Modern vs. Contemporary Design: What’s the Difference?

By Steven Bertoni | December 28, 2021

Different furniture styles are what make your house look the way it does. Decor and design stem from the architectural structure of the house first, and then the furniture. Everything else (rugs, window treatments, wall art, etc.) accents the furniture. Thus, if you have traditional style furniture, chances are your interiors are filled with traditional accents. 

Understanding different elements of interior design style is a professional-level job. It’s why many people with an eye for style or a passion for design enter the field of interior design in the first place. The rest of us are left to attempt to go it alone (unless we hire a professional, of course). 

Luckily, there are basic style elements that hallmark each different type of interior design. Most of them are easily recognizable and set them apart from the others in a very obvious way. What happens, then, when two styles seem similar or even interchangeable? 

Modern design and contemporary design are quite often confused with one another, even though they are definitely two separate and unique styles. Understanding what makes each different from the other is the key to ensuring your modern home (or contemporary home) stays stylistically true to its roots. 

While both styles can, at times, look similar, they are distinct in their origin, methods, and furniture styles. These differences, however, don’t make them so stark in comparison that they aren’t complimentary of one another. In fact, it is entirely possible to have a home that is equally balanced with both contemporary and modern furnishings. 

Confused? We’re here to help. The Modloft design team can help you understand both contemporary and modern design. We’ll cover how they originated, what makes them each unique, and how they sometimes overlap. Our goal is to help you differentiate between the styles and use them efficiently in your own space. 

Modern Design

Modern design originated in the mid 19th century, between 1930-1960. Although the design and style continued to develop, it reached a peak during this time, and the personality of this style has largely gone unchanged since then. 

Modern design gets its name from the modern art movement, which preceded modern design. Modern art, or “modernism,” is characterized by works of art (paint, sculpture) produced from the mid-1800s through the mid to late 1900s. Modernism was a move away from tradition. Artists used new materials, explored color, and began to create pieces that were more abstract and symbolic. 

From this artistic change came modern design in building construction, interior design, and furniture. Architects and designers began to create works that focused more on form than flourish. Instead of an incredibly ornate, carved wood chair, a designer crafted a lightweight chair from natural wood that featured clean, curved lines, sharp angles, and beautiful simplicity. 

Modern design is recognizable by these features:

Contemporary Design

Contemporary design is harder to pin down. It is fluid, changing from year to year, and evolving over the decades, sometimes harkening back to other design styles and absorbing their traits. 

Contemporary design simply refers to whatever is most desired and sought after during the current time period. Contemporary style, as a class of style, developed in the second half of the 20th century, although it could be argued that it existed well before it was actually labeled. 

Contemporary design took a shift from the clean, sharp lines of modern design in favor of more curvature and softer finishes. Generally, there is more upholstery, softer features, and a more gentle appearance in contemporary design as opposed to the stark geometry of truly modern design. 

Contemporary design is never inside the box. Rather, it takes pieces of other design styles (traditional, modern, mid-century modern, and even Renaissance) and combines them into an aesthetic that is pleasing to current trends and popular tastes. 

Contemporary designs of today have taken on many of the attributes of modern design, making it easy to confuse the two styles. Here’s a look at what is currently considered contemporary style.

The Combination of Both

Because current stylistic trends have taken a turn back towards modern design, current contemporary design is largely modern in style. Especially in terms of furniture design, what is now considered contemporary is very much like what you would find during the modern design boom in the 1960s, but with an updated feel.

When we look at contemporary style today, we see the basic structure and design elements of modern furniture from the mid-nineteenth century but crafted with state-of-the-art materials and updated to reflect new trends in upholstery, color, and pattern. 

Both modern and contemporary designs feature:

Retained Differences

Even though contemporary design currently features modern touches, there are still definite differences between the two, especially when we look at modern design.

Modern Contemporary Furniture

The marriage of modern and contemporary design in furniture creates beautiful pieces that are distinctly their own. Pieces keep the structural form of modern pieces, but the use of newer, higher quality materials give these pieces a striking contemporary feel. 

No retailer offers more in terms of modern contemporary furniture than Modloft. Our designers work tirelessly to create pieces of furniture that are truly statement-making and artistic, yet functional and accessible. 

Modloft allows you to indulge your love of modern design while keeping your home contemporary and current. Our pieces are designed to be beautiful and intentional, engaging in our belief that if you fill your home with pieces that are beautiful and intentional, you will naturally create a beautiful and intentional life.  



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