The Great Debate

Contemporary vs. Traditional Design

Coke or Pepsi? iPhones or Androids? Cats or dogs?

These hot debates never seem to reach a conclusion.

While there are thousands of styles out there, there is perhaps no greater debate than between these two styles: contemporary and traditional.

Similar to people’s preferences for certain phone brands or pets, most tend to side strongly with one style over the other. Contemporary style is shiny and new— a breath of fresh air. Traditional style, on the other hand, is timeless, and its mark on the interior design world won’t be fading anytime soon. At James Décor, we offer a selection of both styles to suit all different tastes.

What makes the two styles so different? Let’s take a look, so you can decide whose side you’re on.

A fundamental difference between contemporary and traditional interiors is that contemporary design places emphasis on space, while traditional design places emphasis on things.

The adage “less is more” could be used to describe contemporary style. This style emphasizes light and the absence of clutter. You’ll find mainly neutral colors in contemporary interiors, although pale or bright colors may be used sparingly. One trademark of this style is bold lines, which can be seen in geometric shapes and color blocks.

Furniture is typically simple and unornamented. Texture can be used to add some interest, but only on occasion. Common textures in contemporary design include wood grains, fur, and natural fibers, like cotton or silk. Flooring can be wood, tile, or vinyl. Carpet is only to be used if necessary for acoustics or other reasons.

Spotlights are common to highlight a significant piece of artwork or accent wall. Artwork and accessories are used sparsely. Bold, large pieces are common, rather than several smaller ones.

Large plants are also popular in contemporary interiors.

Photo: Traditional interior, from

Photo: Traditional interior, from

The traditional style is familiar to most, filling up furniture catalogs and showrooms. It is likely to be a style you grew up with in your own home, or perhaps your grandparents’ home. It’s no wonder this style is so cozy and comforting.  

In one word, traditional design could be described as predictable. It is orderly, and commonly symmetrical. You won’t find anything that stands out. Everything will match.

Photo: Traditional living room, from

Photo: Traditional living room, from

Colors are typically not very bright or very pale. Tones come from the middle of the road. Line is used softly, rather than boldly, and you’ll find a mix of vertical and horizontal lines. Fabrics frequently feature small patterns like florals, stripes, and plaids.

Flooring could be hardwood, but carpet and rugs are also common. Furniture consists of soft textures and forms.

Lamps, books, plants, china, and framed prints are common accessories.

Whether you prefer the simplicity of contemporary design or the comfort of traditional design, it’s clear that each style has an appeal in its own right.

We’ll just have to agree to disagree.


Michaela Satterfield

James Décor Intern