Design 101: Modern vs. Contemporary

Design 101: Modern vs Contemporary

What is the difference between modern design and contemporary design? Find out below.

Most of us have made the common mistake of considering modern style and contemporary as one and the same. 

For both the interior and exterior design ideas of a small house or a bigger living space, modern and contemporary design can be applied depending on your preferences. From the build to the floor plan, to the architecture, even the house roof design, you can add elements of any of the two design themes.

But first, we have to find out: what is modern design and contemporary design? Aren’t they the same? Let’s take a look at the differences and similarities between the two.

Modern design

Modern Design

Modern design is about a specific time period in the past between the early to mid-twentieth century.

It is defined by sleek shapes, clean lines, natural accents, and restrained palettes to name a few. It’s also about accessible materials. Examples of this would be fibre glass and plywood.

Modern design focuses on functionality. Form and function are considered to be of equal importance in this theme. Modern design predates contemporary design.

Beginning at the start all the way through the middle of the 20th century during the 1950s-1960s, modern design is very much into earthy palettes and natural materials, the likes of leather, wood, stone, and silhouettes.

Colour choices are mostly neutral or warm, and prefer strong straight lines. This theme doesn’t overdo it with decor, keeping it at an absolute minimum, and even the pieces have function. Usually, the pieces are also elevated from the ground to create an open and airy vibe. Texture is also highlighted over quirky details.


Contemporary Design

This theme has several variations; it highlights contrasts over complements and decor pieces are mostly for ornamental purposes. While modern design prefers strong lines, contemporary design favours curves.

While we can put a date on when modern design was prominent, contemporary design continuously evolves and doesn’t have a specific period as it reflects the changes in trends and style in design. Getting inspiration from different themes of interior design through the years is an important factor, blending aspects of it into one complementary design that fuses the elements and makes it fluid. There is no specific time period that it adheres to because it is what’s prominent now.

As mentioned, it highlights contrasts, so contemporary design features a lot of blacks and whites. On the flip side, it can take inspiration from the whole colour wheel spectrum, too. It also opts for minimalism. But one of the things that make it unique is the elements of nature that are incorporated in the design.


Modern Contemporary Design

Modern contemporary design is a style that combines elements of traditional, modern and transitional design. It takes the best parts from all these styles to create a stylish, yet comfortable space. Characteristics of modern contemporary design include clean lines, neutral colours and materials, minimalistic details and an overall sense of simplicity. A modern contemporary space typically features an eclectic mix of furniture pieces and finishes, but with a cohesive look throughout.


Even while both designs have stark contrasts, there are also several things that they have in common; for starters, the concept of “less is more”; overcrowding of pieces and having insane amounts of decor is not a problem.

Both also have a partiality for open spaces and combined areas to maximise function. While other design concepts heavily rely on statement pieces in terms of size and texture, these two themes lean toward a balanced look on the space, not putting highlights on particular spaces or items in it.

Some themes make clutter look artful and nice. For modern and contemporary designs, uncluttered is the way to go. Although there might be pieces that don't make sense at first when put together, for example a certain furniture and its accent pieces, overall, it contributes to a harmonious look of the space.


The main difference between modern and contemporary design is in the approach. Modern design refers to a style that first emerged at the start of the 20th century, while contemporary design refers to a style that is popular today. Modern design often features clean lines, minimalistic details, and neutral colours. Contemporary design typically draws from many different elements and has an eclectic feel, mixing old with new. When it comes to materials, modern usually relies on natural materials such as wood or stone, while contemporary makes use of more industrial materials like metal and glass.

Now that we know the differences and similarities of modern design and contemporary design, it is easier to choose a style theme that best fits your personal style.

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