Modern vs. Contemporary: What’s the Difference?

The terms “modern” and “contemporary” are often used to describe architecture, fixtures and overall style and home design. The two are used interchangeably, making it difficult to understand the difference. Yes, that’s right. There is ABSOLUTELY a difference! Even though the two have similar overlapping ideas, they are not the same.

Modern: Less is More

Modern design is unchanging and sometimes called “mid-century modern” because it was developed after the turn of the 20th century. Architecture consists of clean-cut lines, intentional asymmetry and tall glass windows where walls might have traditionally existed.

Interiors are clean, fresh and embrace simplicity. This style falls into a minimalist perspective, as less is more, here! Neutral colors are favored, although there may be a hint or two of color. While white walls are sometimes seen as a boring, colorless choice, with modern design, this is not necessarily the case. They help enhance the details of the room without being too distracting, and they expand the space within.

To keep the space from feeling clinical, the modern style incorporates plenty of materials from the industrial age such as molded plastic, wooden cabinets and polished metal. Modern furniture tends to be open and raised off the floor – giving the room a feeling of airiness. Floors are also usually kept bare, and if rugs are present, they are usually neutral in color and made of natural fibers.

Contemporary: Emphasis on Comfort

Unlike modern design, the contemporary style is ever changing and of the moment. It refers to what is popular or used right now. For this reason, styles can be eclectic and may borrow bits and pieces from a variety of styles and eras. Part of the confusion between contemporary and modern styles sparks from the popularity of many modern designs. Contemporary designs are often combined with modern ones, and it makes for a blurry distinction between the two.

Whereas modern design often incorporates industrial-type materials like concrete or steel, and features a linear design, contemporary design tends to embrace softer, more curved lines, along with its emphasis on natural materials, such as cedar and stone. This style may also integrate large windows, odd shapes, open floor plans and may also embrace elements from the surrounding outdoor landscape.

Where ultra-modern spaces might exude a sterile and stark feel, contemporary instead embraces stylish comfort. This may include, but is not limited to, soft rugs or floor coverings, throw pillows and blankets, and interesting and artistic accessories. Contemporary décor also makes use of a larger color palette. It departs from the more black and white tendencies of modern design and adds in more patterns and bright colors.

We hope this helps clear things up a bit. Differentiating between “modern” and “contemporary” isn’t always as difficult as it may seem. Although the concepts are similar, the two are VERY different. Next time the opportunity arises, we hope you can differentiate between the two with ease!


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