Modern vs Contemporary – What’s The Difference?

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This question has come up time and time again. So I thought I should clarify once and for all. Modern and Contemporary in interior design are not one in the same, as many people might think. Modern design refers to a period of time, it is a design style that was created in the 1920′s – 1950′s. It doesn’t change, it is a defined style, and will remain such for ever. Contemporary design is ever changing. It is of the moment. Contemporary design is a living, breathing entity (ok, not really, no need to be afraid of it).

Let me explain; the term “Modern” in interior design really refers to “Mid Century Modern”. It is recognizable by it’s clean, unadorned interiors. Use of natural materials such as wood, leather, teak and linen are prominent. Molded plywood and plastic is very popular in modern furniture, as well as polished metal. Furniture is very open and raised off the floor allowing for an airy feeling. Walls are often white adding to the expansive feeling. Modern interiors generally have bare floors and if area rugs are used, they are typically wool, and neutral in colour. Hints of colour were used in moderation. We generally refer to modern interiors as retro these days. Here are some examples of Modern Interior Design:

Ok, so what is “Contemporary Design” then? Well contemporary by definition means “existing, occurring, or living at the same time; belonging to the same time.” And that is exactly the same for the use of the term in interior design. Contemporary design refers to what is popular or used right now. Contemporary design can be very eclectic for that reason, because it is ever changing and borrows pieces and styles from all different eras. It doesn’t have to be something that is “designed” right now – for example; furniture and art from the modern era are often used in contemporary design, and tradition mouldings and millwork are incorporated in many cases.

Right now a contemporary home might incorporate large windows, unique or odd shapes, open plan and harmony with the surrounding landscape. The finishes would use a lot of natural elements such as fir or cedar and stone. The finishing details and furniture are in-ornate and use clean lines. Comfort and sustainability are key values that are important in a contemporary home. Around here we tend to refer to it as “West Coast Contemporary”. In twenty years from now, something else will be considered “contemporary”.

I think part of the confusion is that right now, many elements of mid-century modern design are very popular and are being incorporated into contemporary designs.  Here are some examples of Contemporary Interior Design:

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