6 key characteristics of modern decor to follow for a more contemporary space

A modern home is minimal, sleek, and undeniably beautiful. Here are 6 key hallmarks of a contemporary space to help you refresh your home

modern decorating ideas
(Image credit: Studio Atkinson)

The term 'modern' means something slightly different to everyone. Simply put, a contemporary space is one that creates a relevant, on-trend feeling that prioritizes simplicity and functionality.

Modern decorating is an interior design style that embraces clean lines, minimalism, and neutral colors to create spaces that feel uncluttered, sophisticated, and timeless. Often integrating innovative materials, technology, and architectural elements, it's all about achieving a sleek and streamlined look. But, and this is key, making a home look more modern does not need to mean cold or boring.

And while less is more in this decor style, there are a few key hallmarks of modern decorating that you can rely on to help you create a deliberate and curated home. Here, we've spoken to renowned interior designers for their take on how to create a modern home.

The 6 Key Characteristics Of Modern Decor

modern living room

(Image credit: Brad Ramsey Interiors / Jack Gardner)

From a barely-there color scheme to clean lines and an emphasis on texture, when thinking about how to decorate a modern home, it is worth considering how to approach contemporary design.

'Modern decor, historically rooted in design movements such as Bauhaus and Scandinavian design, traces its origins back to mid-20th-century modern design,' explains Ju Young Oh of StudiOH Design. 'It is a celebration of space and natural elements, moving away from overly intricate and cumbersome decorative elements that were previously in fashion. It avoids excesses or forced embellishments, prioritizing simplicity as a conduit to the essence of true beauty.'

'This approach features eco-friendly materials, a subdued color palette, open spaces that seamlessly blend with nature, and furniture adorned with warm elements that enhance the overall minimalist feel,' she continues. 'Neutral, natural colors and versatile materials effortlessly complement various spaces and furnishings, ensuring a timeless aesthetic.'

Discover the modern decorating ideas you need to ensure your home is in line with a contemporary aesthetic. 

1. Neutral color palette

neutral color palette modern dining space

(Image credit: Sutro Architects / John Merkl Photography)

Of course, it will come as no surprise that in modern decorating, a neutral color palette reigns supreme. Providing a timeless and versatile foundation, neutrals will allow all other design elements in the space to take center stage. 

'A neutral palette composed of natural materials creates a sense of calm, says Stephen Sutro of Sutro Architects. 'The tone-on-tone color scheme allows the sculpture of the forms and play of light to be the focus,' he adds.

In modern decor, the focus is on creating a serene and balanced atmosphere that only decorating with neutrals can achieve. A muted color scheme with whites, grays, beiges, and touches of black will allow you to introduce color through accent pieces or artwork, adding personality without dominating the space.

designer stephen sutro headshot image
Stephen Sutro

Stephen Sutro is the founder and principal of Sutro Architects, a San Francisco-based boutique architecture and design firm specializing in custom residential projects. With work ranging from city to country and from contemporary to classic, he and his team design and manage all aspects of high-profile projects throughout the country.

2. Textured wall finishes

gray bedroom with plaster polished wall texture

(Image credit: Gilded Hearth)

Incorporating textured wall finishes introduces a layer of visual interest, elevating an otherwise simple scheme. Whether it's through the use of textured wallpaper, exposed brick, or modern effects like limewash and polished plaster, textured walls play with light and shadow to add depth and character to a space.

'Letting texture and negative space take center stage can be a vibe all its own,' says Emily Brownwell, founder of Gilded Hearth. 'Limewash, plaster finishes, or something like Roman clay can make walls themselves feel like a work of art.'

'Sometimes when your walls are the star, it's nice to scale everything back to let some negative space and asymmetry bring an artistic flare to your space,' she suggests. 'Here [above], we added nothing else to the wall but one cool sconce. This moody and minimal effect also plays well with a monochrome palette and feels calming yet artistic.'

'A good trick is to combine rough texture with smooth surrounding surfaces,' agrees Stephen Sutro. 'The textured material catches the light in a way that highlights the difference between architectural elements.'

emily brownwell founder of gilded hearth
Emily Brownell

Emily Brownell founded Gilded Hearth in 2018 after working for Homepolish and graduating from Syracuse University. Emily loves the hunt tracking down that perfect piece that fits into your home and your home only. When she’s not creating one of kind interiors Emily can be found enjoying the California sunshine with her husband and two young children.

3. Focus on creating a contrast

modern dining room with modern light fixture and contrast curtains

(Image credit: Plaster & Patina / Photography Bryan N. Miller)

Contrast is the secret ingredient that brings a modern space to life. Whether it's pairing light and dark hues, mixing materials, or juxtaposing sleek surfaces with rugged textures, the play of opposites adds energy to the design.

'To us at Plaster & Patina, I feel our spaces feel more modern with more contrast,' says Alexandra Azart, founder of Plaster & Patina. 'That could mean a contrast within colors or it could mean a sharp contrast within mediums such as a curved sofa against a traditional, sharp craftsman architectural backdrop, etc.' 

When creating the dining room space, above, Alexandra chose drapery that stood out against the backdrop and modern lighting fixtures to liven up the stained wood. 

Victoria Holly, principal and founder of Victoria Holly Interiors, suggests ensuring your modern design is elevated by disrupting clean lines with textures and layers. 'For example, a boucle fabric on your ultra-modern sofa or a chunky rug,' she advises. 'The same idea can be applied to furniture, such as rich wood on nightstands or incorporating unique metals and marbles. Opt for uniquely shaped pillows to add an unexpected pop to the eye, such as ball-shaped pillows. This adds a nice juxtaposition with modern clean and straight lines,' adds Victoria.

plaster and patina founder alexandra azat
Alexandra Azat

Known for her attention to detail and sophisticated aesthetic, Alex possesses a keen ability to deeply understand her clients style along with their hopes and dreams and cares to always surpass them. Her designs, although creative and unique, are always rooted in an old-world  and timeless overall feel.

4. Embracing curved silhouettes

curved chairs in modern home

(Image credit: Living With Lolo)

Curves soften the visual landscape, creating a sense of openness and playfulness in modern spaces, stopping them from feeling too clinical. Whether that's by investing in a curved couch, round coffee table, or arched doorways, these organic shapes defy the rigid lines we often associate with contemporary design. 

'Curves reemerged in the past few years and are coming to a climax in 2024, from sectional sofas to dining tables to headboards,' observes interior designer Joshua Smith. 'The curves lean more biophilic and biomorphic as we crave more nature. Mother Nature does organic shapes best, so it makes sense we’d want to pull that inspiration into our homes! It promotes an energy of softness and calmness.'

Brad Ramsey, principal and founder of Brad Ramsey Interiors, adds: 'By and large curves are in. Whether they are on a furniture silhouette or in the actual architecture, they are back in a big way and softening our living experiences.'

5. Mix your metals

modern wood finish kitchen with mix metal finishes

(Image credit: Neptune)

Mixing metals adds depth and dimension to a space, fostering a design-led and curated aesthetic. The key is to strike a balance, ensuring that the different finishes complement each other harmoniously, like in the kitchen seen above designed by Neptune. Experiment with metallic finishes in fixtures, furniture, and decor elements to create a cohesive yet contemporary palette. 

'Mixed metals are going to be a hit in 2024,' says Joshua Smith. 'There are lots of opportunities to use a mixed metal light fixture to harmoniously combine brass and black or bronze, or dare I say brass and nickel! Gasp.'

'Accessible options make it easier to find the perfect balance of finishes you need by mixing and matching certain parts,' he advises. 'The contrast among bedroom finishes will add that special touch of curated pizazz.'

Stainless steel, especially stainless steel kitchens, is a huge trend going into 2024 and beyond. 'Polished and cool, silver-colored metals make a refreshing contrast to the warm metals we’ve been seeing so much of,' agrees Charlie Bowles, director of Original BTC.

6. Prioritize clean lines with low-slung furniture

modern living room with neutral color palette and low furniture

(Image credit: Mansfield + O’Neil Interior Design / Photography Paul Dyer)

Clean lines and low-slung furniture form the backbone of modern design. The streamlined profile contributes to an uncluttered feeling, making the room feel open and more inviting. 'Go low,' says Victoria Holly. 'With a modern design, you can get away with lower nightstands, and sofas, and even drop your pendant lighting lower for a more intimate vibe.'

'Low-slung furnishings with clean lines are one of the hallmarks of modern design,' explains Lisa O’Neil, co-founder of Mansfield + O’Neil Interior Design. 'Layering in natural materials and textural elements adds comfort and prevents the design from feeling sterile or cold,' she advises.

Not only key in enhancing the modern aesthetic, but low furnishings also help to create a more connected atmosphere with less disruption, allowing for seamless conversations in social spaces.

 Mansfield O’Neil Interior Design founders Tiffany and Lisa
Tiffany Mansfield and Lisa O’Neil

Mansfield O’Neil is a creative collaboration between principals Tiffany Mansfield and Lisa O’Neil. Together they bring the spirit of a home to life, designing for the way people live with approachable, comfortable interiors that richly reflect their clients’ individual tastes.

Characterized by a focus on open space, a contrast between light, and dark and an embracing of clean lines and simple designs, modern decor seeks to outlive the evolving needs of a contemporary home. It is a style that continually evolves, embracing new trends and technologies, while always staying true to the core principles of simplicity and functionality. So, take these key learnings away and see how you can achieve a timeless and contemporary home that suits your needs and style choices.

Charlotte Olby
Content Editor

Charlotte is content editor at Homes and Gardens, having joined the team the week before Christmas 2023. Following a 5 year career in Fashion, she found herself working at many women's glossy magazines including: Grazia, Stylist and Hello and most recently working as Interiors Editor for British heritage department store Liberty. Her role at H&G fuses her love of style with Charlotte's passion for interior design, and she is currently undergoing her second home renovation in Surrey - you can follow her journey over on @olbyhome