Modern Vs. Contemporary Interior Design: A Style Comparison

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If you are an interior design enthusiast concerned with up-to-date styles and trends, then you must be aware of the “modern – contemporary” terminology dilemma that has been around for a while. Going by the dictionary definition, modern is a synonym of contemporary, but when it comes to the interior design, things are not quite that simple. Although the two style genres have some general elements in common, they are actually each unique in their own way. Here’s what you need to know about them.

Words: Lillian Connors

What is the definition of contemporary design?

Contemporary design literally means existing right now, at the moment. It is dynamic, fluid and ever-evolving design concept that reflects the popular style themes of here and now. It incorporates the main qualities of different global styles, without focusing on any one specifically. Contemporary style emerged in the 1970s and it was originally a fusion of different art concepts such as art deco, modernism, and postmodernism before it was recognized as a distinctive style itself

Anyway, contemporary design shifts traditional boundaries of time and space and challenges traditional methodologies that interior design schools employ.  As this current master in interior space design methodology explains, it is important to reveal origin, essence and the soul of the elements that are ultimately implemented in the interior designed in contemporary style.

What is the definition of modern design?

Embracing the minimalist “Less is more” aesthetic, modern interior design style was developed as a stark antithesis to more embellished classical styles. Despite the fact that the modern design refers to the specific time period, it can’t be thought of as a single, distinctive style, since it takes on different incarnations and realizations which run the gamut from spacious rooms with a minimum of details to bold colors and abstract art.

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The roots of modern design go back to the beginning of the 20th century and the Bauhaus school for art and design. Based on Bauhaus aesthetic according to which “form follows function”, modern design could be identified as straight-forward, functional design dominated by clean lines and simple forms. Since many elements of modern design are popular today, it is an essential part of the present day contemporary interior design style.

Differences between contemporary and modern style

Still confused? Modern and contemporary styles are synonymous? Or, perhaps not? Well, let’s break it all down and look at some comparisons that will make the two design notions more palatable.

  • Contemporary design makes use of stone, glass, metal and other industrial inspired elements that are complemented with leather, cotton and wool materials used in furnishing. On the other side, modern style context abounds in natural and organic materials.
  • For the modern concept, good design is form follows the function. The contemporary interior incorporates accessories that are not functionally necessary. All the decorative pieces classed as contemporary style represent aesthetic principle primarily focused on the form which set this style apart from other design concepts.
  • In contemporary style designing, walls which are predominantly white or black make the backdrop to the unique decor elements. Bold starkness is a fundamental quality of the contemporary aesthetic which could be described as dramatic. Modern style interior features warm, earthy hues with rust, turquoise, olive green, and brown shades that enhance functional elements of the interior.
  • Contemporary furniture pieces are bold and distinctive yet basic. On the other side modern furnishing, no matter what, must be functional. Light fixtures in a contemporary space are supposed to highlight bold decorative pieces while modern lighting design tends to meet the needs and function of the space.

    03Similarities between contemporary and modern style

There are several similarities and overlapping components shared between the two styles. Here are some of them:

  • Both of the styles embrace clean lines and minimal decor. They abandon over-fussed, excessively ornamented space concept in favour of uncluttered, airy one.
  • The open-concept floor plan is a fundamental component of both contemporary and modern design, so living spaces merged in one make the basis of their designs aesthetics.
  • When it comes to furniture, both styles are all about exposure. Ottomans, sofas, and chairs with exposed legs alongside with plenty of exposed wood, metal and glass surfaces make an outline of both of the styles.02Unlike modern design, the contemporary style isn’t era-specified nor defined by fixed attributes, so it can be seen as more of a trend, meaning that the present-day contemporary will be outdated with the passage of time to be replaced with the ‘new’ contemporary.