Design Spotlight: Contemporary

Unlike other interior design styles with distinct time frames, contemporary design is ever-changing. Sometimes people mistake modern and contemporary design styles as being the same, since the words alone have similar connotations outside the design world. While the two styles do overlap in some regards, contemporary design encompasses the essence of the current period, and therefore withstands time.

Modern vs. Contemporary Design

Modern design describes a period of time that first emerged between the 1920s and 1950s that is actually an abbreviation for Mid-Century Modern. Contemporary design is whatever is taking place in the present design moment, or whatever is trending. This does not mean that it has to be a new idea or something that is necessarily new to the interior design scene; sometimes contemporary design includes throwbacks to other design eras. Right now, for example, we see a lot of modern design style elements represented in our contemporary furniture design.

Current Contemporary Interior Design Characteristics

Since contemporary design techniques are always changing, the way contemporary is defined today may be different from how it will be defined 10 or 20 years from now. Right now contemporary styles feature elements of other design thoughts that emerged in the second half of the 20th century. Some designers are even labeling the current contemporary design push as “West Coast contemporary” because of its distinctly California feel.


If you want to design your home or business with trends that are popular right now, you’ll want to incorporate these signature techniques and characteristics:


Open floor plans.

Boxy homes or businesses are out (for now), replaced by open floor plans that use furniture or rugs to define individual spaces instead of walls. These floorplans often make use of natural lighting to give an even larger feel.


Neutral colors.

In general, contemporary design relies on neutral colors like cream, beige, brown and taupe. Sometimes white is used as a statement and if other bright colors show up they are general used to accent a room – not to serve as the main color palette.


Large windows.

In keeping with the atmosphere of openness, large windows provide even less of a barrier between the inside and outside and give the people inside an elevated feeling of space. You can expect to see skylights, floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding glass doors that allow a flow of atmosphere from the outside into the home.


Clean lines.

The ornate look of other design styles, like Moroccan, are absent in contemporary design (again, this is speaking to the present moment). Furniture pieces have smooth surfaces and avoid adornments or carvings. Woods that have minimal graining like birch and maple are used in furniture, as is stainless steel.


Industrial materials.

Since there is a tendency to not want adornment or patterns in contemporary design, smooth industrial materials like stainless steel show up in everything from furniture to lighting fixtures to pieces of wall art. These pieces can be used as a simple statement or define an entire space.


Sleek lighting.

Like the furniture of contemporary design, both permanent and temporary lighting are clean in design. Expect to see recessed or track lighting and when there are lamps in use, they will be sophisticatedly sleek.


Natural fabrics.

Since contemporary style uses neutral colors, it makes sense that the fabrics would follow suit. You will see a lot of undyed cotton, linen, silk and wool in contemporary design. Statement pieces, like brightly colored throw pillows or bedspreads, may add some additional color to the space but will not make up the main color palette of the space.



There is a big push right now for homes to be as eco-friendly as possible and that shows up in the way these spaces are designed. Some ways that people can achieve a look of sustainability include recycling/repurposing other furniture instead of buying it new, using materials like bamboo that are considered renewable, and looking for items that have been made in environmentally-friendly ways that leave a minimal carbon footprint.


Uncluttered aesthetic.

WhContemporary Tableen it comes to contemporary design, less really is more. Don’t expect to see a lot of extra pieces that aren’t functional in a room. An end table, for example, will only have a lamp in contemporary design and not incorporate other things like framed photos or pieces of art.



Homes with contemporary design are meant to be lived in, and enjoyed. This doesn’t mean a lack of sophistication, though. It simply means choosing a style that makes sense for the space and will be welcoming to the people who live there.

Important Contemporary Designers

Understanding the latest trends in contemporary design, and when to incorporate other styles alongside them, takes some talent and there are certainly some people who excel at it. If you are looking for contemporary design inspiration, be sure to check out the work of these interior designers:


Victoria Hagan

The best way to describe Hagan design aesthetic is “crisp and uncluttered.” She is famous for blending the demands of modern life with sophisticated contemporary design elements. Hagan implements stripes and brightly colored pieces of art or accessories to bring a little more fun to contemporary spaces and counts comedian Conan O’Brien on her client list.


Darryl Carter

Life as a Washington D.C. lawyer just wasn’t for him, and Carter quit that day job to pursue interior design instead. He blends neutral fabrics with natural woods, and infuses bright white to make statements in his spaces. He is known to use the natural tendencies of a room, like wood beams, to accent the rest of what he is designing.


Suzanne Kasler

With roots in Atlanta, Kasler’s contemporary design infuses old-fashioned Southern hospitality with the ease of present-day living. She blends European design aesthetics, particularly Italian influences, in her rooms that are generally neutral but do provide an occasional pop of color for effect.


Jeffrey Bilhuber

With an emphasis on comfort, Bilhuber is heavily influenced by American design and keeping items in a home well-organized. He has designed for David Bowie and Vogue’s infamously picky editor, Anna Wintour.


Charlotte Moss

Moss implements “livable glamour” in her spaces that are inspired by American, English and European influences. She often infuses touches of classicism in her designs, giving the space an elegant appeal that is still big on comfort.