The term contemporary design is actually quite subjective. Depending on the topic at hand, the word contemporary can mean different things to different people. Often confused with modern style, when thinking of contemporary in relation to decor, some see it as harsh and cold, whereas others are excited by the energy that the clean lines create. As with all decor styling, whether it is your home, your place of work, an office or a shop, being represented by a contemporary decor can speak volumes and set peoples expectations. For example: if you are in a waiting area on the ground floor of a high rise office block and the styling of the area is considered to be contemporary, with its light colours, lack of clutter and airy demeanor, you would not be forgiven for thinking that the company you are about to enter is modern, forward thinking, fresh and organised.
The definition of contemporary according to the Collins English Dictionary:
Contemporary: Definitions adjective
1. belonging to the same age; living or occurring in the same period of time
2. existing or occurring at the present time
3. conforming to modern or current ideas in style, fashion, design, etc
4. having approximately the same age as one another From this we can deduce that the term contemporary design is about the here and now. You certainly can't get more modern that that, but modern design is not necessarily contemporary. Modern fashions and designs may dictate the use of multiple colours, fabrics, patterns and materials, with antiques crammed into every available space, spaces adopting this would therefore be seen as modern design. Modern design is what is in fashion now, whatever that may be.
Whereas contemporary design is more specific and focuses on 3 main areas; colour, lines and simplicity.
1. Colour : A contemporary colour pallet mainly consists of shades of white and black, or at the very least fresh neutral colours. This is why many consider contemporary spaces as 'white boxes', blank canvases that are cold and lack personality. But in fact the pallet is not as limited as it first sounds. Although the base of this style is clean, light colours, it is not unusual for interiors designers to add vibrant splashes of colour throughout the space e.g. using bold block colours for accent walls, for specific pieces of furniture or with a statement piece of artwork. A kitchen with stark white walls soon comes to life when the post-box red wall units are added, or a cream living room soon oozes energy when lime green scatter cushions are added; Contemporary, but definitely not a white box. The use of light is also important within a contemporary space. Maximising the amount of natural light into the space, creating a clean, light and bright room is an important aspect of this type of design. Often mirrors are used to assist with this, specifically, simple, plain glass framed mirrors that reflect not only the natural light but also the vibrance of the light, block colour walls. Plain glass mirrors work well as part of this decor as they are non-intrusive and do not create clutter, as they almost blend into wall onto which they are hung.
2. Lines : A contemporary room usually contains clean lines, but what does this actually mean? Put simply, if you stand back and look at a contemporary space you will see lots of horizontal straight lines created by the lines of the furniture within the room. This is not to say that everything in the room needs to be square or have sharp corners, as there is a place for some curves within this type of decor, but the overall majority is simple, plain shaped and block coloured furniture. The furniture used within a contemporary decor more often than not uses modern materials such as plastics, synthetic fabrics, high gloss veneer finishes, glass and other man-made pieces rather than more natural materials such as wood or wool. There are no frills or over the top patterns, edges are straight and simple and it is because of this that modern designs creep in rather than more traditional pieces. It is unlikely to find antiques in such as space as historically furnishings have been more elaborate, with fine detail. That's not to say that modern furniture lacks effort, design or indeed cost; it simply means that more modern methods have been utilised to create the smooth, unblemished finishes. For example; a contemporary chest of draws is likely to be symmetrical in shape, with squared edges. It would be in one block colour and be shiny or high gloss and smooth to the touch. The drawers may or may not have handles. If handles are in place they would be very plain and simple, but more likely the drawers would utilise touch technology or have a simple cut out space for the hand to pull the drawer open.
3. Simplicity : Sometimes know as minimalist or clean, the simplicity of contemporary decor is what makes it so appealing and often defines this decorating style. With clear sideboards, free from clutter. To achieve this look everything tends to need a home. It is this element that shouts organised and tidy. A contemporary room does not have to mean that the space is empty or un-lived in, just that it has good storage and that things are put away and are in place. There are no, or very limited, ornaments in a contemporary room and if one does exist, it is likely to be used as a focal point; one bright colour and again simple in shape/design. Contemporary decor is therefore in the here in and now. It utilizes modern technology and is up to date. Due to the lack of antiques, contemporary furniture tends to look new and clean without any age. This is why people trying to sell property adopt this design sense; after all it creates the illusion of space, light and tidiness. Not always as easy to achieve as it first appears, love it or loathe it as a design concept, the majority of us can't help but be drawn to contemporary design.