Discover Contemporary Style

The truly fascinating thing about contemporary design is that it’s fluid. It’s continuously changing and evolving to reflect our most current ideals and freshest trends in interior design while also giving us glimpses of where a modern lifestyle is headed. So, what is contemporary style? We’re glad you asked.

What Is Contemporary Style?

Contemporary style is like the water right at the lip of the waterfall—fresh and electric as it gathers together state-of-the-art materials, comfort, sophistication and high-end minimalism. The feel is spacious, open and calm, with focus on hard surfaces to create a flow of space and carefully chosen furnishings that typically use a bit of curve or softness to create focal points.

Light is crucial to contemporary style—natural light, powered illumination, reflected light, light in all its forms. Expansive windows, statement lighting, collections of lights, backlighting, uplighting and reflective materials—mirrors, metals, glass, acrylics and even high-quality recycled plastics, for example—all appear as clean, elegant hallmarks of the design. Even floors hold the value of light thanks to gleaming hard surfaces like natural stone tile, polished hardwood planking, bamboo or stained concrete.

Neutrals have long been the mainstay colors of contemporary style, so palettes have typically drawn from the vast assortment of beiges and browns, grays and charcoals, ivories and blacks, and everything in between. Traditionally, designers have added a few small pops or undertones of a single color—often through selective accents. However, new designers are sometimes choosing to add a single color as part of the base palette, adding warmth while still adhering to the clean lines of contemporary style.

To make furnishings compelling, texture and pattern take the stage, making fabrics like linen, wool and crushed velvet and materials like suede, leather, wood and stone high-value. Patterns may be subtle or obvious, geometric or abstract, ethnic or thematic, but whatever the pattern, it should enrich—not overtake—the total contemporary composition.

Since contemporary style relies so heavily on open spaces and has such a distinctive look and feel, it’s important to let that vibe flow throughout a home. It gives a sense of continuity yet lets you create each room around the design elements that serve it best.

Contemporary Style in the Kitchen

Kitchens naturally lend themselves to the contemporary aesthetic and the concept that form should follow function.

Cabinetry is sleek and modular, the impression one of paneled walls promising treasure troves of storage. Options range from solid colors to blond wood to stunning white, deepest black or even stainless. Hardware is streamlined, often a long slim handle to highlight the edge of a door or drawer with a glimmer of silver, brushed nickel or stainless steel.

To maintain the uninterrupted planes, quality appliances are built in, so integral to the design that they almost become art. With contemporary’s nod to state-of-the-art materials, appliances use glass, tinted glass and other reflective surfaces like stainless to advantage and will feature all the latest smart upgrades to avoid distractions like controls.

Lighting is especially important to contemporary kitchens. Kitchen islands and ells as well as eat-in dining areas are all prime settings for a stunningly unique statement light or concentrated collection of lights. With so many high-functioning areas in a kitchen, an assortment of recessed ceiling lighting as well as under-cabinet lighting and toe-kick lighting is also essential.

To keep light moving, contemporary kitchens use surfaces that shimmer, shine, gleam and reflect ceiling to floor. Light wall colors are the perfect backdrop for countertops, backsplashes, floors and even wall claddings that add varying values of light and texture. From polished stone or concrete to composite solid surfaces, metals or wood, the beautiful, quality materials you use set the tone.

Contemporary Style in the Bathroom

The sheer number of hard surfaces involved makes the bathroom a contemporary design delight. It’s all about materials—and light. It’s a place where we expect to see tile, stone or wood gracing the walls or panels of clear glass serving as one. For contemporary design, the bathroom is a powerful place dedicated purely to function that form seeks to beautify.

The clean curves of a soaker tub can take center stage against a wall of textured stone. The glass panels of a steam shower can make walls and limits seem distant. Streamlined cabinetry holds all the necessities for a purposeful life while water-smooth counters align to deceptively simple sinks. Even the toilet is chosen and placed with care.

And, there is light—from windows and from above. Since contemporary style feeds on light, a gorgeous statement light above the tub, pendants or sconces for task lighting, and practical recessed lighting to illuminate even the alcoves and corners provide the layers that make a bathroom functional. Meanwhile, cascading reflected light–from mirrors, glass, porcelain, metals and other polished surfaces—brings the beauty of the entire bathroom to life. If you’ve never thought about it, the light is why spaces tiled from ceiling to floor, for example, or enclosed in glass can be so beautiful. It’s the light.

More than perhaps any other style, for bathrooms, contemporary style lets you create a personal space within your home where the world outside cannot reach.

Contemporary Style in the Living Room

Because they’re common living areas, living rooms and great rooms bring out the best of the signature core elements of contemporary style—the open spaciousness, the natural light streaming through bare windows, and the long lines of flow both horizontal and vertical. Even when rooms aren’t particularly large in measurement, the art of contemporary style can make them feel expansive.

Color palettes are often light to make the most of natural light and artificial illumination and retain an open feel. Lighting is placed throughout the space to create layers of light, but profiles are simple, clean and without ornamentation or other furnishings needed to support their placement. A suspended centerpiece for drama, recessed or dropped serial lighting for general illumination, and wall-based fixtures for specific areas make a solid combination of choices.

Built-in wall-unit consoles, shelves, bars and media centers raise the eye and clear the floor, creating vertical interest with elegant, well-purposed architectural wall cabinetry that eliminates the need for too many floor-bound furnishings. Walls—and sometimes ceilings—incorporate textured elements like cut stone, wood, or fabrics like silk or linen, or they may even feature construction elements like exposed beams.

With contemporary style, furnishings like sofas and chairs are comfortable yet possess a simple, uncluttered style that sets them apart. Often, it’s the curves—the encircling bend of an accent chair, the gentle slope of a sofa’s corners, the gracefully subtle dip in a chair’s back profile or the arced curve of a sectional. Ottomans or a low table may be round, and while colors are typically solids, texture is always present in varying degrees.

Ultimately, contemporary style furnishings work as a focal-point grouping that easily serves the room’s purpose—spending time with family or friends, unwinding with some streaming services or entertaining.

Contemporary Style in the Bedroom

Bedrooms are a place to explore the softer dimensions of contemporary style. You’re still striving for clean, simple lines of flow and a feeling of spaciousness and light. However, the neutrals can include muted shades of soft color or even go a little darker to create a calming space more conducive to sleep. The trick is to still make the space feel light, well-lit and contemporary.

The bed is the focus of the bedroom, so the bed itself is often king-sized, and the wall behind it is a prime focal area for adding texture—a wall cladding, for example, textured fabrics or a single oversized piece of contemporary art. Another wall may hold a recessed fireplace or sleek furniture-grade cabinetry built in to hold clothing or conceal a TV or wet bar, for example. Furniture is kept to a minimum—a table and two chairs, for example, a chaise lounge or a single long chest of drawers. While contemporary style typically demands hard-surface flooring like wood or tile, a neutral area rug strategically placed can add both comfort and texture.

Windows and relaxing views to the outdoors extend the feel of space, light, glass and natural elements. However, in a room meant for sleep, window treatments need to be able to supply privacy and darkness. So, contemporary style window treatments seek to do it simply—discreet blinds that work with the horizontal topline of the window or long ceiling-to-floor drapes that lengthen the vertical line, complement the neutral palette and add texture.

Within the darkness, bedrooms still need light to make it a relaxing space. Contemporary style lighting for the bedroom includes overhead chandeliers that are beautiful in their simplicity, recessed lighting—especially dramatic when arranged in ledge or tray ceilings—small suspended bedside pennants or chandeliers, and the soft glow of backlighting and uplighting.

Is Your Style Contemporary?

So now you know all about the contemporary design style. Are you intrigued? Do you find yourself looking at your home and contemplating whether contemporary style is for you and whether you could actually pull it off? Might it make your life calmer, simpler, more comfortable—more you? Take our Coburn’s Style Finder Quiz, and find out!