of the 1920s, most notably Charles Edouard Jeanneret (most commonly known as Le Corbosier) and a group including Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, Mies van der Rohe and Charlotte Perriand. Undeniably the style evolved until the 1970s when it clearly distinguished itself from modernism.
Notable Contemporary Style Designers
Most notable Contemporary Style designers pull from both the architectural, design and art worlds:
- Kenzo Tange (architect)
- Frank Gehry (architect)
- Louise Bourgeois
- Jeff Koon
Key Characteristics of Contemporary Style
The most distinctive element of Contemporary Style is the line. Straight vertical lines, horizontal lines, or even curved shapes. Strong lines are visible and embraced in the design. These lines can be found in architectural details, in the upper areas of a space, and in the use of bold color blocks.
After lines, the striking elements of this style are bare space on walls, between furniture and in the upper zones of rooms, and the premise that less is more, where each piece of furniture stands out as unique and individual.
This style embraces architectural and structural elements such as suspended air ducts, old brickwork, and exposed plumbing. These elements can be painted in bold and contrasting colors to draw the eye, or blended in with wall or ceiling colors to lessen their impact.
Features of Contemporary style are angles and clean lines, minimal furnishings, open space and natural light. While this may appear the same as for modern design, contemporary is more welcoming and comforting.
Contemporary design style materials relied heavily on the use of sustainable and organic materials such as solid wood furniture and wooden panels for floors and walls - in light wood tones and stains. This style also incorporates more innovative materials of limestone, marble and granite in flooring, walls and kitchen surfaces.
Metallic and glass surfaces continue the style of simplicity and clean liens. Nickel, chrome and stainless steel are popular material choices however copper, gold, brushed and polished brass can create the same style whilst adding warmth.
Contemporary Style is defined by its use of neutrals, black and white. Black is typically used for grounding and defining. Bold and bright colors are used for their ability to play against the selected neutrals.
If walls are neutral then bold accessories are used. If the walls are pastel then trims are neutral. If walls are bright then neutrals should be used everywhere else.
Furnishing a Contemporary Style Home
Each piece of furniture selected should make a bold statement and yet, be simple and uncluttered. Furniture should be without curves or decoration - clean, smooth and geometric shapes - designs should be basic, bare, bold and structural. If the furniture is upholstered the colors should be black, white or in a neutral tone and the fabrics should be made up of wool, cotton, silk, linen or jute to add textural appeal. Choose chairs, sofas and ottomans with exposed legs of natural wood or metallic finishes.
Flooring should be smooth and bare, made from wood, tile or vinyl. If carpet is required it should be commercial grade. To add warmth and comfort, select rugs of a plain or geometric pattern.
Track or recessed lighting works best in a Contemporary Styled home to wash a wall in light but also consider spotlights to highlight an appropriate print, poster or painting. Sculptures or framed artwork should be placed at eye level. If hanging multiple pieces of artwork, place closely so it appears as one large piece of art. Artwork should be framed in matte or high gloss black, natural wood or metallic finished frames.
Plants and flowers should be dramatic and large but in simple containers. Generously use metal, stone and opaque or clear glass. Add textured fabrics in plain colours for soft furnishings such as rugs, cushions and window treatments.
Accessories should be selected for impact remembering that less is more and that simplicity and space rule in furnishing a Contemporary Style home.