Detail Article

Modern vs Contemporary: What’s the Difference?

  • 2020-11-17 11:48:40

Credit: Elle Decor

You’d be excused for thinking Modern and Contemporary referred to the same style of design – because, on the surface, they do seem to be synonyms of each other. However, in design, these two terms play an integral role in influencing the overall design direction and the projected outlook of the space – so the next time you relay your ideas to your designer, do keep in mind to use these terms conservatively to prevent miscommunication and confusion!


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Modern design came before Contemporary design. This information is essential as it tells us the shared framework of these two styles, and how they relate to one another. 


Modern Design

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Modernism was brought into the design scene at the peak of the modern art movement, bearing features resembling the Scandinavian and Bauhaus design styles respectively. Simple form and function were highly valued in Modern design, giving birth to the minimalist trend.

Earthy palettes, streamlined forms and natural materials such as wood, leather, and stone were representatives of the Modern era.

Contemporary Design

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As its name suggests, Contemporary design occurs in the present and is constantly evolving to reflect the popular styles of the design seen today. The words that bind to Contemporary design has to be ‘ambiguity.’

However, it also has characteristics that are evergreen. A good way to spot a Contemporary-styled design is to pay attention to the presence of neutral palettes, minimalism, neat lines, and organic silhouettes. Materials such as glass, steel, and nickel are prominent tell-tale signs of Contemporary design.

Main Differences

-Contemporary design is more dedicated to the monotonous colour palette of white, grey and black, while Modern design incorporates earthier tones and warm neutrals.

Main Similarities

-Both styles rely heavily on minimalism and simplicity.

-Both styles are built upon clean and neat lines, keeping ornamentation to a minimum.

-Both styles capitalize the use of rectilinear forms to enhance the effects of spaciousness.

The Breakdown

To put it simply, Modernism refers to an architectural style established between the early 1900s and the 1950s. It's a very distinct, defined style and it doesn't change.

On the other hand, Contemporary essentially means the style of today. It doesn’t embody a specific trait and it’s not distinct at all, because styles and trends evolve very quickly.

Therefore, Modern refers to a specific time period in American history and Contemporary refers to the ever-changing trends in today’s world of design.