Whether your choice of interior design aesthetic is Art Deco, Mid-Century or Period, contemporary living room ideas are always fun to consider and can inspire your decorating choices – even if you don’t class yourself as a ‘contemporary person’.
Herein lies the first question – what actually is contemporary design? What makes this space by Studio Ashby contemporary? And after that – what defines it? What are the ways that you can reference it in your own living room?
Contemporary interiors are often thought of as being ultra minimal with an abundance of razor-sharp lines, graphic prints and high-shine materials and surfaces. It’s talked of as being dynamic and daring. It’s praised for pushing boundaries and its mastery of light and reflection. It’s criticised for being stark and clinical.
All of these points are certainly true of contemporary interiors, but there are more layers to it than that. It is a design movement reflective of the here and now, representing a breakaway from traditional decoration.
As you journey through the centuries of interior design styles and influences, from Neoclassical and Rococo to Mid-Century and Shaker, there’s a constant sway between ornamentation and bare, curves and straight lines, and ornate carvings versus geometric cut-outs. But ironically, these historical periods of design will have been contemporary at one point.
Contemporary design is about innovation and change that presents us with something fresh, different and, at times, disruptive from what we’ve seen before.
Image Credit: Studio Ashby
A contemporary living room design can reach multiple aspects of your room. Or if you wish to create a more eclectic interior with just the occasional contemporary-style pieces, you can opt to bring it only one or two of-the-now references.
Remember though that a Modern living room is different to a contemporary one. Modern design is linked to the early 20th century and is much less fluid because it is affixed to a specific time. Modern is an umbrella term that covers what later became Mid-century and after that Post-modernism.
Each of the modern design movements has a clear identity, whereas contemporary design is constantly influx, borrowing inspiration from various eras of design and melding them into something new and exciting.
Colour – one of the most important areas for contemporary lounge ideas. It’s a common misconception that a contemporary scheme is all about bright white. Contemporary living rooms should actually have a stark contrast in the colours used, even if you’ve predominantly used white and there’s one key piece of furniture in the room that purposefully sticks out.
Monochrome is a favourite because it lets you move from one extreme to the other. Keep your colour choices confident and don’t be nervous about moving across the colour wheel. Contemporary colour palettes are strong and love to create interesting contradictions. That’s part of what makes them so dynamic.
Image Credit: Michelle Gerson
Another of the main associations with contemporary design is that lines should always be clean and crisp. It’s another story of contrast though. It’s the modern movements that put all their focus onto strong lines.
Contemporary style on the other hand prefers to mix the two. If you have a curvaceous ottoman and sofa set, bring in a modern art-style sculpture or an edgy pendant light that will command attention and provide diversity.
Image Credit: March & White
One of the commonalities in contemporary-style furniture is that the legs of sofas and armchairs are almost always on show. Tapered, angled wooden legs are preferred over traditional turned ones on castor feet or ones hidden under a skirt. Your surfaces and other furniture should mix exposed metals and glass with the occasional appearance from exposed wood.
Marble continues to reign supreme in contemporary interiors as much as in traditional ones, but here is where your lines should be uncomplicated. Smooth, strong, statuesque furniture in marble is the answer in a contemporary living room.
Be mindful that too many finishes and shapes can tip your room into being muddled. Contemporary design might favour a mixture of design influences, but eclectic can quickly become unfocused and confused.
Image Credit: Greg Natale
Metal in contemporary-style living rooms isn’t to be kept for tables and larger pieces of furniture alone.
Glossy brass on an exposed armchair’s frame, a gleaming gold vase or a cuff around a wall or clock are all steps to giving your living room a contemporary edge.
Greg Natale understands the power of metallic in this eastern Sydney project. Retro-inspired furniture trimmed with wide brass collar bases, metal mirror edging and unique metal decor complete the look.
Image Credit: Jessie D. Miller
Texture is one of the few laws of any room’s decorating scheme, regardless of the style you’re influenced by. Even if you were drawn to the less-is-more side of contemporary design, you’d still need to build layers of texture.
Texture can be as minimal or maximal as the rest of your decorating choices. Sleek and sophisticated metals, against supple leathers and matte, honed marble will give you three different but subtle textures to keep your mind interested and your eye active.
Texture isn’t all about what’s tactile either. You can achieve texture in your living room by combining colour and lighting too – anything that adds a visual stimuli and anything that plays with light.
Image Credit: Taylor Howes
Much like with texture, lighting ideas for a contemporary living room should move from ceiling to floor as they would in any style of space. Recessed spotlights are particularly contemporary and work well in any room, especially when combined with accent lighting.
Try adding a highly sculptural pendant light that acts as artwork, or an understated design that hugs the ceiling if you want something more pared-back.
A contemporary living room is also one of the only styles where you can get away with using strips of LED lighting without it impacting the overall look. Use them to act as a border around your ceiling or hidden in soffits and dropped ceilings (like in this Taylor Howes space) to highlight the architecture and to emphasise a clean, geometric shape.
Table and floor lights are a must and, although very much a typically traditional lighting feature, the use of wall lights has been on the rise with unique modern designs by the likes of Kelly Wearstler, Lindsey Adelman and Lee Broom.
Keep to the same two finishes on your lighting to prevent clashing and mix up the light design so they’re not all from the same collection. Conical, flared shades, anglepoise lamps, large arched stems with oversized domed shades on floor lamps, and abstract ceiling shades are all welcome in the same space.
Image Credit: A.LONDON
And finally, don’t be fooled into thinking that contemporary living room ideas are only achievable in a contemporary setting.
Contemporary design can be pulled off in everything from a new-build apartment in the city to a Georgian townhouse in Oxford or Cambridge. In fact, it can thrive there. After all, contemporary design loves to create contrasts and to show just how much it’s evolved from what’s been done before.