Contemporary home design vs traditional home design

Written by in Renovating

Whether you’re looking for a home to buy or renovating your existing home, one of the hardest decisions you can often come across is whether you favour a contemporary-style home or a more traditional design in your home. But what exactly is the difference?

Contemporary home design

Contemporary home design is simple, in principle. It is anything that is designed and constructed now, rather than a century ago. Technically, a contemporary design that is based on a previous era could be called contemporary, but it is easier to separate these two ideas when deciding on your own home renovations.

Contemporary home design can draw from the past, present and future, but should not be confused with ‘modern design’, which can adhere to any particular style period/era in the 20th century (it is most commonly affiliated with the 1950s-60s).

Contemporary home design can be many things, having the advantage of drawing from the best of previous design eras. Where traditional home design can seem heavier and ‘conservative’, contemporary home design can use various materials and designs, even if they are heavy (i.e. concrete), to create a levity in the overall aesthetic of the home.

A contemporary home design living room

Levity in design

Despite the above home incorporating heavy materials into the design (stone and marble), the cleanliness of the design (uninterrupted straight lines in the benchtop, stone columns and fireplace gridwork) ensures the interior’s design is as uncluttered as possible. This principle is key to contemporary design, as it allows homeowners to inject their personality in to the fixtures and ornaments in a home without worrying that a room seems too busy.

Contemporary home design lines of sight

Eyes on every line

Lines of sight are a core motif of contemporary home design. Architects and interior designers use a range of lines used in tandem to guide movement within a home, invite more light into a space, and draw the eye towards specific areas of a home.

Contemporary home design shower

Greater freedom

Contemporary home design, like the above, allows for a greater freedom in your use of materials, shapes, forms and palettes. You are not limited to an ‘era’ and its specific aesthetics (not that you are ever really locked into any style, unless you want to be). Contemporary home design often brings in new textures as a nod to traditional building materials, such as the above slate, which harks back to the stone as a building material, while also adding a subterranean aesthetic to the bathroom design.

A contemporary home design incorporating traditional motifs

Just as contemporary design has the freedom to innovate and create entirely new homes, it also has the freedom to pull from traditional styles, such as in the above living room, which draws from a  variety of styles (vault arched ceiling synonymous with European design, tear-drop couch that hints at a fainting couch, soft provincial curtains, futuristic lighting) or like the below example, inject a contemporary design onto a period home, while blurring the lines between antiquity and modernity (Michelangelo’s David blown up to wall size).

A contemporary home design placed on top of a period home

Minimalism can create opportunities

Minimalist contemporary home design is often created to rid a home of superfluous angles or fixtures, and in doing this allow for a greater blank space in which creative thought can flourish. A contemporary home design can be a blank canvas in which someone may enjoy its simplicity, rather than feeling claustrophobic in the busy aesthetic of a traditional home design.

A minimalist design allows for creative thought

Traditional home design

Two forms of traditional

Traditional home design can be one of two things: it can be anything prior to the modern period (20th century), even though this rule can be broken (e.g. traditional Scandinavian design), and the second being what has become the norm in contemporary design. This second form is sometimes referred to as the ‘pendulum effect’ in design, where a particular aesthetic and style becomes so ubiquitous (and so in a sense, ‘traditional’) that designers start to reject it and swing in an opposite direction.

Compartmentalised design

Traditional home design is often compartmentalised

Traditional home design is often very compartmentalized, which can make it a lot harder to inject contemporary designs onto. This is where rooms have a specific purpose, such as a study or a dining room, and in these rooms the furniture, fixtures and ornaments may be restricted for use in that particular space. This can provide a sense of stability and solidity in a home, which many people look for when designing their homes, as they find comfort in the security this aesthetic suggests.

Traditional symmetry


Symmetry can often be found in traditional home designs. Why? That topic is enough for a student to write their thesis on, but symmetry occurs all around us (for instance, look in a mirror) and it cues within us feelings of balance, solidity, and most importantly, safety. It could be argued that we feel safer when faced with symmetrical designs, as there is nothing unexpected (no hungry lion just outside the light of our cave-man camp fire), and as such we do not have to feel afraid of any surprises and what we can’t see (inherent in contemporary home design).

Ability to be timeless

Japanese traditional home design can be considered contemporary

Traditional design, such as the above Japanese home, can often seem quite contemporary due to its simplicity. Incorporating minimalist motifs from traditional designs can be a great way to get the best of both worlds.