Is It Modern or Is It Contemporary?

12 Aug

Is It Modern or Is It Contemporary?

“It’s great to design a beautiful, modern, sleek home like you’d see in a magazine. But if it doesn’t suit your lifestyle, it’s really wasted.” – Candice Olson, Interior Designer on HGTV’s “Devine Design”

When decorating, we look for labels to define our space.  Traditional? Modern? Contemporary?

However, descriptions are commonly misused. The mix-up between modern and contemporary happens because there are some crossover aspects. Learn some of the basic differentiations and you can set them apart.

Modern1Modern: 1920s – late 1980s
Modern design refers to the modern art movement in the 1950s, also known as Mid-century Modern. This design relies heavily on graphic shapes and sharp, continuous lines and is extremely minimalistic.


Minimalism plays an integral part in modern design and became its own movement in New York in the 80s. The Modern2basic principle “less is more” was the approach for this design. Detailing on moldings or excessive use of textiles is not a practice. In modern design you won’t see figurines or vases as accent pieces. Any crucial items, including books and keepsakes, are kept out of sight. Modern homes are often far more comfortable than they appear, due to the way they are streamlined for efficiency. This design can be thought of as bare, but in reality it takes a lot of planning to include what is absolutely necessary in the home. Nate Berkus, an interior designer seen on The Oprah Winfrey Show, said “In a minimal interior, what you don’t do is as important as what you do.”

The majority of modern homes use shades of black and white exclusively throughout the home. Bold colors are used as accents to help break up the neutrals and provide focal points. These colors are introduced sparingly and found in abstract art, a single piece of furniture like a red sofa, or a solid color rug.

Contemporary2Contemporary: 1990s – now
Contemporary design is a little trickier to define. Better Homes & Gardens describes contemporary design as the use of clean lines with a casual atmosphere, open spaces, neutral colors and elements, and materials inspired by nature.



Colors & FabricsContemporary1
Contemporary interiors feature tone-on-tone palettes, relying heavily on brown, taupe, cream and pure white. Shots of color are sometimes found on an accent wall or wallpaper. Natural fabrics such as silk, wool, linen and cotton are used for their textural aspect and inherent neutral hues. However, a bold color or geometric pattern may be brought into the design with pillows, a rug or a throw.


Glass3Furniture & Lighting
Furniture is made of light-colored woods that have minimal graining, glass, and a variety of metals. These pieces have clean lines and smooth surfaces without any carving or adornment. Silhouettes are slim without being dainty. Lighting is used as an artistic statement as well as function. Lamps have straight lines and sleek metallic finishes with a special shade. Recessed or track lighting draws attention to well-placed art and accessories.

So as you see, there are similar features in both styles. The main question to ask yourself is, are you looking for the warmth and comfort of contemporary design or are you interested in stark, streamlined look that modern design offers?

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