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Modern Design Versus Contemporary Design Mid Century Modern

Modern Design Versus Contemporary Design Mid Century Modern Modern Design Versus Contemporary Design Mid Century Modern

SHAPE & LINE: While modern design favors strong, straight lines, contemporary furniture can get a bit curvier.

Clean and unadorned, a modern home incorporates lots of natural materials like wood, leather, teak, and linen. For furniture, plywood, plastic, and polished metal are still the standard. That mid-century modern, airy vibe is also still all the rage so most pieces are usually raised off the ground and arranged in a way that makes the space feel open and expansive. Accent colors are okay, (feel free to throw in a retro red-orange hue every now and then), and fun, geometric patterns are always a plus.

What’s the big difference between modern and contemporary design? It’s a question that plagues the minds of many. You might find yourself thinking, don’t the terms modern and contemporary basically mean the same thing? Aren’t they both current and minimal, void of color and filled with clean lines? While some of that may be true, the differences between the styles can also be as vast as night and day. So to help you out, we’ve put together this handy guide to distinguishing the sometimes confusing contrasts between modern and contemporary interior design.

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Wood is featured on all surfaces to maintain the flow of this open-space modern living area. Image: Best Builders

“Modern design” refers to the specific time period between the early to mid-twentieth century. This was the peak of art and design informed by Scandinavian and German Bauhaus design, creating a distinct style focused on simple form and function.

By definition, “contemporary” refers to the period we’re living in at the moment, so this style has a bit more fluidity. A modern space tends to follow a strict format of balance, clean lines, and minimal decor.

Today’s lesson: The difference between contemporary and modern design. You might think these two styles are synonymous, both describing the sleek look of today, but they actually have their own distinct traits. Here’s everything you need to know.

Contemporary design often sticks to a stricter palate of black, white and grey. If color is added, the color is often the pure, saturated tone like true red, indigo or orange. Modern design colors have an earthier hue and feature shades like rust, turquoise, brown and olive greens. Check out the difference in these two:

COLOR: Despite the attention to minimalism, modern spaces aren’t usually cold or stark. They’re filled with plenty of warm and natural neutrals. Contemporary spaces, on the other hand, can have a bold starkness–think monochromatic black and white–but they also can swing all across the color wheel.

A chair is a chair is a chair, right? Unless it’s an Eames lounge chair or perhaps a Beetle chair that you’re referring to — okay, so maybe a chair isn’t just a chair. When you love interior design and feel like you could talk about it all day, terminology matters. Words that might seem interchangeable or self explanatory can have nuances you’ve never picked up on before. Luckily for you, we’re here to break down what some of the most popular design terms really mean.

Though it came to be around the 1970s, contemporary style doesn’t stem from a movement and it doesn’t refer to a specific period — it’s ever changing. In the beginning, it borrowed ideas from Modernism and blended styles from across the map before coming into its own.

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Images via YAMAMAR Design / Australian Interior Design Awards

Left: Modern, via StyleCaster / Right: Contemporary, via Bridge for Design

Left: Contemporary, via Haute Savage / Right: Modern, via Elle Decoration Sweden

Glass, steel, porcelain and concrete are popular contemporary design materials. Image: Studio Ten

Modern design today isn’t too far off from its original roots. The objectives are all the same and the clean-lined, uniformity of mid-century modern is still just as favored.

Modern design refers to an era that has passed, while contemporary design is all about the now and the future.

Both design styles have three general elements in common, which make them good design styles to mix and match into your own signature look. The three shared elements are:

Wood elements and nature-inspired decor play an important part in modern design. Image: Square Root Architecture

“Less is more” could easily be the motto for both contemporary and modern design. Each style of space is typically simple and uncluttered, opting for smooth lines and a little dash of artistic panache. You can forget about seeing anything heavy or ornate in either. Both styles are calming and neutral with a focus on materiality. Think reflective surfaces, exposed woods, metals, and glass.

Contemporary design interiors like this living room feature straighter, more austere lines, while modern tends to incorporate more curves. Image: Haus Design Studio

The early to mid-twentieth century saw the height of modernism in both art and design. While the world’s perception of art was being challenged, the German Bauhaus and the pioneers of modern Scandinavian design were crafting furniture and architecture that favored simplicity, form, and function. From modern came mid-century modern and the same principles were carried into the ever-popular styles of the 1950’s and 60’s.

A modern design featuring a minimal amount of furnishings and accents. Image: Koffka/Phakos Design

Stark white walls and furniture to match is big for the style, but natural elements like fir, cedar, stone, and even cork can be incorporated, too. Sustainability is huge for contemporary design. The overall visual look is unified but comfortable, stylish, and deliberate.

From modern came mid-century modern (which was developed in, you guessed it, the 50s and 60s), although in the interior design world the term “modern” often encompasses both.

A contemporary open space flows from one area to another fluidly. Image: KF Home Building

Contemporary design features state-of-the-art materials, glass and metals

Both modern and contemporary design styles are unfussy and lean toward clean lines instead of ornamentation, like this Scandinavian-style modern living room. Image: Garrison Hullinger

Here are the most popular elements and looks of modern vs. contemporary design.

The most popular modern design era is the mid-century modern era of the 1950s and 1960s. But Art Deco design of the 1920s or anything from then to the vintage look of the 1970s can also be considered modern.

Now that you know a little more about modern vs. contemporary design, which style do you prefer?

Browns, golds, turquoise and earthier tones are popular modern colors. Image: Nest Modern

“Contemporary design” doesn’t refer to a specific period of time, it’s constantly changing to reflect the popular styles of present day design. It borrows qualities from modernism, minimalism, and other global styles, without hyper-focusing on any one in particular.

Black, white and bold, saturated colors are very contemporary. Image: Atmosphere Interior Design

Because contemporary design is ever changing, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what it may look like in a home. Not every piece of furniture has to be new, of course. Since mid-century modern is so big, contemporary spaces often incorporate that style. Right now, a contemporary home might have large windows, use a variety of sculptural shapes, and strike harmony with the outdoor landscape through its architecture.

Contemporary minimal design. Image: John Maniscalco Architecture

The main differences between modern and contemporary design? Contemporary is by definition what’s going on in design at this very moment in time, which makes it more fluid and hard to pin down. Modern design, on the other hand, has a distinguishable aesthetic that emphasizes crisp lines, warm neutrals, and balance.

Many people think modern and contemporary design are the same. But there’s a world of difference. They may be synonyms when describing many things, but in design, modern vs. contemporary are quite different.

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