Different Looks in Contemporary Style Furniture

Modern interior design room
Jacek Kadaj/Moment Open/Getty Images

While all contemporary style shares some common traits, there is no one homogeneous look. The most distinguishing feature of contemporary style is that while it can be either formal or informal, it is never fussy or overwrought.

What Is Contemporary Style?

Contemporary style is rooted in today's looks and preferences, and does not look beyond the immediate past. Trends play a big role in defining contemporary style.

Contemporary style furniture is easily recognizable for its simple and sleek lines. It is very distinguishable from more traditional style furniture in that there is hardly any intricate detail or carving. The lines of contemporary style furniture are either hard-edged or gently curved. Finishes can be in all tones, from very light to dark. Traditional and non-traditional materials are used ​and often combined, and new concepts and materials are explored.

Just as the term "traditional style" covers a great number of different styles, so does the term "contemporary style." Contemporary style furniture is usually smaller in scale as it is meant for today's dwellings. As in traditional furniture styles, it also looks to the rest of the world for influences, and Asian influences are ever-present. Below is a look at some different contemporary furniture styles, starting from the earliest era.

Art Deco

Art deco furniture is considered the earliest of contemporary style. It's defined by sensuous lines and curves minus intricate carvings of traditional furniture. A unique style was created using luxurious materials combined with synthetic ones. As a result, the decor of the art deco period is not overly formal, but it can be very elegant. Art deco furniture and decor has the following characteristics:

  • Silver and gold leaf, mother-of-pearl, ivory, and lacquered finishes
  • Repetitive geometric patterns and themes in upholstery, wallpaper, and light fixtures
  • Plastic and resin furniture and accessories
  • Mirrored and chromed surfaces

Midcentury Modern

Stark and simple designs that are almost sculptural in quality define the midcentury modern style that became popular from the 1930s through the 1960s. Some famous names associated with this style are designers like Ray and Charles Eames, George Nelson, and Saarinen, each of who believed in designing furniture where form followed function. The defining characteristics that capture the essence of this style include:

  • Little or no ornamentation
  • Uncluttered and sleek lines
  • The use of wood together with metal, glass, vinyl, plywood, Plexiglass, and Lucite
  • Neutral to bold colors, including much black and white

Who Coined Midcentury Modern Style?

The term midcentury modern was coined during the 1980s by art historian and writer, Cara Greenberg. It's now a widely recognized term that defines this significant era in American design and decor.

Retro Contemporary

Retro is a whimsical look at recently bygone eras from the 1950s to the 1980s and overlaps with midcentury modern style. What is termed retro today was fashionably modern when it first came out. This type of furniture has now come out from the recesses of garages and basements and graces many modern homes. Retro Items with kitschy, pop culture flavor are plentiful. They include:

  • One-piece molded plastic chairs
  • Formica-topped tables, chrome bar stools, and furniture reminiscent of 1950s diners
  • Boomerang tables
  • Space-age and sputnik style lighting fixtures

Urban Contemporary

Urban contemporary style is a rather newer concept of decor catering to city dwellers who prefer well-designed furniture at a scale that fits smaller living spaces. Pieces tend to have a sophisticated, cosmopolitan feel regardless of their reduced sizes. Some urban contemporary might be called industrial style (part vintage and part contemporary) but that's not always the case. Urban contemporary style has the following features:

  • Softer, but still distinctive lines and shapes
  • Little ornamentation
  • Limited use of metallics for visual interest
  • Soothing, serene, and calming hues
  • Rugs in more natural materials
  • Oversized statement pieces combined with smaller pieces for contrast

Casual Contemporary

The latest contemporary style is likely familiar. It encompasses a relaxed, softer, updated style that lacks the stylized organic silhouettes of midcentury modern style. Sometimes the scale can be a bit larger than other contemporary styles to fit homes that often include spacious open floor plans and family rooms. The characteristics of this style of furniture include:

  • Rounded and eased edges
  • Medium wood tones
  • Overstuffed sofas and pillow-top arms
  • Leather upholstery

Watch Now: 3 Simple Items to Modernize Your Home