berkeley sofa and loveseat

What Is Contemporary Furniture Design?

In Blog, Design Resource by Amos Kober

What is contemporary furniture design and how does it relate to its predecessor, modern design? At DCI, we build many styles of furniture, and contemporary is a popular one. But what actually defines contemporary furniture design?

These are the questions we explore in this third part of our series on residence hall furniture design.

A lot of folks use the words contemporary and modern interchangeably when referring to furniture design, but that’s a mistake. There’s a real difference between the two.

Modern vs Contemporary Furniture Design

Most articles exploring the difference between modern and contemporary style start with a clear definition of terms. So let’s start there.

Modern Design

Modern design belongs to a set period in time from the late 1800s to the mid-1900’s. Modern furniture design, which was heavily influenced by the modern art movement, is defined by that period of time and it will never happen again.

Furthermore, modern furniture design adheres to an explicit and strict set of stylistic principles.

Contemporary Design

Contemporary, on the other hand, means of the moment or current. It’s happening right now and it will always happen right now. And that’s what defines a style as contemporary.

Unlike modern design, contemporary design is always evolving. It draws from (and is a response to) a variety of historical styles, and it has the benefit of integrating emergent technologies and materials.

The Confusion Between Modern and Contemporary

The fact that contemporary design pulls from so many different styles is one reason why people confuse modern and contemporary styles.

That is to say that the modern esthetic is popular right now and has influenced some of the core tenets of contemporary design. In particular, contemporary furniture design focuses on a modern adherence to minimalism.

According to founder Stefan:

Clean-lined furniture is perhaps one of the most apparent places where today’s contemporary style merges with the popular modern style. Basic forms, clean lines, beautiful yet simple shapes, and a focus on comfort all blend together in today’s contemporary furniture styles.

To learn more about modern furniture design, I recommend you check out the first two articles in this series. You can start here.

Contemporary Style In Furniture

From a certain point of view, the very thing that makes contemporary furniture design what it is—of the moment—also makes it tricky to pin down at times. Why? Because it’s always changing. By definition.

So let’s map out a few of the qualities that are, for the moment, decidedly contemporary.

1. Sustainability

First of all, sustainability is in fashion. Climate change is a serious issue on a lot people’s minds and people want to tailor their furniture choices to reflect a more sustainable ethic.

This is a big difference from modern furniture, which was produced when sustainability wasn’t even a thing and commodification was taking off. But now sustainability is popular and it’s a value that infuses architecture as well. Consequently, it trickles down to furniture design.

At DCI, all our solid hardwood furniture meets the highest sustainability standards. We produce it in a zero-waste manufacturing facility. And we often reuse and up-cycle old furniture parts from previous installations as internal components in new furniture.

2. Comfort & Clean Lines

What are some other elements of contemporary style? One furniture purveyor, referring to the understated and urban appeal of contemporary style had this to say about it:

Contemporary furniture has clean lines with soft edges. Chair legs and arms are simple, either square or round. Upholstery fabrics are either one solid color or have a subtle pattern. Contemporary tables have little if any ornate carvings. Inlaid patterns, if used, are geometric. Upholstered furniture is low to the ground with squared arms.

Whereas modern design—with it’s minimal, machine-inspired aesthetic—can at times verge on feeling sterile or overly stark, contemporary design responds to that with the softer edges and a focus on chic comfort.

When it comes to contemporary cabinets and dressers, according to HGTV, look for wood doors, simple handles, hidden hinges, and clean lines.

3. Flexibility

At DCI, we cater to contemporary style and customize our flexible product lines to different styles. This stylistic flexibility is a hallmark of contemporary furniture design. And more specifically, it allows our core products to reflect and integrate current design trends.

For example, our online Product Customizer tool allows you to handpick the elements that work best with your design intention and project specifics.

So that’s a very brief tour of contemporary furniture design. In our next installment—part 4 of this series—we’ll explore some of DCI’s most contemporary furniture.

And if you liked this article, check out our previous articles on residence hall furniture design:

1. The Evolution of Modern Furniture Design

2. Why Modern Design Is Perfect For Residence Halls


To set up an order today or to talk with one of our representatives, you can write to us here or call: (800) 552-8286.

You can also learn more about our industry-leading FSC CoC certification, our MAS certification, and our green materials sourcing, sustainable manufacturing, and our unique zero waste Vertical Integration Process (VIP).

Download the DCI Sustainability overview here.