Modern Vs. Contemporary Design: What’s The Difference?

Modern living room interior

Think modern and contemporary design are exactly the same?

Well, you’re not alone. As these terms are similar, many people often use them interchangeably.

Modern and contemporary design share the following characteristics: minimalist aesthetics, clean, architectural lines, and an open-space feel.

Ultimately, however, they do not refer to the same thing.

So how exactly does one distinguish between these two nearly-identical interior design styles? Read on to find out.

Modern Vs Contemporary Design
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Get Classy With Modern Design


a contemporary-styled room
Photo by newhouse on Pixabay

Your Dictionary defines modern design as “a style of decor that focuses on minimalism, neutral colors, clean design lines and environmentally-friendly materials”.

When it comes to the origins of modern design, however, different people have different opinions.

Modern design is said to be strongly influenced by Scandivanian and German Bauhaus designs, and to have been established during the peak of the modern art movement.

The age of machination is thought to have contributed to modern design
Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

Another version is that the origins of modern interior design can be traced back to the age of machination, which took place between the 1920s and 1950s.

Then there are also people who associate modern design’s beginnings with the early/mid-twentieth century.

Key figures of this era included individuals such as Le Corbusier, Florence Knoll, and Charles and Ray Eames.

Notable features of this interior design style include crisp, spare and sharp lines as well as clean, spare furnishings.

More often than not, furniture used in modern design is made out of materials such as wood, leather and light linens.


Modern Interior Design – Example 1

sleek, structured lines are a key characteristic of modern design.
Photo by Davide Cantelli on Unsplash

See the shape of these chairs? It has a very structured overall look, with rough and precise lines.

The furniture used is wooden, which is typical of modern designs.

This is what modern design is all about: the fusion of various elements/aspects.


Modern Interior Design – Example 2

The modern design consists mainly of colors like black, grey and white.
Photo by Rhema Kallianpur on Unsplash

Modern design is all about neutral colors and monochromatic shades like black, grey and white.

Rarely – if ever – will you see very bright colors used.

In this instance, the gold stand of the lamp against a dark backdrop makes for nice juxtaposition.

Refer to this article for ways to work black paint on your walls!

Without it, the entire look might have been dull and uninviting (and potentially a mood dampener).

We also like the pairing of white bedsheets with a black headboard. Very classy, no?


Stay Trendy With Contemporary Design

a contemporary-styled room
Photo by Pexels on Pixabay

The word “contemporary” can be defined as “of the moment”.

Contemporary design, therefore, is largely rooted in the present. It refers to what’s trending right now.

In this sense, contemporary can be considered as less of a style, and more of a trend.

The contemporary style is largely influenced by elements and other art styles. Examples are minimalism, art deco, futurism and many more.

Popular contemporary artists at the moment include the likes of Iman Issa from Egypt and Raed Yassin from Lebanon.

Contemporary spaces tend to feature rugs, pillows and throw blankets, as well as artistic accessories here and there.

What’s interesting about this style is that it features mainly neutral elements and bold colors, but evolves with the passage of time.


Contemporary Interior Design – Example 1

Red and orange, curved lines - behold the contemporary design.
Photo by Louis Hansel on Unsplash

Red and orange accents brighten up this space, which is otherwise dominated by neutral tones.

Characteristic of the contemporary style, there plenty of curves to go around in the forms of circular mirrors, chairs and light fixtures.

Accessories used are big, bold and fabulous while contributing to a rustic/vintage feel, and without being too overwhelming.


Contemporary Interior Design – Example 2

The contemporary design is minimalist, too.
Photo by Gabriel Beaudry on Unsplash

Who says black and white are boring colors?

White on white, or even black on black works so long as interspersed by bits of nature (wooden furniture).

This room is proof that with some graphic print, texture, and play on lines, any room can be a lovely one.



Modern Vs. Contemporary Design – Key Differences


1. Fluidity

Interior design styles can either remain constant, or change with the passage of time.
Photo by Artiom Vallat on Unsplash

Unlike modern design, contemporary interior design isn’t set in stone – it constantly changes and evolves with the passage of time.

What I mean by that is, what’s contemporary 10 years ago will likely be considered vintage today.

Unlike contemporary, modern can be traced back/is frequently associated with a certain time period.

Contemporary design has many trademark features. Two such features are bringing nature into interior space, as well as expansive windows.

Modern design, however, remains mostly static. Regardless of the era and changes to the interior design scene, modern style itself doesn’t change much.

It follows a strict formula which consists of these 3 aspects: balance, clean lines, and minimalism.

2. Colors

While contemporary favors the bold, modern is more about the neutrals
Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

Contemporary design utilizes mainly a monochromatic color palette: white, black and grey.

Monochrome can be really versatile – here are just 20 ways you can use these colors!

When colors other than these are added, they are usually pure and saturated ones such as indigo, orange and red. These colors are loud and create a strong visual impact.

Modern design, on the other hand, features mostly neutrals. Colors used tend to be warmer and more subdued.


3. Shapes & Lines

Lines can either be rounded or smooth, or straight and rough
Photo by Patrick Tomasso on Unsplash

Both contemporary and modern designs favor shapes which are crisp and clean.

The difference, however, is that the contemporary design uses shapes and lines which are slighter softer and rounder.

Contemporary design is bolder when it comes to lines: think jagged, oblique and bold lines which are artfully arranged.


4. Function & Form

some things are beautiful but impractical
Photo by Allie Smith on Unsplash

Whereas modern pieces of decor usually serve a particular function, contemporary pieces tend to focus on the form itself.

5. Materials

Different materials are used for contemporary and modern designs.
Photo by Alexandre Boucher on Unsplash

For modern design, the materials typically used for furnishings and furniture are natural ones such as leather, linen and wood.

On the other hand, materials used for contemporary design are mostly “state of the art” materials such as plastic, metal and glass.

In some cases, engineered wood like plywood and MDF is included, too.


And there you have it. We hope we’ve helped you understand the differences between modern and contemporary design.

Whether you’re into contemporary design or something more modern, we have a ton of tips and tricks to offer you here at We Redesign.


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