Design 101: What Are the Pillars of Contemporary Design?

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Do you love contemporary design? Do you wonder how some people know how to put together all the right elements to create a contemporary designed home that looks fabulous?

Well, it’s not a secret. Yes, there is an art to contemporary interior design. But it’s also a science that anyone can learn.

So what makes a room contemporary? By the time you finish reading this blog post, you’ll know the answer.

In this post, you’ll discover the pillars of contemporary design, including its elements, surfaces, colors and more.

Let’s get to it!

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The Pillars of Contemporary Design Defined

Contemporary design means the design of today. And it’s constantly evolving. The actual term was defined in the industry during the 1970s, but it’s existed for centuries.

Today’s vintage was yesterday’s contemporary design during the Art Deco era or the Victorian Age.

When speaking of today’s contemporary design we see a lot of styles: modern or art deco, midcentury modern and even some traditional pieces tossed in for an eclectic look that is new and popular today.

Because it’s constantly changing, it’s likely the neutral colors, minimalism and curved lines that define today’s contemporary design palettes will change in the next decade–or maybe even sooner.

Contemporary Design of Today

Although many people think contemporary design is limited to midcentury modern style pieces, there’s much more to its name.

Contemporary design envelopes midcentury modern style, but it also embraces many other styles and periods that make it eclectic in nature. It’s comfortable and adaptable, unlike the modern pieces of furniture from other decades.

Contemporary design encompasses curvy, soft lines, colorful accents, fluffy, overstuffed furniture, layered fabrics, and stand out artwork.

Palettes are neutral with a couple of soft hues. Rooms are spacious. And surfaces are minimalistic, almost bare. Contemporary rooms display color accents to make them pop with a few selected accent pieces and textural contrasts.


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When we talk about interior design, we need to define form. When we discuss form, we mean shape. For instance, modern design features clean, straight, boxy lines.

But contemporary design adds more to the design palette: a combination of straight and curved lines, mirroring the art deco form and shapes popular in Europe in the 1920s and the United States in the 1930s.

Color Me Contemporary

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Neutral colors are the linchpin of contemporary style. These colors include various grades of whites, blacks, and grays for the majority of the color palette.

But it’s not unusual to see a touch of color used as accent shades in contemporary style rooms. A splash of bold color against a backdrop of neutrals can really make a room pop.

Think toss pillows in a living room, bold accessory pieces or an oversized painting displaying rich colors. If walls are painted in bright hues, make sure to put neutrals throughout the room to create a contemporary balance.


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You’ll find a variety of lighting fixtures in contemporary home design as well as contemporary offices. Use spotlights to draw attention to particular pieces to add focus such as paintings, posters or photo walls. Spotlights will focus the eye on special pieces you want to draw attention to. Place sculptural structures with a spotlight up higher by putting them on a pedestal or stand. Hang framed artwork at eye level.

Other types of lighting used in contemporary design include recessed lighting and track lighting. Yes, the 80s are back! These types of lighting help flood a wall with light, creating a beautiful effect.

Play with color and elements by using colorful and metallic surfaces to your lighting fixtures.

Indirect light creates a nice touch in contemporary rooms as well. If you’re doing a remodel or new construction, consider installing cove lights for a contemporary look.


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To make artwork blend into contemporary rooms, choose frames in matte black, natural wood, metal or high-gloss black. They make a great statement to frame your artwork!

What’s important with artwork for contemporary design is to avoid clutter. If you want to hang more than a couple of pieces on one wall, make sure to hang them close to each other so they give the illusion of one large piece of artwork. Don’t place too many pieces on one wall as it will crowd the space. A crowded space is not what you’re after in a contemporary room.

In contemporary interior design, creating an open space is the key element in maintaining your design theme.


To create a contemporary style floor, use tile, wood or vinyl flooring. Carpeting can take away from a contemporary look. But if you must use it to keep your feet warm or to block out sound, use an industrial or commercial grade.

Add some contemporary texture and color by placing a solid in another shade or geometric-shaped area rug over the carpeting.

Contemporary Furniture

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For a contemporary look throughout your space, keep furniture simple and free from clutter. Don’t get furniture that’s too curvy or overly decorated with print patterns.

You want clean, smooth lines. Choose upholstered couches and accent chairs in white, black and neutral tones. A geometrical-designed pillow provides a great contemporary accent.

You also want your furniture in natural fibers. Some choices included cotton, wool, linen, and silk. Add a jute piece or a rug to add some texture.

Give your Stressless sofa a splash of color with textured pillows with clean, geometric patterns for some contemporary pizzaz and a hint of texture. Or use a neutral background and make your sofa pop with a bold color that makes a statement.

Less is More

Simple is better. Choose couches, ottomans, and chairs with exposed legs in wood as opposed to legs covered in fabrics if you’re buying new furniture.

Stay away from ruffles, frills, bed skirts, fringes, tassels, and floral prints on beds or living room furniture. Remember, contemporary style design commands clean, straight lines.

Hello to basic, simple, structural and bold. Goodbye to small and cute.

Tables and Accent Pieces

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Want to make your coffee table and end tables combine well in your contemporary-designed living room?

Then decorate your space using metal, stone, clear glass or opaque surfaces. They’ll blend well with your furniture, artwork, walls, and floors.

Your friends will think you’ve mastered contemporary interior design!

Contemporary Dining Touches

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Looking for the perfect contemporary dining room? Then your dinnerware has to match!

Consider dishes in bold hues and geometric patterns. Add texture with a centerpiece, placemats, napkins, and silverware.

But make sure to keep the dining room neutral with bold, colorful accents like the rest of the house.

The Final Touch of Contemporary Design

You now know the pillars (and secrets) of contemporary design and how to create a home that radiates a contemporary motif and palette. From form to color to furniture, dining and more, you’ve got this!

Want to discover beautiful and contemporary Scandivanian interior design trends? They’re one of the hottest topics in home design. Explore our blog where you’ll find a variety of exciting content for design aficionados or browse our showroom featuring a treasure trove of stunning furniture and more.

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