In our discussion of design this week, we started with one of the most traditional styles, Colonial style, and then discussed one of the most feminine and ornate styles, Victorian style. To round out the discussion, today we will cover contemporary style.
Contemporary style refers to many different styles that began in the late 19th century. These styles came from artistic movements that rejected traditional reverence for classical, ornate styles and reflected life changes due to advancing technology. Some of these movements are described below.
Arts and Crafts
The Arts and Crafts movement began in Britain in the 1860’s in part as a reaction to the industrial revolution and Victorian opulence. The movement emphasized the handmade over the mass produced. Designs were simple and wanted the viewer to appreciate the way things were constructed. In the United States, the movement lasted from the late 1800‘s to the 1930‘s and was known as the American Craftsman movement. Many furniture designs from this period were based on earlier American styles, like Shaker and Mission style. The work of Gustav Stickley and Frank Lloyd Wright are especially characteristic of this period.
Arts and Crafts design influenced several aspects of home design including open floor plans, built-in furniture, abundant windows and relating a home to its natural surroundings. Style 1900 magazine is a current resource for those interested in the arts and crafts style.
The Art Deco style was popular from approximately the 1920’s to the 1940’s. It stemmed from a French movement and emphasized an eclectic mix of design elements. Geometric shapes were dominant. Art Deco also incorporated design elements from cultures past, reflecting archaeological discoveries of the time. It also reflected the Machine Age and the streamlined shapes of airplanes and skyscrapers. Art Deco relied on materials such as steel, aluminum, lacquer and inlaid wood and introduced exotic patterns like zebra skin, chevrons and sunbursts. The spire of the Chrysler building in New York is one of the characteristic examples of Art Deco style.
The Pop Art movement began in the 1950’s and emphasized the use of mass produced materials and images from popular culture as art. In America, we commonly think of the soup cans and Marilyn Monroe images of Andy Warhol as defining examples. Much of the pop art movement was about taking a common, everyday object and putting it in a new context that made the viewer think about the object in an entirely new way. A sense of humor and irony was part of pop art style. In the home design context, materials such as plastic and PVC were used in furniture, furniture was made lower to the ground and unusual shapes were incorporated.
Minimalism was prominent in the United States in the 1960’s and 1970’s and emphasized stripping down an object to its essential elements. The movement was highly influenced by Japanese design. Objects were to be multifunctional and basic shapes were used, often cubic. Natural materials such as stone were emphasized. Houses often had flat roofs, open floor plans with minimal walls and interesting negative spaces. Lighting to enhance the design elements was a critical part of minimalist designs as well.
Postmodernism is an art movement that broadly describes many artists working in a contemporary style in the present day. The movement is broadly about individualism and skepticism. Postmodernists do not believe that there are ultimate truths or principles but rather just individual preferences and variety. Michael Graves is one of the characteristic postmodern artists. (Here in America, we may best recognize his unique kitchen appliance designs for Target.)
In home design, postmodernism might suggest that you do whatever you like and combine elements of design as you wish.
The Real American Modern Home
Most American homes today are an eclectic mix of a variety of styles. Traditional or Arts and Crafts furniture contrasts with the minimalist aspect of Granite countertops, the Art Deco-influenced stainless steel appliances, and pop art objects like Crocs, the Wii, Tupperware and children’s toys. You could say that our homes are perfect postmodern examples reflecting our individual tastes.
The challenge with contemporary decorating, however, is that while an eclectic mix is fun and easy, it is hard to make it look elegant and sophisticated. Most of the examples in magazines of beautiful interiors typically adhere to one decorating style. Unfortunately, few people have the shopping discipline to stick to just one style.
How do make an eclectic mix work? The key is to find ways to relate the objects to each other, either by emphasizing common attributes or contrasting differences. Some ideas:
- Color (group similar colors or contrast opposing colors, such as pastels with black)
- Shape (align similar shapes or contrast modern objects with harsh edges with organic, fluid shapes)
- Materials (match pottery, wood or stone or contrast materials, like china plates with metal sculptures)
As you look around your home this weekend, try to identify your dominant decorating style and see if there are areas to improve your decor by making small changes, like rearranging furniture or redistributing objects into different rooms.
How would you describe the decorating style in your home? What are your favorite aspects of contemporary design? Please share in the comments.