Modern vs Contemporary Design: What’s the Difference?

Often confused as being one and the same and used interchangeably, modern and contemporary are both names of different interior styles. Although very similar, contemporary and modern designer furniture have some key differences that set them apart from each other. In this blog, we discuss how to differentiate between the two interior styles:

Similarities between contemporary and modern interior design

  • They are minimalistic

The major feature that is the reason for the two styles being so often confused with each other is that they both prize minimalism. For both styles, the motto “Less is More” can safely be applied. Both modern and contemporary styles thrive on clean, smooth lines, and prefer uncluttered and simple spaces over filling a room with furniture and decor. You are highly likely to find only a few, carefully selected pieces of furniture in a modern or contemporary living space and every piece serves a purpose. This opens up the room and imparts a feeling of calm and comfort.

  • They use neutral colours

Both modern and contemporary styles prefer neutral colours like gray, white, black and brown. However, modern styles usually tend to gravitate towards more warm neutrals like wood, taupe, beige and cream, whereas you are more likely to see cooler colours like grey, white with accents of darker gray or black in a room adorned in the contemporary style.

  • They make heavy use of lines

Perhaps the most distinctive feature of both modern and contemporary furniture is their use of clean, smooth lines. These could be straight horizontal or vertical or even curved shapes, but you are likely to see heavy use of lines in everything from the architectural details used in the room, geometric shapes in the decor to the furniture used.

  • They feature exposed legs in furnishings

Adding on to the element of open space, both modern and contemporary styles prefer their furnishings like sofas, lounges, chairs and ottomans to have exposed legs and the base be slightly lifted from the floor. This again creates the sense of openness and adds more lines to the room. Check out our range of modern and contemporary lounges with exposed legs here.

Differences between contemporary and modern design

  • History

While the modern style of design is more strict and emerged out of the modernism movement in the late 1800s, the contemporary style is more flexible in that it is ever evolving. What we now know as contemporary style became popular in the 1970s, around the time when postmodernism was gaining populraity and borrows from several eras such as modernism, art deco, futurism, deconstructivism.

Where modern design follows the precept that form follow function and is heavily influenced by the German Bauhaus and Scandinavian designs, contemporary breaks all rules and is constantly changing to incorporate more design styles and elements. Where modern is simple, contemporary is bold.

  • Materials

The modern style makes use of natural and organic materials like wood, exposed brick, stone and leather, whereas the contemporary style is more often associated with the use of glass, metal and other industrial inspired elements complemented with fabrics like wool, leather and cotton. You are also more likely to see warmer, earthier colours such as rust, turquoise, taupe, olive green and sage and various shades of brown in a modern setting. The room is also more likely to be decorated using a monochromatic palette with primary accents. Whereas, in a contemporary setting, you will see a bold starkness in the colours used, with dark, deep colours such as navy blue and jade green used as accents. Strong contrasts are used in addition to neutral palettes.

  • Use of lines

Although both modern and contemporary styles place a major focus on the use of lines, in a modern setting, the lines are more likely to be clean and strong with a focus on balance and symmetry, whereas contemporary design more often has curved lines and cutting-edge shapes. You may see more asymmetrical pieces and bold, abstract styles used in contemporary art as opposed to modern art and furnishings.

  • Furnishings

While both styles prefer seating furniture to have their legs exposed, contemporary furniture is more bold and distinctive whereas modern furnishings must always be functional before they are made stylish. Every piece in a modern room serves a purpose, whereas contemporary furniture pieces should be simple, uncluttered but make a bold statement. However, neither style likes ornate furniture and stay away from skirts and tassels, ruffles, excessive carved details or floral prints. Think basic, bold and structural.

And there you have it! These are the key similarities between contemporary and modern designer furniture. Whether you’re looking for contemporary or modern designer lounges in Melbourne, head on over to our Southbank, Thomastown or Nunawading stores today or check out our vast collection of lounges online today!