skip to main content

Since 1995

Design Trend: Incorporating the Contemporary 

Contemporary Design can be hard to nail down. By nature and name it is the design that is currently being created, so having a broad or high level perspective on it can be difficult. Add to this difficulty that contemporary is often confused with “modern” design, which actually refers to a specific architectural period that emerged during the first half of the 20th century and ended around the 1960’s. Contemporary design or architecture is also often thought of on a grander scale as in the new, high-tech, form-focused buildings being constructed in places like the United Arab Emirates or Japan. There does not seem to be one connective thread between what we are currently referring to as Contemporary Design, except that new, innovative technology and materials are often being used.

That being said, it is clear that elements and waves of contemporary design are beginning to be incorporated into residential spaces. To learn more about this trend and its implications, we spoke to Danny MacNelly of ARCHITECTUREFIRM. which works on both new construction and renovations of residential and commercial spaces. The team at ARCHITECTUREFIRM believes that architecture should be integral with its place and that the best buildings allow people to fully experience the light and nature of that place. They strive for timeless expression of building that is appropriate to its users and their purposes, that blends progressive technology with elemental form. This appropriateness for the end user is a main tenant of contemporary design for MacNelly.

The way that people live now often creates plans and forms that are hard to shove back into classical forms. The classical plan has so much formality and separation of spaces and contemporary living generally wants to break down those barriers. This can certainly be solved with some traditional means, but I think people just want things to make sense, so often a contemporary aesthetic often makes more sense with the way that they want to inhabit the space.”

We have recently completed several projects that incorporated more contemporary design as our clients more and more are concerned with simplification, form, and merging their homes and space with its place and surroundings. According to MacNelly, simplification of form is an excellent place to start when incorporating contemporary design into an existing space. “Where you have two things that are handling a function, see if you can pare it down to one. Once the space becomes clearer, then you can start to focus on maximizing the beauty and function of what’s remaining.” Contemporary design may reject excess, but not art

“I’ve often said that our buildings try to be the canvas and in the case of a renovation, the art can be the old building, whereas in new buildings, the art is often the landscape, the light, or the actual art that’s in the building.”

MacNelly’s firm uses an “economical” approach to design. He explains that this just means simplifying the solution to its clearest iteration. “That might mean taking a material palette that has three things and making it have just two. Or creating a building form that’s more logical and clear.”

Regarding the future of contemporary design, MacNelly says “I do think that we’re seeing a lot more people want to apply a contemporary aesthetic to a more traditional form (like a barn or farmhouse). These sorts of buildings can bridge the gap nicely by being clear, clean, and also referencing historical concepts.”

Here are a few examples of how we’ve incorporated contemporary design elements into recent renovation projects.

In this kitchen, a super simple contemporary fireplace at counter height draws your eyes along the clean, straight lines of the island. The simple, metal framed window over the sink focuses more on the outside than the detail and trim of a traditional window. The subdued color palette lets the shape and form of the design elements shine.

contemporary home in charles city

contemporary home in charles city

In this home, our client wanted their living room to take advantage of its prime riverfront location with vaulted ceilings and large, stacked windows. The interior remained as simple as possible, allowing not even the centrally located staircase to block views from the kitchen and living space to the outside. The open risers and metal railings of the stairs keep the space uncluttered while also creating visual interest that is the architecture itself, rather than adornment.

contemporary fireplace

Eye-level fireplaces that scrap the hearth and mantle altogether have been a major design trend in our recent projects.


In this sitting room, materials and colors were scaled back to keep the small space as simple and visually uncluttered as possible without being sparse. Green walls, trim, built ins and curtains set a backdrop to a stunning contemporary marble fireplace.


The art chosen for the sitting room is also graphically straightforward and adheres to the monochromatic color scheme, while still making a big impact. It’s important to note that the actual architecture of the home is pretty traditional with crown molding, built-in bookcases, hardwood floors, etc. This is an example of how contemporary design can be incorporated in small ways by using the principle of paring things down, removing items that are unnecessary or that visually overcrowd a space.

While not directly involved in any of these projects, we want to give a huge thanks to Danny MacNelly at ARCHITECTUREFIRM for his time and expertise on this subject. We highly recommend taking the time to look at their impressive and stunning portfolio of work for more contemporary inspiration.