22 Contemporary Houses That Reinvent the Rules

Contemporary house

Design by Eldridge London / Photo by Nick Guttridge

A broad category that largely refers to buildings from the late 20th century to the present, contemporary architecture isn’t defined by a single style. Contemporary homes can look radically different from one another, and sometimes from anything that has come before. Rapidly evolving building technologies and materials increase innovation not only in terms of stylistic possibilities, but by helping to bolster green building practices that are a priority for today's architects.

Check out these contemporary architect-built homes that include fresh takes on familiar forms; sustainably built structures that live in harmony with the surrounding landscape; and bold, unconventional silhouettes that expand the definition of what a home is supposed to look like.

  • 01 of 22

    Use Sculptural Forms

    Contemporary house

    Design by Wood Marsh / Photo by John Gollings

    This contemporary house from Australian architecture firm Wood Marsh has an abstract form that curves around a sloping suburban site. "Conceived as a sculpture to live within, the Towers Road House challenges standard notions of domesticity," the architects write on their website.

    A monumental concrete wall topped with a three-dimensional zinc hemisphere "references an inverted roof or dome, further transforming architectural conventions into sculptural elements." Windows aren't visible from the street, but a fully glazed façade on the other side provides abundant natural light and views of the landscaped garden.

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  • 02 of 22

    Be Concrete

    Contemporary house

    Design by Peter Zumthor for Living Architecture / Photo by Jack Hobhouse

    The Secular Retreat is a layered concrete and glass house on a hilltop in South Devon, England, designed by Pritzker prize-winning architect Peter Zumthor for UK-based Living Architecture, an organization that commissions accessibly priced short-term holiday rental homes by leading contemporary architects.

    Described by the architect as a "villa for the 21st century," the house is inspired by the surrounding landscape of rolling hills, tree-covered river valleys, and villages of stone houses. It features a cantilevered white concrete roof held up by hand-rammed concrete columns; a large open-plan living space with expansive windows; and five bedrooms that look out onto the natural landscape.

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  • 03 of 22

    Go to the Desert

    Contemporary house


    Architects Luke Ogrydziak and Zoë Prillinger of San Francisco-based OPA built this Reno, NV house they call Shapeshifter for two art collectors and dealers specializing in contemporary art and art of the American West.

    The aim was to construct a house that would mirror the constantly moving environment around it. "Invoking the desert as a shapeshifter par excellence, the project began by treating the ground as a fluid material that allows different forms to emerge, then flicker or dissolve into other forms," the architects say.

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  • 04 of 22

    Build a Sustainable Sanctuary

    Contemporary house

    Design by Searl Lamaster Howe Architects / Photo by Tony Soluri

    This spacious weekend home called the Lawless Retreat and designed by Chicago-based Gregory Howe and Pam Lamaster-Millett of Searl Lamaster Howe Architects is located on the edge of a state park in central Michigan.

    The architects were careful to position the house out of the way of surrounding mature trees, which helped to provide natural shading and cooling. Carefully placed geothermal wells power the home's water furnace. Charred cedar on the home's exterior cuts down on maintenance and is designed to last.

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  • 05 of 22

    Play with Geometry

    Contemporary house

    Design by Eldridge London / Photo by Nick Guttridge

    This award-winning contemporary house designed by Eldridge London was built for "an enthusiastic patron of contemporary architecture" who encouraged the firm "to design a building of its time in contrast to the predominantly faux classical villas of the neighborhood," the architects write on their website.

    The home includes a glazed glass street-level entrance rotunda that allows an unobstructed view of the landscape; a curvy aluminum-wrapped exterior; curved glass windows and doors; and a three-lobed geometric form centered on the trunk of an ancient oak tree.

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  • 06 of 22

    Cantilever It

    contemporary house

    Design by MVRDV and Mole Architects for Living Architecture / Photo by Jack Hobhouse

    Designed by Dutch architecture firm MVRDV with Mole Architects, this cantilevered house in the English countryside is a contemporary interpretation of a countryside barn clad in reflective steel tiles. Located on the edge of a nature reserve a few miles from the Suffolk coast, the Balancing Barn is one of the short-term accessible designer vacation homes commissioned by UK-based Living Architecture.

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  • 07 of 22

    Update the A-Frame

    Contemporary house

    Design by BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group / Photo by Matthew Carbone / AIA 

    Klein A45 is an off-grid sustainable tiny house designed by BIG-Bjarke Ingels Group that is a spin on the traditional A-frame cabin, with 13-foot ceilings at its highest point and Douglas Fir flooring and cork walls on the interior. An AIA's 2019 Small Project Awards winner, the 180-square-foot house is made from 100% recyclable materials and is assembled on-site using prefabricated modules.

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  • 08 of 22

    Don't Throw Stones

    Contemporary house

    Design by Eldridge London / Photo by Lyndon Douglas

    This award-winning 7,000-square-foot contemporary family house overlooking a golf course in Epsom Surrey designed by British architecture firm Eldridge London is divided into wings to optimize views and natural light.

    "In contrast to the recently constructed Georgian-style neighboring houses, the new house on this site is clearly a building of its time," the architects write on their website. "As well as being radically modern in appearance, the house incorporates the latest energy-saving systems, including solar heating and ground source heat pumps which are all concealed from view."

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  • 09 of 22

    Hide in Plain Sight

    Contemporary house


    The design of this contemporary house façade is another project from the architects Luke Ogrydziak and Zoë Prillinger of OPA called Hidden House. "Impacted by powerful neighborhood groups that restricted its envelope and appearance, the house wears a mask to hide the architectural freedoms within," the architects write online. "The mask achieves a blankness by abstracting the ubiquitous San Francisco bay window and covering the entire front face with a dense cedar screen." The unconventional interior is split into vertical and horizontal zones that each have their own functions, character, and personality.

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  • 10 of 22

    Respect the Neighbors

    Contemporary house

    Design by Searl Lamaster Howe Architects / Photo by Tony Soluri

    Chicago-based Searl Lamaster Howe Architects designed this contemporary house called Eastwood Residence to cohabitate with the established architecture of the neighborhood. "While contemporary in expression, it relates to its Lincoln Square location in a number of ways," the architects say. "Its scale aligns with the surrounding century-old houses. The generous front porch repeats a common detail of the block and serves as a spot to hangout and socialize with neighbors. The exterior’s board and batten siding was inspired by the wood cladding of other frame houses in the district." An abundance of glass is mitigated with seven types of insulation to optimize energy efficiency.

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  • 11 of 22

    Repurpose and Reuse

    Contemporary homes

    Eric Schmid / AIA

    This single-family home development of four homes called Squirrel Park, among the winners of the AIA 2019 Small Project Awards, was designed by architecture firm Allford Hall Monaghan Morris to help sustainably increase density in existing neighborhoods in Oklahoma City, OK.

    Built using modified shipping containers, the 1400-square-foot homes have a contemporary industrial look. Located in a park-like setting that includes mature trees, shared outdoor spaces, and new planting, the homes include green roofs to increase biodiversity and energy efficiency. 

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  • 12 of 22

    Choose a Corner Lot

    Contemporary house

    Design by Searl Lamaster Howe Architects / Photo by Barbara Karant

    This contemporary house, a collaboration between architects Linda Searl and Joe Valerio, was inspired by its street corner location. "In a city as large as Chicago, street intersections are critical, and everything seems to happen at the street corner," the architects say, adding that the home embraces the energy from the street.

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  • 13 of 22

    Be Neighborly

    Contemporary hosue

    Design by Studio Ma / Photo by Roehner + Ryan

    Award-winning architecture firm Studio Ma used locally sourced materials to build the Hollyhock, a sustainable housing development in Phoenix, AZ that includes 11 contemporary townhouses with private gardens connected by shared courtyards and common outdoor space.

    The architects optimized energy efficiency and water usage and used high-performance glass, faux stucco, natural woods, and cooling exposed concrete floors, as well as prioritizing water-saving xeriscaping over conventional landscaping.

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  • 14 of 22

    Marry Indoors and Out

    Contemporary house

    Design by Searl Lamaster Howe Architects / Photo by Tony Soluri

    This contemporary house in Wilmette, IL designed by Searl Lamaster Howe Architects was built to order for a pair of passionate horticulturists. It features a 29-foot wall of south-facing glass that opens onto the back garden, creating a dramatic link between interior and exterior. The architects extended both the roofline and walls of the house to create a shadow box effect that helps protect the home from direct summer sunlight and provides privacy from neighbors.

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  • 15 of 22

    Use Unconventional Colors

    contemporary house

    Photo by Lara Kimmerer

    Many contemporary houses are finished in neutral and monochrome tones, but they often contain surprising color accents that highlight their unconventional spirit. This contemporary house is made up of a series of interlocking silver and orange boxes that are set off by the lush green natural landscape and lawn.

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  • 16 of 22

    Build a Boutique Barn

    Contemporary house

    House Nine Design

    This Aria Resort holiday home "boutique barn" in Cornwall, England has burnt black larch wood exteriors and floor-to-ceiling glass walls that bring the outdoors inside, with interiors from designer Jojo Barr of London-based House Nine Design.

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  • 17 of 22

    Hug the Landscape

    contemporary house

    Photo by Lara Kimmerer

    The flat roof and linear shape of this bright white, clean-lined contemporary house is complemented with large windows that allow a view to the inside. The house is slightly elevated from the street, reached by a series of shallow steps that are cut into a small hillside, making it feel approachable and highlighting the landscape.

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  • 18 of 22

    Reinvent the Future

    contemporary house

    Design by GO Logic / Photo by Sarah Szwajkos

    Prefabricated homes are nothing new, but are still uncommon enough to feel like they are. This prefabricated passive house designed by GO Logic is a contemporary answer to traditional New England home styles, with a familiar essence but built for a changing world.

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  • 19 of 22

    Embrace Asymmetry

    contemporary house

    David Papazian / Getty Images

    An asymmetrical roof and landscaping that looks like it traverses both stories softens the lines of this black-and-white contemporary house, helping it to blend in with the outdoor setting.

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  • 20 of 22

    Add Industrial Touches

    contemporary house

    Photo by Lara Kimmerer

    This contemporary house has industrial touches like oversized grid windows and a monumental metal and wood sculpture on the front lawn.

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  • 21 of 22

    Create a Sculpture Park

    contemporary house

    Photo by Lara Kimmerer

    The rear of this sprawling contemporary house reveals sculptural pieces that are set against the green backyard and create the feeling of an open air contemporary sculpture park.

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  • 22 of 22

    Blend Old and New

    contemporary house

    James Osmond / Getty Images

    Those who live in historic homes and listed buildings sometimes choose to create more space by adding contemporary extensions. These add-ons work as companion pieces to older houses that don't try to blend in but in the best of cases offer a counterpoint to what exists by adding a contrasting extension that might house a kitchen, studio, or primary suite.