The differences between modern and contemporary design style

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…with a rant as a side dish

A couple of months ago I wrote a little piece about the differences between interior designers and interior decorators. I tried not to be too harsh on the decorators, but the article could be summed up in one sentence: Anyone can be an interior decorator, but not anyone can be an interior designer. However, the key point of the article was that people who are not into interior design or decoration have no idea about these differences, which makes them an easy pray for money-hungry scammers. The article was written for an online publication, so I won’t repeat myself here, but I cannot stress enough how important this “word plays” can be if you are building your home interior from scratch.

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Eclectic modern design. Photo by Twist Tours.

Anyway, at this point, you are probably thinking: “What TH does this have to do with the title?”, but hang in there, I’ll get to it. So, that whole thing with the article got me thinking how lightly we throw some words around and most of us are unsure of what half of those words even mean, let alone what exactly they represent. That brings us to our point: decorator vs. designer, monochromatic vs. muted, industrial vs. steampunk, modern vs. contemporary, etc. You are not so sure what the differences are, right? Luckily, I’m here to do the research for you.

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Domesticated contemporary style.

Most people think that the terms “modern” and “contemporary” are synonymous, and I’m not talking just about interior design. As an avid reader and bookstagrammer, I can say for certain that both of these terms are often misused in regard to literature as well. So, let’s determine the differences once and for all.

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Contemporary interiors with pops of color.

Modern

Modern refers to the time period ranging from the early to mid-twentieth century and its key figures were Florence Knoll, le Corbusier, Ray Eames, and Charles. One of the primary characteristics of modern design was and still is its focus on block colors. If you come across a minimally decorated, but not quite minimalistic room, with lots of industrial materials colored in primary hues, chances are it is designed to fit the modern style narrative.

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Primary colors in a comfy modern setting. Photo credit: Tejas Shah / Workshop Inc.

Defining modern interior design can be challenging simply because its reign as the favorite design style of many lasted for more than one century. From boujee royals to wives of blue-collars, everyone wanted some modern in their homes.

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Rejecting the artificial through simplicity, Photo credit: Subhash Patil / Sunil Patil and Associates.
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An urban take on the modern design style.

Essentially, modern interior design is all about clean lines and simplicity. It includes lots of modern art, abstract lines, concrete, and steels, with strong pops of primary colors. The movement itself was founded on rejecting the artificial, so modern paralleled its approach to beauty with its approach to functionality.

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Luxury modern.

Contemporary

Unlike modern, contemporary design isn’t attached to a particular time period. Contemporary design constantly evolves and adapts itself, aiming to reflect a variety of presently popular styles. It will take from Art Deco, minimalism, rustic industrial, eclectic, coastal. farmhouse chic and many others, but it will remain its own thing.

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Contemporary art on the wall speaks volumes. Source: https://www.luxdeco.com/

Although, contemporary style is almost completely ambiguous, there are some distinctions that can help us define it. One of the main characteristics of contemporary design is exposed to construction and materials. Bare structures and sculptural lighting are always a good indication that you are in a room done in a contemporary design style.

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Exposed beams and naked large windows.
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Earthy hues in a contemporary living room.

Contemporary art on the walls, lots of earthy and natural hues, and an open plan with lots of space are also some of the main elements of the contemporary design style. Because the style itself is evolving, it can be tricky to pin-point all of its key figures. Fernando Mastrangelo, John Lawson, Lily Kwong, and Jorgen Hovelskov are just a few of the maestros of contemporary interior design.

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Spacious interiors with natural tones. Source: IGTV.

So this post was a trip, amirite? We’ve determined how important terminology can be, AND we now know the difference between modern and contemporary interior design styles. In this age of political correctness, it is good to be on fleek with the terminology because you never know how people around you will interpret what you said if you don’t word your thoughts properly.

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Colorful contemporary.

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