What it is: Technically, contemporary design is rooted in the moment (as in this moment, here and now — how's that for having to think on your feet?). But in broad terms, it represents an about-face from the conventions of traditional decor.
Less is more: smooth profiles instead of ornamentation, solid or subtly patterned fabrics in lieu of colorful prints, minimal accessories rather than big collections. While it doesn't have the overt warmth of older design styles, it won't cast a chill either.
You'll often hear the terms "contemporary" and "modern" tossed about interchangeably, but they're not exactly the same thing. Modern refers to a specific design movement that arose in the early 20th century and follows stricter guidelines; contemporary, by definition, is more fluid and tolerates a bit of rule-breaking. (Keep an eye out for a guide to modern style in the near future.)
Why it works: A strong emphasis on line and form — two essentials of good design — gives contemporary style its energy. These rooms are designed with abundant open space and natural light in mind, which makes them feel airy and expansive. Because there isn't any clutter, every piece has to count.
You'll love it if... At art museums, you gravitate to the abstract works. You have more than two books with the word Simplify in the title. Heavy curtains make you claustrophobic. Geometry class was the high point in your school day. You're tempted to stash most of your stuff in storage and redecorate all in white.