What's The Difference Between Modern And Contemporary Design?

Believe it or not, there's a pretty big distinction.

contemporary vs modern design
William Waldron/Simon Upton

A chair is a chair is a chair, right? Unless it's or perhaps a Beetle chair that you're referring to — okay, so maybe a chair isn't just a chair. When you love interior design and feel like you could talk about it all day, terminology matters. Words that might seem interchangeable or self explanatory can have nuances you've never picked up on before. Luckily for you, we're here to break down what some of the most popular design terms really mean.

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Today's lesson: The difference between contemporary and modern design. You might think these two styles are synonymous, both describing the sleek look of today, but they actually have their own distinct traits. Here's everything you need to know.

contemporary vs modern design
Mikkel Vang

"Modern design" refers to the specific time period between the early to mid-twentieth century. This was the peak of art and design informed by Scandinavian and German Bauhaus design, creating a distinct style focused on simple form and function.

From modern came mid-century modern (which was developed in, you guessed it, the 50s and 60s), although in the interior design world the term "modern" often encompasses both.

contemporary vs modern design
Kristoffer Johnsson
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"Contemporary design" doesn't refer to a specific period of time, it's constantly changing to reflect the popular styles of present day design. It borrows qualities from modernism, minimalism, and other global styles, without hyper-focusing on any one in particular.

The main differences between modern and contemporary design? Contemporary is by definition what's going on in design at this very moment in time, which makes it more fluid and hard to pin down. Modern design, on the other hand, has a distinguishable aesthetic that emphasizes crisp lines, warm neutrals, and balance.


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