Here’s a brain teaser for you: When is modern not happening now? In interior design, “modern” actually took place in the past. Modern design refers to the styles of the early- to mid-20th century, and mid-century modern represents the end of the modern period.
So, right now, we’re living in … what? … the future?! In design lingo, whatever’s in style in the present moment is called “contemporary style.” (Although, futurist style is also a thing, so you can live in the future if you want to.)
If you want to design a space that’s of-the-present-moment, then you want a contemporary living room. But contemporary style actually borrows a lot of elements from modern style — minimalist design, neutral color palettes, and functional wood furniture.
Modern style was made for everyone, so its enduring appeal is no surprise. To get this look in your living space, use these modern living room design ideas.
Elements of modern living room design
Interior designers followed the lead of Scandinavian and German Bauhaus architects to create the modern look — bringing in minimalism and natural materials from Scandi designers, and borrowing functional shapes, industrial metals, and simplified color schemes from Bauhaus artists. Here are some living room decorating ideas to incorporate into your modern space.
You won’t find the scrolled or sloped backs of traditional-style sofas in a modern living room. Instead, modern furniture incorporates clean, geometric lines. Look for square or gently rounded edges. When your eye follows the lines of modern furniture, it should feel infinite — like your eye could continue to trace that shape forever. Imagine the continuous straight line of the horizon or the never-ending shape of a circle.
The white living room walls and tan furniture that have become signatures of stylish living rooms everywhere originated with modern design. This style eschews the bold colors of traditional or Hollywood Regency home decor in favor of more muted room colors. When modern living rooms of the early 20th century incorporated more color, they often opted for a navy, olive green, or earthy pink.
One of the benefits of choosing a neutral color palette for your walls and larger pieces of living room furniture is that it makes your space easier to redecorate. You can add a pop of bold color with less expensive room decor like curtains, throw pillows, area rugs, or table lamps.
The glam materials of the 19th century — like crystal chandeliers and mirrored furniture — stepped aside in the early 20th century. Modern style brought us back to our roots with natural materials like wood, stone, leather, and rattan. To bring more of the outdoors in, make greenery a focal point in your modern living area.
The simple square shape and tapered legs of a mid-century modern side table evolved from a basic concept: Utility can be beautiful. The purpose of a side table is to give you a place to store knick-knacks and set your drink down. Modern design doesn’t try to hide this function behind ornate scrollwork and turned table legs. It embraces the principle that form follows function.
Minimalist design and modern design go hand in hand. This decorating style embraces an uncluttered look. It leaves a little more space between furniture and doesn’t feel a need to fill every corner. You can still hang art on the walls and add a cute console table behind the sofa — the idea here is to make room for what you love and not collect more than you need.
Creating a minimalist look might sound more difficult in a small living room, but it can actually make a small space feel larger. Just choose thoughtful living room storage to make it easier to achieve your minimalist look.
Modern living room furniture to inspire your retro makeover
Now that you understand the basic concepts behind modern design, let’s put our modern living room ideas into action with a look at modern home furnishing. Each of these pieces represent a core tenant of modern design. Adding them to your living room will help you start your redecorating process and nail the modern look.
A mid-century sectional
A mid-century modern sectional sofa with a square back and tapered wood legs exemplifies the later stages of the modern design period. The neutral grey color of this Churchill tufted cushion sectional will pair well with the rest of your neutral color palette, and the dark shade holds up in a house with young children or pets. The wood legs will match the other natural materials in your modern living room and tie the look together.
A neutral sofa
For a lighter color scheme, this Kester sofa is everything a modern living room needs. It offers three neutral shades for you to build your color palette around — a soft beige fabric, light wood frame, and black metal legs.
This design also embraces the contrast of natural wood from Scandinavian design and industrial metals from Bauhaus style. The metal legs make it easy for you to put a rustic or industrial twist on your modern decor so you can create a space that’s all your own.
A leather and cane accent chair
This striking yet sleek accent chair brings three additional layers of texture to your living space. The genuine leather seat adds buttery softness, which contrasts with the hard metal legs, and woven cane backing. Cane is an unprocessed rattan, and its basket weave pattern creates visual depth.
Using a variety of textures in your space is a great way to create visual interest in a room with a neutral color palette.
A low-key lounge chair
For a recliner that doesn’t clash with your modern space, this push-back design lets you lounge in comfort and style. The neutral upholstery allows you to add color with your less expensive home decor accessories, or to embrace a monochromatic color palette. Plus, the wood frame can inform your wood choices for the rest of the room — opt for other dark wood furniture to match or create a curated look with mismatched wood finishes.
A minimalist coffee table
This Gano coffee table with hairpin legs gives you only what you need — space to set your books and cup of coffee. The natural wood top contrasts with the industrial metal legs, and the empty space beneath the table will make your living area feel more open.
A side table with storage
Bring this Marlow two-drawer nightstand into the living room to serve as a side table with practical storage space. The square design and tapered metal legs will mirror the look of your other living room decor, while the multi-colored wood finish will add a comforting touch of rustic style. The unique wood creates visual interest by adding more hues to your neutral space.
A bookcase with clean lines
This four-drawer etagere is a sleek storage option that creates clean lines with the grid-like pattern of its black metal frame. The dramatic grain of natural sheesham wood brings the outdoor in, and the drawers allow you to hide items away to maintain your minimalist look.
To keep things minimal, don’t fill every shelf. Try putting a small item on some shelves and leaving empty space around it. Not only will this call attention to the item and make it appear extra special, but the negative space around it will promote an open, uncluttered feeling.
A geometric floor lamp
Never underestimate the importance of light fixtures for completing the look of your modern living room. Not only is light essential for practical reasons, but it can also call attention to an element of your design that you love.
Place this modern floor lamp beside your favorite accent chair to spotlight the piece and provide task lighting when you want to read or work in your living space. The square frame of this lamp and the horn-style shade will reflect the clean lines of your modern living room design while the black metal frame will match the other metal elements in your room decor.
Bring your living room back to the modern era
We might not be time travelers, but we have an eye for timeless style. By looking back in time to the modern design period, you can update your home. Many of the key elements of modern design endure in our contemporary decorating choices — from clean lines to neutral colors to minimalist styling.
These elements make your space feel more open and more functional. To add a modern look to your living room, find a Coaster furniture store near you and start picking out your favorite modern pieces.
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