While some may refer to contemporary design as “modern” this is not the case. These two styles are quite different. When you study the design elements, the difference becomes apparent.
What is Modern?
Modern refers to a design style that began around the start of the twentieth century and carried on through the seventies and eighties. In other words, modern is a past era, even though this seems counterintuitive.
Modern design elements use a monochromatic scheme, or hues all the same color. The palette tends to be earthy. Modern design also uses natural materials and pared-down, simple details.
If these aspects are modern and not contemporary, then what is contemporary? I am glad you asked.
What is Contemporary?
Contemporary design is what people tend to think of as futuristic. Though this is not exactly true as contemporary can also include popular current trends. In short, contemporary is the latest and greatest. The here and the now, the most recent trends.
What Are Contemporary Designs Origins?
You could say that contemporary design was born out of modernism. Postmodernism rose to popularity in the 1970s. Contemporary design used influences from both this movement, modernism, and other styles like futurism and art deco and blended them together.
Even though it has been around since the 1970s, contemporary design today is nothing like it was then. This is because it is always changing. Remember, it is all about the here and the now, so whatever trends are popular today define contemporary style.
Contemporary Design Elements
It is clearly difficult to pinpoint what is contemporary design. Even though there may be no textbook definition, some elements are still regularly used.
The first is that contemporary design prefers the simple to the ornate. The decor is very pared down and not ostentatious or intricate. Think clean lines instead of complex scrollwork or busy wallpaper.
This “simple” mindset extends from the walls to the furniture and even the decor. Rooms are uncluttered and not busy. Everything appears smooth and streamlined.
Even though contemporary design strives to keep things simple, it frequently showcases a bit of artistic flair. Unique sculptures, collector’s items, and art pieces are popular. They can either blend seamlessly into the background or be a little on the bold side.
When it comes to furniture, clean lines reign supreme. It favors chairs with exposed legs and smooth lines. Seating may also have a futuristic look to it. The curved lines of Eames chairs or club chairs are an outstanding example of the look of contemporary furniture.
Tables, shelves, and countertops are sleek, uncluttered, and minimalistic. Raw and exposed materials are very on-theme. This can include glass, wood, and metal. Also, the more reflective the surface, the better.
One can see how following these design elements may make a room very appealing to the eye, yet not very functional. And, this is true of contemporary design, it sways towards ornamental decor over functionality.
Like modern design, contemporary champions monochromatic colors, but only in a manner of speaking because it does not really use “color”. Greys, whites, and blacks are popular. With an emphasis being put on bold contrast.
But will we still consider these design elements contemporary in a few decades? Who is to say; after all, the style is always evolving.
Wondering How to Get the Contemporary Look?
It is all about the line. A very distinctive feature of contemporary design is clean lines. They can be linear or curved, horizontal, or vertical. But no matter their direction and shape, they should be clearly visible.
Strong, bold lines can be found in both the decor and the negative space. Tables, chairs, counters, shelves, and windows all can display visible lines. Art pieces, clocks, and geometric sculptural elements can impose lines too.
These objects will leave negative space on the walls. And, thanks to the monochromatic color scheme and uncluttered style, the negative space can portray clean, visible lines as well.
The use of color, or lack thereof. Most contemporary designs stick to neutral colors. Common examples are greys, creams, and possibly even some pastels. However, just because contemporary design is monochromatic does not mean that it cannot be bold.
Black is a very trendy shade. It can be very grounding and used wisely, can define a room. Neutral walls also make a great backdrop for more vibrant shades. A splash of color can be added in your art, upholstery, or throw pillows.
Neutral tones are not only achieved by painting the walls however. Exposed structural elements like metal beams, concrete floors, and even wooden braces are often left unfinished and as a result, add to the greige hues of the room. Generous use of glass and reflective surfaces add appeal.
Pared down furniture. Clean, simple, uncluttered. To have strong visible lines, the aesthetic of the room should be smooth, geometric, and straightforward. There can still be statement pieces and conversation starters, but remember, less is more.
The upholstery can boast a pattern, but save it for the texture instead of color. If you do want a hint of vibrancy, go with a furniture piece in a single, solid hue. The mood should be uncomplicated and concise, yet not cold and uninviting.
Spice up your accessories. Simplistic your color scheme and furnishings might be, but boring your room is not. Contemporary design often has an artistic flair. You can afford to go bold and brazen with your decor accessories.
Large structural wall pieces, eye-catching lamps, even small complex table centerpieces can add depth and interest to your space. Feel free to show off your personality.
A Total Commitment
For contemporary style to work, you must be all in. The entire design of your room must be fully committed to clean lines, simplicity, and a focus on space and geometric shapes. Keep your color palette neutral and inviting. Your furniture should be pared down. Your decor accessories can show off your self-expression and add interest. And whatever you do, stay abreast of the current trends.