While all contemporary styles share some common traits, it is not a homogeneous look. Far from it. There are many distinct looks.
What Is a Contemporary Style?
A contemporary style is one that is rooted in today's looks and preferences and does not look beyond the immediate past. The inspiration does not go beyond a century back. The most distinguishing feature is that while it can be either formal or informal, it is never fussy or overwrought.
Contemporary style is easily recognizable for its simple and sleek lines. It is very distinguishable from a more traditional style 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 scaled to be smaller, 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 styles:
Urban furniture is designed for city-dwellers with smaller living spaces. For that reason pieces tend to be smaller in scale, but sophisticated and well designed. While small in size, they can be very high in impact. Urban style is defined by
- It has striking lines and shapes
- You will find very little ornamentation
- There is a strong use of black along with a range of bright or primary colors
- You will find a range of materials such as metal, light wood, glass, leather, and microfiber
Retro is a whimsical look at recently bygone eras from the 1950s to the 1980s. 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.
- One piece modular plastic chairs are a distinctive feature
- Formica-topped tables, chrome bar stools, furniture reminiscent of 1950s diners are common to the Retro style
- Other favorites are boomerang tables and space-age / Sputnik style
- Items with kitschy, pop culture flavor are plentiful
Art Deco furniture is defined by elegant lines and curves without any of the intricate carvings of traditional furniture. A unique style was created using luxurious materials with synthetic ones and as a result, the look is not overly formal.
- Luxurious materials such as exotic leathers, silver and gold leaf, mother-of-pearl, ivory, and lacquers abound, but you may find them mixed with relatively cheap contemporary metals, glass, mirrors, synthetic plastics, and resins.
- The lines are elegant and streamlined
- Light finishes and lacquer, medium toned woods distinguish this look.
- Mirrored and chromed surfaces are a hallmark.
Stark and simple designs that are almost sculptural in quality, define the mid-century modern style. Some famous names associated with this style are designers like Ray and Charles Eames, George Nelson and Saarinen. The defining characteristics that capture the essence of this style are
- You will find designs where form follows function
- There is very little or no ornamentation, with uncluttered and sleek lines
- Use of traditional material, such as wood, and non-traditional materials such as metal, glass, vinyl, plywood, Plexiglass, and Lucite exist side by side
- Materials are juxtaposed to explore texture
- There is a vast range of color, from neutral to bold, including black and white
Maybe this one is the most familiar contemporary look of all. Casual contemporary is a relaxed, softer, updated style that does not have the hard edges of the more formal mid-century modern style. Sometimes the scale can be a bit larger than other contemporary styles. It is quite neutral in looks, and which accounts for its popularity.
- The furniture has rounded and eased edges
- Medium wood tones are featured, along with glass, and leather with a range of textures in fabrics
- Soft or overstuffed surfaces and pillow tops on sofas