Contemporary Style Defined

FInd out how to add contemporary design to your home

By Lisa Frederick

Many people confuse contemporary design with modern, but they're actually two separate animals. Modern refers to a defined aesthetic that's rooted in the early- to mid-20th century, while contemporary is a broader term referring to a dramatic departure from the constraints of traditional style. It favors sparse over cluttered, plain over ornate, and free-form over symmetrical. (See 1000s of contemporary rooms here.)

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Open Contemporary Family Room by Ayhan Ozan
Room by Ayhan Ozan, photo by Rick Lew

The Basics

Essentially, contemporary style does more with less. Furnishings are streamlined and sleek, with none of the decorative embellishments found on more traditional pieces. Colors tend to be pale and neutral, though contemporary rooms can also accommodate punchy brights and offbeat hues. The overall air is one of spaciousness and simplicity without frills or excess.

These designer rooms display sleek contemporary style:

Get the Look

Does contemporary style resonate with you? Here's how to get the look.

Soho Sofa
Poliform USA

Monochromatic colors. Build your palette around varied tones of neutral basics such as white, gray, beige, chocolate, and black. If you're a color fan, you can certainly go for it; just stick to one or two vivid hues and work the contrast—perhaps a red accent wall and an orange leather sofa. Or choose more subtle shades that look sophisticated and a little edgy, such as olive, steel blue, and muted plum.

Crisp lines. Furnishings and accents in this style are straight forward and simple. Lines tend to follow a horizontal-vertical axis, balanced by a few curves and angles. Choose strong geometric shapes such as rectangular sofas, square tables, and round ottomans over pieces with less direct forms.

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