Define the Style: Contemporary Design

by Drew Henry

Welcome to Contemporary Design 101!  

Contemporary design is clean, crisp, and oh so cool. When you think of contemporary style, you might picture cutting-edge trends, clean lines, and neutral colors. But what is contemporary design exactly, and how can you add contemporary style to your home? Don’t worry! The LiLi Team defines the style and answers all your questions. Plus, we explain the difference between the modern and contemporary styles, which are actually two entirely different looks. So, are you ready to learn everything you need to know about contemporary style? Great, because Contemporary Design 101 is now in session! 

What is Contemporary Style? 

Unlike other interior design styles rooted in specific eras or locations, the contemporary style constantly evolves and changes with new trends.

Emerging from the mid to late 20th century era, contemporary style is characterized by its clean lines, subtle sophistication, and a certain sleekness that cannot be found in other styles. Its fluid nature allows it to capture diverse aspects - from the colors and textures inspired by various eras to the innovative use of materials.
In essence, contemporary design style is a culmination of several different themes and periods. It can draw inspiration from anywhere while staying grounded in the now; hence it carries a certain timeless quality about it.
Contemporary interior design styles often comprise open floor plans for a light-filled space or large windows for an unobstructed view of nature's splendor. The emphasis is on creating harmonious spaces that are not only visually appealing but also exude comfort and functionality at every corner.
Contemporary styled tiles often make statements through their color (or lack thereof) as well as their shape - unique geometric forms can be used to create eye-catching patterns on floors or walls that help define spaces within an open-plan layout without resorting to traditional barriers such as walls or partitions. —though we've yet to delve into specifics regarding office spaces or bathroom layouts—a clear image emerges: Contemporary design permeates all aspects of living areas from bedrooms to pergolas, fostering a calm, inviting atmosphere that is both cutting-edge and comfortingly familiar.
This style's emphasis on natural light, neutral hues, and the use of raw materials caters to an increasing desire for living spaces that blur the lines between indoors and out. It’s more than merely aesthetics—it’s about creating environments that enrich our lives and enhance our everyday experiences.


Hanging an unexpected art print or adding a bright-colored ottoman to your room are ways you can bring some fun to an otherwise uniform space. The latest contemporary style trend is the “California Cool” movement, which layers boho and organic elements into contemporary spaces for a more relaxed feel.  

Modern vs. Contemporary Style: What’s the Difference? 

Modern and contemporary sound like they mean the same thing. They are synonyms, after all. However, in the design world, they are two completely different looks. So what’s the difference between modern vs. contemporary style? We explain the distinctions so you can look like an interior design expert on your next home shopping trip! 

Modern Design

Modern design, as a movement, emerged in the early to mid 20th century, as a direct offshoot of the Industrial Revolution's societal shifts and technological advancements. It is characterized by its devotion to functionality, rejection of ornate flourishes, and an embrace of materials like steel and glass. A quintessential modern living room design, for instance, would be minimalistic with clean lines and uncluttered surfaces.
The color palette in modern interior design is often reserved. Monochromatic hues dominate this style, with black-and-white schemes complemented sometimes by neutrals or primary colors used sparingly for impact.
The contemporary style interior design builds upon this minimalist aesthetic but it's more flexible and responsive. What is contemporary interior design?
This evolving aesthetic can be difficult to pin down because it reflects the popular trends of the current time. Contemporary interior design style largely follows the same minimalist ethos as modernism but it's defined by a sense of currency—often integrating new materials or technologies that reflect changing lifestyle demands or environmental concerns.
Contemporary living room designs can be recognized by their open spaces filled with light, combining sharp lines with smooth surfaces without intricate details. However, unlike modernism’s strict adherence to minimalism and bare essentials alone, contemporary luxury interior design isn't averse to using opulent elements if they serve a specific purpose or add visual appeal.


However, mid-century modern homes also utilized decor elements like wood paneling, terrazzo tile, and shag carpeting. In many ways, the “modern” style is actually vintage!  


Contemporary Design 

The contemporary design style became popular in the 1970s after the Modernist movement when homeowners sought to mix new decor elements into their neutral, open-concept houses. At its core, contemporary design is a mix of styles and recent trends brought together in a neutral space with clean lines.

The key to identifying 'what is contemporary design' lies in its dependence on current trends since it evolves and adapts to them. One defining characteristic of contemporary room design is the use of neutral color palettes which highlight and accentuate the architectural details of a space rather than overpowering them.
Whites, beiges, browns, tans, and creams evoke tranquility and exude cleanliness—a hallmark of this particular style. These soothing shades perfectly blend with other elements in a contemporary dining room design or a contemporary office design providing an uninterrupted balance thanks to their calming effect.
A critical aspect that differentiates this style from others is the clean lines and smooth surfaces incorporated into spaces like a contemporary foyer design or a contemporary bathroom design. The forms are simple yet impactful; they create an aesthetically pleasing environment devoid of clutter but full of personality.
In addition to linearity, minimalism plays an important role in this style's character since it accentuates simplicity while enhancing functionality. Another essential feature that stands out prominently in areas such as contemporary bedroom designs or living rooms is open floor plans designed to create flexible spaces by merging different zones together seamlessly.
This type of layout encourages comfortability while maintaining sophistication—ideal for modern-day living arrangements. Contemporary interior designs also pay close attention to decorative elements that are functional as well as beautiful—an embodiment of form meeting function concept. Now, homeowners are incorporating brass fixtures into their contemporary design plans, including brass inlay tiles

Contemporary Style Tip: Don’t Be Afraid to Mix and Match 

When styling a contemporary space, you may initially think everything needs to perfectly match to achieve a minimal and sleek look. However, contemporary design is a mashup of styles! Contemporary style takes inspiration from the Modernist, Art Deco, and Futurism movements. In the case of the “California Contemporary” look, it even takes some inspiration from beach bungalows. While you want to keep your contemporary space streamlined and minimal, don’t be afraid to mix and match other design elements or go for a bold accent of color and pattern. 

7 Ways to Add Contemporary Style to Any Home

Now that you know the basics of contemporary style, it’s time to get to work in your home! Here are 7 ways to add contemporary style to your space. 

1. Live Open-concept 

Contemporary design is all about open spaces that connect to the outdoors. Even if your home doesn’t have an open-concept floor plan, there are still ways to tie together your rooms and create seamless transitions to your outside living spaces. Consider using one flooring material throughout your home and even on your outdoor patio. For example, you can install cement tile outdoors and indoors because it is both durable and beautiful. Continuous flooring will create visual flow and help establish that open-concept feel. 

2. Bring in the Concrete 

When you think contemporary, you think concrete. Many contemporary design plans include industrial elements like concrete floors and columns for a sleek yet textural look. Even if your home doesn’t sit on a concrete slab or inside a room of a converted warehouse, you can still incorporate concrete elements. Installing concrete tile is one way to bring in the material. Go for a simple pattern or solid tile accents on your backsplash or around your fireplace. 

3. Remove Clutter

Contemporary design is clean and clutter-free! Removing unnecessary clutter and décor accents is an easy way to channel your inner contemporary stylist. Your shelves don’t have to be bare to achieve a contemporary look. Simply remove the excess and allow a few of your favorite pieces to shine. 

4. Embrace Organic Elements

While contemporary design loves sleek lines, it also has a curvy side. Organic-inspired elements are one of the biggest trends in contemporary design right now. Bring in natural wood tones, live edge wood accent furnishings, warm neutrals, and patterns inspired by nature to add that organic feel to your space. One place you can bring in nature-inspired motifs is through your tile. For example, our Savannah cement tiles feature a natural leaf pattern in contemporary color palettes. Likewise, our Fiori tiles bring in an origami floral element that ties into the organic theme without sacrificing clean lines.  


5. Select Structural Furnishings

So what do interior designers mean when they say select “structural” furnishings. Basically, it’s just a fancy way of saying get pieces with interesting lines. Go for an armchair with sleek straight angles and contrast it with a curved couch. Treat each piece of furniture you buy like an art sculpture. (But, make sure they are still comfortable!) 

6. Keep Colors Neutral

Contemporary design likes to keep things neutral. Limit your color palette to a base of warm whites and grays. While other design styles go for high-contrast looks, you will want to keep all the design elements in your contemporary room in the same tones. Of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t have some color! 

7. But Go Bold Where It Counts

Contemporary design isn’t boring. It’s bold! Rather than overloading your space with an accent color or pattern, select areas where it will make the most meaningful impact. For example, you could create an attractive striped backsplash with our Sorbet concrete tile or add some geometric bling with our Cairo triangle tiles with brass inlays! Both of these patterns are simple, but they will make a big design impact.  

Why Choose Contemporary? 

Contemporary design is cool and trendy but also neutral and classic. Whether you like living the minimalist lifestyle or trying out new trends, contemporary could be the style for you. Don’t forget! Contemporary style is pro mixing and matching, so you can make the style whatever you want. Happy designing! 

Follow us on Instagram for more tile trends and design tips. Need some extra help? Give us a call! We love sharing our thoughts on the latest trends and answering any cement tile questions you have. 

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