A Designer Guide to Decorating in a Contemporary Style

You might like a contemporary style of decorating if you like to keep current with styles, enjoy things that are modern, of today, right now.

While it's been thought that modern interiors are cold and minimalist, today's contemporary interiors are comfortable and welcoming without being cluttered and dark. It's a style that is equally appropriate for offices and stores, lofts and homes. A contemporary style home can be a quiet and comfortable retreat.

To achieve the look of a contemporary home, it's important to stick to some basic rules.

Fundamentally, simplicity, subtle sophistication, texture and clean lines help to define contemporary style decorating. Interiors showcase space, rather than things. By focusing on color, space, and shape, contemporary interiors are sleek and fresh.


  • Neutrals, black, and white are the main colors in contemporary style interiors.

  • The palette is often punched up and accented with bright and bold color.

  • Black is often used to ground and define a contemporary style room.

  • With walls painted in a basic neutral, you have a wonderful backdrop for bold colored accessories.

  • If the walls and windows are painted in pastels, the trims should be neutral. If a wall is a bright, bold color, neutrals should be used everywhere else.

Line and Space

The most obvious and distinctive element of a contemporary style interior design is line.

It's found in architectural details, use of bold color blocks, high ceilings, bare windows, and geometric shapes in wall art and sculpture. The bare space, on walls, between pieces of furniture, and above in upper areas, becomes as important as the areas filled with objects.

In contemporary interiors, less is more. Each piece stands out as individual and unique.

Take advantage of structural elements. Air ducts may hang from a ceiling, broken bricks provide texture and stability, and exposed plumbing pipes are perfectly acceptable in a contemporary style interior. To draw the eye, paint these structural details in bold contrasting colors, or to diminish their importance, blend them with the walls.

Contemporary Style Furniture

Smooth, clean, geometric shapes are essential for contemporary style furniture pieces. Upholstered furniture often wears black, white, or other neutral tones in textured natural fibers. Cover it in a neutral, black, or bold fabric. Fabrics often have a natural look found in wool, cotton, linen, silk, jute, and add textural appeal.

Furniture pieces should be simple and uncluttered, without curves or decoration. Sofas, chairs, and ottomans have exposed legs. Beds and chairs usually have no skirt, trim, fringe, or tassels.

Pillows add a shot of color and texture in clean geometric shapes.

Keep in Mind

  • Use furniture and accessories to make a bold statement in contemporary style interior. Use a basic background and shout out with your favorite color on a piece that will stand out.

  • Less is more! In a contemporary style interior, don't use ruffles, excessive carved details, fringe, or floral prints. Abolish cute and small. Go basic, bare, bold, and structural.

  • Floors in a contemporary style home should be bare and smooth in wood, tile, or vinyl. If you must use carpet for sound control or warmth, choose commercial grades. Add color and texture with plain or geometric-patterned area rugs.

Contemporary style decorating has distinct characteristics and elements that are evident.

Here are ways to incorporate some of those contemporary design elements into your interior space:

  • Generous use of metal, stone, and opaque or clear glass works well in a room decorated in a contemporary style. To soften and warm up the space, add heavily textured fabrics in plain colors for window treatments, pillows, or rugs.

  • Colorful, fussy prints should be avoided, since they confuse a plain space that is key to a contemporary style home. Two-tone prints work well. Think about a zebra print pillow on a black leather chair, a large leopard-print pillow thrown on a plain floor, or bold, heavily textured striped rug to anchor solid colored, sleek furniture.

  • Individual pieces are very important in a contemporary style interior and lighting fixtures should be selected to focus on specific pieces. Each light fixture could be a work of art itself with sculptural details and clean lines. Add color and metallic elements on the light fixtures.

  • In a contemporary style room, use spotlights or can lighting directed at a painting, poster, or print. These will help to draw the eye to the pieces you want to focus on.​

  • Track lighting and recessed lighting help to wash a wall in light. In home renovations or new construction, consider installing cove lighting or indirect light.

  • Contemporary style sculptures or art on a stand can be placed at eye level by using a structural column or pedestal. Again, be sure the piece is well-lighted.

  • Don't clutter the contemporary style rooms with collections or too many pieces. Open space is just as, if not more, important as the pieces you put in the space.

  • Plants and flowers should be large and dramatic in simple containers placed in contemporary rooms. Large blooms with interesting leaves work better than small arrangements. If space allows, place upward focusing lights around a large plant on the floor. Keep the arrangements neat with rocks or bark chips arranged over the dirt.

  • Frames in high-gloss or matte black, natural wood, or metal finishes are great for artwork. If you must put several pieces together, hang them close together so they give the feeling of one large piece instead of many small pieces.

  • In a contemporary style dining room, keep dinnerware contemporary, too. There are a number of geometric shapes, bold colors, and interesting styles available. Bring in texture with lwith silverware, napkins, placemats and centerpieces.

The Spruce - A Designer Guide to Decorating in a Contemporary Style

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