Everything you Need to Know to Create the Perfect Contemporary Interior Design


White Contemporary living room


There’s a lot of confusion about what contemporary interior design is so before we break it down let’s explore what it means. The words contemporary and modern and used interchangeably but they’re actually quite different, 

Contemporary refers to the design of the moment. It’s all about what’s current and on trend although it does borrow quite regularly from design in the past. Contemporary design is fluid and you’ll see a change every decade to adjust to the change in current styles. The most confusing aspect of contemporary design is that it can’t be nailed down because it’s an ever evolving thing.  If you’re ever confused just refer to the definition of contemporary “belonging to or occurring in the present”.

Modern design on the other hand, was born during the mid-twentieth century. This was the time of the modern art movement and modern design stays rooted in the past. It’s a more clearly defined style that is clean and simple design with strong ties to Europe, particularly Italy, Germany and Scandinavian architecture and design. 

So if it’s always evolving how do we define contemporary design? Let’s explore what it takes to create a fabulous contemporary space.




The Colour Palette

Now we know that contemporary design is always evolving and that means the colours will change with the times. It’s also fair to say that the perfect contemporary interior design tends towards neutrals overall. Unlike traditional design that we recently discussed (read the blog post here) where the colours are deep and saturated, contemporary will feel lighter and more airy.

There is a strong pull towards contrast and you’ll often see the foundation of a contemporary space include white paired with gray, navy or tan. Over the last 10-15 years we’ve seen a lot of spaces with white walls and either gray or black furnishings. In a lot of ways this mimics modern design which always relies on the strong contrast of black and white. This year we started to see more saturated colours introduced so you can expect that to be reflected in contemporary spaces. Read this post to learn about colour trends for 2022.

Where things differ between the two styles is that contemporary interior design has pops of bold colour. There’s a tendency towards highly saturated colours that are clean and bright. In the last few decades we see almost no pastels being used but that could change in the future.

Something that identifies contemporary design is the artwork and decor. Art tends to be bold in colour but simple in design. There are a lot of large abstract pieces that make a statement in the room. Decor is abstract and sculptural and often, less is more. 


beige living room with black contemporary light fixture

SOURCE: Studio Aminato


The Furniture

Contemporary furniture generally has very clean lines with strong architectural shapes. Avoid shapes that are overstuffed or have a lot of curves and rounded silhouettes. You will find that most contemporary furniture stays away from anything fussy. There shouldn’t be any excessive detailing like nailheads, fringes, tassels or intricate carving. 

Upholstered pieces tend to be geometric in shape with pieces built for comfort. You’ll see deep seats meant for lounging as opposed to formal seating with narrow seats and tight backs. 

Case goods change with the time but there is a consistent use of glass and metal in contemporary design. Since contemporary is embracing what’s new in design you’ll see current textures implemented in these designs first. We’re currently seeing a trend in wood that is light to mid-toned with some black for contrast. There’s a lot of reeded wood and caning detail that is being introduced so you can expect to see that stick around for the next few years.



gray contemporary sofa with bold artwork

SOURCE: Studio Giancarlo Valle


The Fabric

Think simple and solid when you’re selecting fabrics for your contemporary interior design. You want to go with very neutral fabrics and limited patterns. You definitely won’t be using florals, checks or even stripes if they’re too wide. 

Furniture will have plain fabrics with some geometric or textural fabrics as pillows, blankets, etc. Texture is important in contemporary design so if you’re really not into patterned fabrics, just use some of today’s most popular fabrics like boucle which is heavy on the texture. 

Window coverings will be unfussy and simple. There is no need for tie backs or fringe with a contemporary style. When there’s no need for privacy, windows can have simple panels that aren’t functional but just adding a softness to the space. For operational window coverings, simple is best. 


Not sure what your design style is? Take my Design Quiz here. You’ll get instant results PLUS a free Moodboard describing the essential elements of your style.

Contemporary living room

SOURCE: Elle Decoration


The Architecture

It’s hard to define contemporary architecture but currently we can identify the architecture as very sleek with clean lines. Ceilings are often high but with no ornamentation. So there won’t be any crown moulding, cove ceiling design or even wall detailing. 

If you’re adding a fireplace to your contemporary space you might be looking at the longer, more linear style that embraces sleek and clean. We’ve been seeing a lot of marble slabs in place of small brick patterns. This just enhances the simple design of the space. 

For the last couple of years there’s been a strong inclusion of curves being reintroduced to contemporary homes. Rounded archways are a common request in renovations. If you haven’t already seen an abundance of those, you will soon enough.

There is often a lot of natural light and a tendency towards oversized windows to take advantage of the light and the landscape. 

The lighting used for contemporary design is simple with not a lot of ornamentation. It’s sleek and has straight or curved lines but it relies on shape rather than decoration to make a statement.


Contemporary living room with oversized black light fixture



The Layout

Floor plans are open and it’s not unusual for the entire main floor of a contemporary home to be wide open with few walls dividing the spaces. Instead, there’s a tendency towards using rugs to define separate areas. 

Instead of the symmetrical look that we see in traditional design, contemporary is about asymmetrical furniture layouts. Sectionals are a popular replacement for the standard sofa and two chairs. Furniture may be mixed and matched but the consistent theme will be in the simplicity, including in the layout. Don’t overstuff your contemporary space. It needs airiness and space to move about.


Contemporary living room

SOURCE: 79th Build


I hope you have a better understanding of the contemporary interior design style but overall, just remember that the aesthetic is sleek, sophisticated and functional. It’s a minimalist approach and lends itself to a calm and less fussy environment. But having said that, who knows what tomorrow holds for contemporary design. 




If you know your design style but you struggle with which paint to use, take a look at my Made-For-You paint palettes. They take the guesswork out and give you the confidence to get started.


Contemporary Design Style Paint Colours

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