“What is a Contemporary style? It seems like anything goes, which is confusing.”
The definition for contemporary is: “of the moment; characteristic of the present mode; ever evolving.” We tend to think of contemporary in terms of “less is more”, “form follows function”, clean lines (think Scandinavian furniture), and one glance tells all.
Unlike other interior design styles, contemporary, especially today’s, has few defining rules one must adhere to. You are free to use your imagination and personal taste as you “throw” things together; to combine antique with modern, rejuvenated (“shabby chic”) with brand new, ornate with minimal, mono color with multi pattern, reassign items for a new use, (an old porcelain sink as an ice bucket). And what’s more, your final results somehow end up looking well thought out, utilitarian, uncluttered, fresh and airy.
The beginnings of Contemporary style emerged with England’s Industrial Revolution (1840-1870) when machinery were invented for mass production and fast and cheap was the goal. This concept was further cemented with the tremendous cost of supporting two Great Wars, WWI and WWII. War manufacturing gave us affordable goods with a new style. A spinoff was haute couture furnishings of the most elegant machine-made designs utilizing man-made materials such as plastic, steel, glass and concrete. Sophisticated Art Deco is a prime example of the first modern, contemporary style.
If contemporary is the only style you can live with, my advice is to decorate with quality when you can afford it; shop for it at vintage fairs, etc., cover large areas in primary colors whether it be walls, a sofa, throw pillows, feature a kitschy item of interest like a wire bucket chair with a brightly colored seat cushion, get familiar with mid-century designer’s names and their creations, study pictures in modern interior magazines and most of all since there are no traditional guidelines to refer to, trust your taste and decorate with conviction and confidence. The results will be believable.