Characteristics of Contemporary Furniture

Contemporary furniture refers to the styles and trends of the present -- the now -- as opposed to traditional furniture designs that have classic appeal or other design styles through the ages. Often confused with modern furniture styles, there is a distinct difference between modern and contemporary furniture styles, although they do share some similar characteristics.

Living Room
credit: DAJ/amana images/Getty Images
Square-edged couches, neutral tones and shiny reflective surfaces are all contemporary characteristics.

Dynamics of Contemporary Style

What is contemporary today could be old hat by tomorrow -- that's how fast styles can change. Contemporary furniture borrows elements from all styles and eras. As of March 2015, contemporary furniture pulls many of its design aesthetics from Mid-Century Modern, Danish Modern and other modern styles. Characteristics include a feeling of openness with raised chairs and couches along with reflective glass and metal in coffee, end and dining tables.

Simple, Clean Lines

Today's contemporary-styled furniture merges with modern designs by utilizing simple and clean lines focused on comfort. Contemporary homes often have minimalist appeal; furniture appears light, airy and visually appealing with a modest appearance. Credenzas, dressers and entertainment centers present with smooth, lustrous surfaces and lines in natural neutral or dark woods or glossy black for a shiny, reflective surface. On the opposite side of the spectrum sits traditional furniture with frills and trim that provide romantic and curvaceous appeal when compared with contemporary's urban, clean look. The two furniture styles don't blend well in the same setting.

Square-Edged Chairs and Couches

Couches and chairs in contemporary furniture have square-edges typically raised above the floor with thin angled and metal tubular legs with no frills or skirting so that you can see under them -- similar in style to modern couches. The negative spaces beneath and around contemporary furniture are as important a feature as their positive spaces. Couches and chairs represent bare, but bold rectangular shapes appear, often in darker or neutral colors in leather or lightly textured fabrics.

Natural Materials and Textures

Contemporary furniture often features natural woods, fabrics and texture. Upholstered furniture may be black, white, gray, brown or other neutrals with color added to decor instead. An entertainment system may be sleek, low and long, with minimalist shelving added to the wall above. Platform or low-slung beds are a favored contemporary design for bedrooms. Lighting fixtures are often metallic and wispy thin for functionality and style or built in as track lighting.

Contemporary Colors

Contemporary furniture is all about neutrals, blacks and whites. When decorating in this style, some people may opt for a splash of color in a peach or salmon chair, but most of the time, furniture color schemes are bland to let the decor -- a large unframed abstract painting, for instance -- take center stage. Textured natural jute or sisal area rugs set off a conversation area. A home outfitted with contemporary furniture often has an open and spacious feel, and it's easy to keep clean.