For many people, particularly those of us not overly-versed in the world of interior design, the realm of “contemporary design” may feel confusing. What does it mean? What style elements does it represent? It can be hard to spot if you don’t know what you’re looking for.

Contemporary interior design is not, in fact, simply a term for styles that are popular or on-trend. Rather, it’s a style all its own that’s all about clean lines, smooth surfaces, and furniture with soft, rounded shapes (as opposed to the harder, more crisp lines of modern design). It’s an interior design style that’s approachable, simple, and doesn’t include much ornamentation. Crate & Barrel, in its early days, is the brand that gave contemporary design a name and made it stylish. This style is perfect for those who want practical, approachable spaces that don’t have any frills but still feel designed and considered.

Lately, we’ve been seeing more and more contemporary design elements in the wild. In the past, some have characterized this style as having no style at all—but now we’re seeing it camouflaged in many different ways. And ways that are quite stylish, to boot! We may go so far as to say that contemporary style is reinventing itself and getting a facelift in 2020. It’s no longer simply a way to categorize boring hotel furniture! This style is blending with other interior designs styles and showing up in many different forms—from furniture shapes to styling techniques.

Want to see today’s take on contemporary design in action? Here are 13 ways we’re seeing contemporary design ideas come to life.

Quintessential Contemporary

If you want an introduction to contemporary interior design, this is a perfect space to begin with. This sleek living room features geometric shapes, hard edges, soft curves, and a high-contrast black and white palette—all quintessential elements of a contemporary space. The metallic accents, with their high-shine finishes, furthers the contemporary vibe. Purchasing furniture in a set is big in contemporary design, and you’ll notice that the end table is in the same family as the coffee table in this room. The result of all of this is a simple and unfussy look.

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Chic Contemporary

The structure of this credenza is very simple, with the only significant detailing being the geometric, color-blocked handles. This simple and “safe” take on ornamentation is classic contemporary. This whole vignette has an 80s-inspired design—from the warm, light woods to the high-contrast black and white elements. This is a perfect example of how you might see a contemporary piece, styled with an 80s influence, in use today.

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Sculptural Contemporary

Contemporary interior design often features soft curves—and you can see that throughout this living room. The sofa’s streamlined, curved design is echoed in the shape of the accent chair and in the curved legs and oval surface of the desk—which is made of burl wood, a very contemporary material. The styling of this space is also very contemporary; there’s a simplicity to the design that favors practicality while still bringing in some personality through the patterns and colors.

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Preppy Contemporary

The simple lines of both the bed and the nightstand in this bedroom are very contemporary, but have preppy accents. The nightstand is campaign-style which shows up a lot in contemporary design due to its clean lines and simple design. But the brass handles and accents elevate the look of this piece. The graphic, curved patterning on the bedspread, which is somewhat echoed in the accent pillows, is also a contemporary move. This design style favors geometric shapes, for patterns that are both graphic and digestible. Contemporary bedroom designs are all about ease of use and comfort—but having preppy, elevated elements that gives this room a more stylish edge.

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90s Contemporary

This design screams 90s contemporary. Geometric elements are loud here—from the repeated geometric texture on the credenza to the high-contrast black and white patterns on the vases and lamp. Both the high-contrast palette and the patterns are very contemporary. But this style also shows up in the straight, clean lines of the credenza and the curve of the mirror. The one element that steps out a bit from your average contemporary space? The size and placement of the mirror. This piece makes a big statement, both in the scale of the mirror, and with the bottom of the mirror being tucked behind the credenza. Yet, the positioning is very intentional and creates a very considered vignette.

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Geometric Contemporary

The furniture shapes in this living room are on-the-nose contemporary, with the sofa and coffee table featuring the more clean-lined and block shapes of contemporary while the chairs balance the look with their soft curves. The repeating straight lines and geometry in the rug and pillows further drive home the contemporary vibe of this space. While this space has definite warmth and comfort, you’ll see that there are really no unnecessary objects in the room. The patterns and high-contrast palette keep it from feeling spare, but it definitely has a pared down look.

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Glam Contemporary

This space, while featuring the clean, simple lines and soft curves of contemporary design, but the use of materials like velvet, brass and gold finishes, and marble and travertine table tops bring in an edge of glam to this look. The mixed shades of green throughout also bring this look a bit more of a glam vibe. However, the simplicity of the styling helps keep this look grounded in contemporary design, as does the abstract artwork, which is quintessentially contemporary.

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Cohesive Contemporary

The simple, practical styling of this living room, along with the clean lines of the coffee table and soft curves in the arms of the sofa, ground this look in contemporary. But the decor also plays a big part in this. The artwork is large-scale and abstract, while the sculpture above the fireplace echoes the geometric patterns found elsewhere in this space. The fireplace screen leans contemporary, though it’s probably a bit more decorative than some contemporary disciples would go. While different shapes are present, the use of black metals and a black and white palette throughout keeps the whole look quite cohesive.

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Mid-Century Contemporary

This room features a beautiful mix of mid-century and contemporary elements. Mid-century can easily bleed into contemporary design and a space like this is where they meet. The table’s base and acorn finish are very mid-century in style, while the legs of the chairs echo the finish. But the shape of the chairs skew more contemporary. The credenza is a perfect blend of the two styles, with a touch of rustic in the finish. The wall art and vases on the table are definitely contemporary in design though, with the art being more an abstract statement of color than an artistic expression.

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Eclectic Contemporary

This space is a more eclectic take on contemporary interior design. While it still has the clean, straight lines and repeating shapes that are hallmarks of this design style, the patterns found in the rug and pillows, along with the use of leather in the poufs and the more literal artwork, definitely bring this look into the eclectic realm. This is actually a very approachable take to contemporary design today. The contemporary pieces like the simple sofa and round wood coffee table, combined with a few eclectic pieces for some added personality, creates a simple but warm space that we see in many homes today.

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Colorful Contemporary

While contemporary interior design often features a black and white or grayscale color palette, using color certainly isn’t out of the question! This bedroom is a perfect example of color being used in a vibrant but very safe and approachable way. Orange is repeated throughout, from the rug to the throw, pillows, and lamp. This complements well with the blue accent wall, which adds a large wash of color to the space. (Accent walls are also very big in contemporary design.) The shelving unit is also quite contemporary, with its simple and straightforward design, but the triangular shape gives it a bit of extra visual interest.

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Coastal Contemporary

Contemporary and coastal styles go beautifully together—as fan favorite brand Serena & Lily has proved again and again. Contemporary design doesn’t use a ton of natural, textural materials—but that’s an absolute must for coastal contemporary. The simple shapes and geometric blocking in the bed and chair, along with the soft curves in the side tables and lamps, give this space a contemporary foundation. But the lighter, natural materials and woven elements, combined with the use of earthy colors, gives this space a very relaxing coastal feel.

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