What is ‘Contemporary’? Let’s Define It


‘Contemporary’ is one of those words that we throw around a lot in interior design, but what does it actually mean? Let’s get into it a little bit…

‘Contemporary’ Defined

First things first, let’s break the word down into all it’s parts. Its roots are in Latin; the prefix ‘con-‘ means ‘together with’ or ‘same’ and the word ‘tempus’ or ‘tempor’ meaning ‘time.’

Therefore, the word just means ‘same time,’ basically.

So, extracted from the context of interior styles, the word ‘contemporary’ simply means at the same time as something else. We often just use the word to mean relevant to now or the present, though this isn’t always the case.

Something might be contemporary as in, of the past. If you have a vintage-modern, velvet armchair could be contemporaneous with gold-toned features on your homewares, even though vintage-mod and gold tones, as attractive as they are, aren’t current styles. (Though they are great examples of the deco-luxe style.)

Milan Velvet Club Chair

You might want to think that all this means ‘contemporary’ is just another word for ‘trendy’ or in reference to specific trends. This isn’t totally inaccurate, but it’s not completely truthful either. While ‘trendy’ is more of a label you can use for specific pieces, ‘contemporary’ is more of a grouping tool to signify when certain pieces come from the same era or vintage and belong together. Though if see something labeled ‘contemporary,’ you can safely assume the author means to indicate that it’s relevant to current styles.

So What is Contemporary to Now?

You might have clicked into this post just looking for clarification on what’s on-trend at the moment. In which case, everything up until now was surely just a fun little bonus read. The truth is, it’s very hard to define what is currently contemporary and stylish. It’s a lot easier to look back in time and say ‘oh yeah interior designers really liked the colours orange and brown in the 1970s.’

However, as difficult as it may be to define all current contemporary styles, there are some things that stand out and are present in a lot of contemporary interiors.

One of the big trends that has been popular in the last few years and shows no intention to leave is Scandi, wood & white styling. These looks inspire a near-minimalist interior aesthetic that leaves a lot of room for personalisation. Another big part of contemporary home styling is colour choice. Millennial pink might seem like old news now, but it’s undeniably a contemporary colour accent.

Throw in some matte blacks, some tapered legs, moody blues, and some geometric shapes and you’re on your way to a current contemporary interior style.

Paige Riddiford is a writer and editor from NSW with a degree in Creative Writing from the University of Wollongong. When not writing, Paige is often found reading, baking cakes, playing video games, or binging whatever's new on Netflix.