Key Components of Contemporary Interior Design

Updated on June 20, 2020
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Linda is a seasoned writer and home-decorating authority. She loves sharing design trends, decor ideas, and useful tips with her readers.


Contemporary design is probably the most misunderstood style in the world of interior design. Unlike other types of design, contemporary design is not really a definitive style. It is often used synonymously with modern design, which is a design movement with specific rules that is tied to a definite period in history.

It is all about what’s trendy now. If you want to be more specific, it could be defined as a departure from traditional design principles. Contemporary is considered a fluid style that often breaks the rules rather than making them. In fact, contemporary design borrows elements from other periods and styles to create a unique vision.

Contemporary style emphasizes clean lines and angles, just like modern design. It also relies heavily on minimal furnishings, open spaces and natural light. While these similarities tend to create confusion between the two styles, contemporary is more comfortable and welcoming than its modern counterpart.

While it's difficult to pin down contemporary design, you can isolate a style identified by its simplicity. Contemporary leans toward linear design and simple ornamentation, but you can add warmth and texture through natural fabrics, pops of understated color and curvaceous shapes. A good rule of thumb for creating contemporary design is to use a neutral color scheme, casual furnishings and organic-inspired accessories.

In contemporary interiors negative space is also considered part of the design. In other words, an empty space can work just as well as a furnished space. However, an expansive space with too few furnishings can feel cold and impersonal. Incorporate furniture, art and accessories that relate to its size and scale.

Colors and Fabrics

Neutral colors like white, taupe, beige, brown, cream, black and gray create the foundation of contemporary design. Consider monochromatic or tone-on-tone color palettes to pull together a quintessential contemporary space. Choose neutral shades with interesting undertones, such as gray with blue, dusty rose or ecru with a hint of ochre. Bring in pops of color with artwork, upholstery or a focal wall.

Organic fabrics look quite natural in contemporary spaces. Linen, silk, wool and cotton add texture, warmth and visual interest. Solid fabrics are preferable but you can still add pattern through geometric and abstract prints in the form of decorative pillows, rugs or a throw.

These interior paint hues work well with fabric colors.
These interior paint hues work well with fabric colors. | Source


Choose furnishings to reinforce the clean lines and smooth surfaces inherent in contemporary design. Avoid furniture with ornate carving or over-ornamentation. Keep profiles slim but substantial. Brighten things up by using light wood tones and stains in shades like blond maple or natural birch.

Glass and metallic surfaces also keep the mood light. Stainless steel, nickel and chrome are popular but polished and brushed brass, gold and copper achieve the same effect while adding visual warmth. Stay away from loose slipcovers and skirted seating. Upholstered furniture should look tailored and free of fuss.

Furniture with clean lines and smooth surfaces give a room that contemporary look and feel.
Furniture with clean lines and smooth surfaces give a room that contemporary look and feel. | Source

Lighting and Flooring

Lighting is of the utmost importance in contemporary interiors. Table and floor lamps make an artistic statement with angles, arches and straight lines. Metallic finishes contrast with natural linen or burlap shades. Recessed and track fixtures are used for task and accent lighting. Simple chandeliers and pendants help diminish the height of a tall ceiling.

Flooring options in contemporary design favor hard surfaces versus wall-to-wall carpeting. Natural stone tile, dramatic dark wood planks or stained concrete ground the space much the same as area rugs and carpet. However, in colder regions, area rugs are a necessity. Avoid traditional styles like Orientals or overly feminine florals. Natural fiber rugs such as seagrass, jute or sisal give contemporary rooms a relaxed, inviting look and feel.

Metallic lighting fixtures give the room a sparkle that contrasts against the textural hard surface flooring.
Metallic lighting fixtures give the room a sparkle that contrasts against the textural hard surface flooring. | Source

Green and Adaptive Design

Eco-friendly design elements and materials are quite popular in contemporary home design. Sustainable bamboo flooring or recycled glass countertops are ideal choices for current architecture. Skylights can help cut down on electricity usage during the winter months. Solar panels and other energy-saving features are the perfect complement to this popular design style.

Increasingly common are adaptive features that evolve with a family’s needs. Movable walls and partitions, pocket doors, first floor master suites, wide halls and doorways, easy access showers and finished basements give homeowners the opportunity to occupy one residence for an entire lifetime. Adaptive design is well-suited for young families that can accommodate multi-generational housing needs and allow them to age in place.

A green multi-general home with semi-private living spaces including front and rear entrances.
A green multi-general home with semi-private living spaces including front and rear entrances. | Source

Basics of Contemporary Design:

  1. Minimal form

  2. Muted hues with colorful accents

  3. Current artwork

  4. Impressive lighting

  5. Hard surfaces

  6. Trendy technology

  7. Function over form

© 2018 Linda Chechar

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