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5 Characteristics of Contemporary Architecture

If you’re planning to build a new home or remodel your existing home, there’s a lot to consider. One of the most exciting, albeit complex, aspects of the project will be to choose the design approach or style you’d like your home to embody.

Contemporary architecture is a popular design aesthetic for many reasons. Not only does the bright, airy feel of a contemporary space establish a sense of comfort and serenity, but forgoes the unnecessary detail that can so often date a home beyond its years.

There is, however, more thought and planning that goes into contemporary residential architecture than you might think. Below is a look at what contemporary architecture actually means, plus five characteristics to consider when designing your home.

Modern vs. Contemporary Architecture

The first step in understanding contemporary architecture is to straighten out the related terminology. The terms “contemporary” and “modern” architecture are often used interchangeably these days, but it is important to note that they refer to distinct approaches to design.

Modern architecture refers to homes built in the specific time period between the early 1900s through the 1950s. As such, mid-century modern is another term that is often used to describe this design aesthetic.

Contemporary architecture, on the other hand, refers to homes that are “of the current time” and reflect the styles and needs of the present day.

Many of the elements of modern architecture are still very popular today. Therefore, there is naturally a fair amount of overlap in the approach to both modern and contemporary design. Below is a look at some of the defining characteristics of contemporary residential architecture and how they are leveraged in homes to stunning effect.

Characteristics of Contemporary Residential Architecture

1. Open Spaces

Contemporary homes typically opt to create large open spaces rather than smaller closed off rooms. This use of an open floor plan in common areas like kitchen, living, and dining areas serves to create one large space that feels lighter and brighter as opposed to individual rooms which can often feel small and dark.


Additionally, large expanses of glass or doors that completely pocket away establish a connection to the outdoors which echoes through the open living space.

When designing a custom contemporary home, planning an open living space is one of the first considerations that often comes into play. And, in cases when an existing home is being renovated to become more contemporary, special care is taken in revising the space to create an open floor plan.

2. Natural Light

When thinking of a contemporary home, the first adjectives that come to mind for many are light, bright, and airy.


This is something that both contemporary and modern architecture share in common, and it’s easy to see why. Incorporating an abundance of natural light into the home establishes a connection to nature that creates a welcoming environment. After the influential architects of the mid-century modern movement emphasized this connection, it has since been a staple in many approaches to residential design.

The term daylighting is often used in architecture to describe making design choices specifically to maximize natural light in the home.

3. Simple Material Palette

A simple material palette is another hallmark of contemporary residential design. In order to create a home that feels timeless, employing a simple material palette on both the interior and exterior of the home establishes a sense of simplicity that will stand the test of time.


On the interior of the home, this can often include neutral paint colors and natural materials such as wood and stone. Contemporary exteriors must also take into account the durability of the materials and how they will age after years of exposure to the elements. For this reason, residential architects will often purposely choose materials that age beautifully, including different types of wood, stone, and metal cladding.

In addition to the materials leveraged throughout the home, simple finishes work to accentuate the clean, open feel of the space and eliminate unnecessary fussiness that tends to age the home.

4. Innovative Approaches to Site and Programming

A contemporary approach to modern architecture often means looking at the site and the program of the home through an innovative lens in order to make the most of the available space.


In urban and suburban areas where contemporary architecture is popular for example, it’s not uncommon for plots of land to be narrow, unusually shaped, have height limits, or have other limitations that need to be addressed. A skilled architect will take an innovative approach to navigating the site to make the best use of the space to bring your vision to life.

Residential projects often come with restraints or requirements aside from the physical structure of the home as well. For instance, each homeowner has a unique set of needs that their house must fulfill, such as the need to accommodate more than one generation living under the same roof. In this case, the architect will need to think creatively to design the program of the house to address this requirement.

5. Careful Inspiration

Finally, contemporary residential architecture is careful to act upon careful inspiration rather than design trends of the moment. In other words, contemporary homes do not necessarily have a specific style of their own. Instead, carefully they draw inspiration from other styles which create a design that is current and reflective of the homeowners’ personal tastes.

The result is a timeless piece of architecture that can be enjoyed by the homeowner, their family, and friends for many years to come.

Building a Custom Contemporary Home

When it comes time to design and build your custom contemporary home, there are a few things you should keep in mind. First, get inspired but avoid following trends. Trends are fleeting, and relying too heavily on the trends of the time will often mean inadvertently dating your home before you’ve really had the chance to enjoy it.

It’s also important to keep costs in mind when building a custom contemporary home. For example, although it might seem contradictory, open spaces that leverage minimalist finishes can be more difficult to build (and therefore more costly) since everything must be done very precisely to ensure a high-quality finish. However, this shouldn’t deter you from making design choices that will ultimately lead to a timeless contemporary design. Instead, consider prioritizing these aspects in your budget so that you can ensure the end result is worthwhile.

Above all else, make sure you choose to work with an architect that you trust to bring your dream home to life. The right fit architect will find a balance between your family’s needs and desires while leveraging their expertise to create a space that is contemporary and can be enjoyed for decades.