New York City-based interior designer Rian Smith describes contemporary design style as mixing modern and transitional elements in a warm and fresh way to create a cohesive space. In Smith's experience, it's all about achieving a balance between these two styles—which is easier said than done.
Contemporary design involves current trends and is therefore constantly evolving. It can change every few years as trends change.
Read on for 20 expert tips for how to incorporate contemporary flair into your home.
Meet the Expert
Rian Smith is a New York City-based interior designer.
Go With White Walls
According to Smith, white walls allow furniture pieces to pop in a contemporary living room. Here, an abstract rug provides the perfect burst of color in this otherwise neutral space. The design feels entirely of the moment.
Match Wall to Ceiling
White walls and a white ceiling to match give this room an effortlessly clean feel. There's something intriguing about the way the different materials between the walls and the beams in the ceiling match in color, playing with the pure white couches. Interior designer Tessa Neustadt has mastered the contemporary vibe in this room.
Favor Clean Lines
When Smith pictures a contemporary living room, Smith thinks, "Nothing too fancy or decorative but rather clean looking and fitted." This room certainly fits the description. Straight lines and raised furniture create a linear environment that's entirely contemporary. Plus the unique overhead lighting makes a statement without creating clutter or overpowering the room.
Incorporate Geometric Patterns
Smith recommends using geometric patterns and subtle colors to create texture. Take note of the texture of the throw pillow in this contemporary living room and how it interacts with the patterned rug and geometric wall art. The mix of brass, wood, and black accents also creates a dreamy space that is so "now."
Integrate Modern Touches
Though the walls in this room remain neutral, the furniture and décor are far from it. "Contemporary [style] is about balancing the trends that are going on while integrating those modern touches," Smith says.
Here, subtle furniture mixes with a dynamic rug to create a balance of styles. It's all tied together with a brass legged glass table—the epitome of contemporary and modern.
Add a Wooden Buffet Table or Console
Smith pictures wooden buffet tables and tv consoles for a contemporary living room. The style is timeless, but when it's arranged with intricate wall hangings and a mix of patterns and textures like this BHDM-designed space, it becomes seriously in vogue.
Utilize Black Picture Frames
This living room features a portrait set in a black frame, another design element Smith considers distinctly contemporary. "Black-framed portraits with soft landscapes—nothing super colorful or eye-catching," Smith recommends.
Consider a Bold Green Accent Wall
A bold green accent wall creates a dynamic environment where wood flooring and a crisp white couch are challenged by a bright pop of color. While the wall might seem extreme, it works as a balance between subtle and daring.
Choose Natural, Woven Materials
When it comes to contemporary furniture, Smith's home décor list includes basket-woven material. This living room pairs two woven chairs with a warm, earth-toned rug and a deep blue sofa. The elements come together to create a contemporary space that seems to flow right up the staircase.
Make It Inviting
This living room boasts a statement marble fireplace and linear furniture. The space feels open yet full of character and rather inviting, thanks to ample seating options and a coffee table that ties the space together.
Pick a Striking Light Fixture
According to Smith, a modern lighting fixture works especially well in a contemporary living room when it's grounded by soft fabrics and light colors. This white-on-white space allows the lighting fixture to make a statement. In addition, the black-and-white marble fireplace elevates the entire room.
Balance With Plants
Use plants to update any living room into a contemporary yet calming oasis. "I'd recommend a large fiddle-leaf fig planted in a simple colored pot," says Smith. According to Smith, the size of the plant can help create balance in the space.
Opt for Lighter-Toned Leather
When it comes to fabric choices, a light leather piece screams contemporary design. Smith suggests going for anything in a chestnut, camel, or bone color. This unique light brown leather couch pictured creates warmth and plays well off the deep purple-toned rug.
Lean in on Cream and Wood Tones
Pops of creams and natural wood tones abound in this contemporary living room. This color palette, paired with linear furniture and clean shapes, strikes the perfect balance of fresh and warm. Plus, the high ceiling and large windows make the entire space feel open and inviting.
Mix and Match Furniture
Completely matching your furniture isn't required when going for contemporary décor. For example, feel free to pair your new upholstered couch with a worn-in, wood-backed armchair like this living room. Or place a rounded coffee table with a few rectangular side tables. Mix and match materials, patterns, and time periods.
Commit to a monochromatic color scheme in a jewel-toned hue. Paired with clean lines and metal accents, this living room exudes contemporary décor vibes.
Combine Different Materials
Fabric and acrylic, marble and wood, whatever materials combinations you can think of, don't be afraid to express them in your living room. In this example, different materials are tied together with greenery and ample white space throughout.
Favor Natural Light
Contemporary décor might just be about the ultimate luxury: Lots of natural light. So open those curtains and window treatments. If your drapes are too dark, replace them with lighter or sheer drapery. In this photo, we're loving this living room's bright white walls and clean lines.
For spaces that lack natural light, maximize the light you do have available and hang mirrors, or place objects with reflective surfaces throughout your space to bounce rays around the room.
Add Quirky Details
Once you've nailed down natural light and clean lines, for example, infuse some personality into your contemporary living room with a few quirky details. Whether it's a clock in a standout shape (like this starburst-esque design, pictured), or a few plant holders in contrasting patterns, utilize home décor accents to make the space your own.
Opt for Open Concept When Possible
Any space can benefit from open concept area-defining principles, like using rugs to delineate a space, and grouping your furniture to create gathering and seating areas.
For a contemporary living room, think "soothing, calm, tranquil, and cool, but not cold," Smith says.