It’s a common misconception that modern and contemporary design are one and the same. This confusion may stem from the very definitions of the words:
According to the Oxford English Dictionary:
Modern is defined as “Relating to the present or recent times as opposed to the remote past”. Whereas the term Contemporary is defined as “Living or occurring at the same time”.
Both adjectives seem to mean the same thing, though the word contemporary seems to imply a continuous transition or movement. Contemporary design is ever-evolving.
The similarity in standard definitions of both terms has led to “modern” and “contemporary” being used interchangeably. It is important to have an idea of the differences between the two styles; even just a basic understanding of modern vs contemporary design in layman’s terms.
Modern design actually refers to “mid century modern”; the 1920s – 1950s era. It’s clean, airy and timeless, and was based on mass production and the new materials that were made widely available at the time.
Contemporary design changes from generation to generation. It’s current; the “design of the day”. Therefore it borrows from all sorts of styles, including modern, and so can be considered quite eclectic. Though contemporary design can incorporate modern elements, modern design is restricted to elements from that particular “modern era” time period.
The distinction goes far deeper than this basic comparison between modern and contemporary design, but I hope that this blog post is easy for anyone to follow and understand that the two terms shouldn’t be used synonymously with each other.
Both styles favour simplicity and uncluttered design, with modern design using a lot of natural materials such as wood, leather and glass, and metal and plastic. Contemporary design, due to the overlap of different styles, has more variation in surfaces. A particular room’s interior design could be labelled as being modern, with every component of the room modern, but with a couple of additions could become contemporary interior design instead.
Modern and contemporary can be used to describe architecture, furniture and interior design. The modern contemporary look is often seen as being urban, using geometrical shapes to create visual interest, in comparison to more traditional designs that indulges in ornate furnishings and motifs.
There is no definitive “contemporary design”. What is considered to be contemporary now will soon change to be a thing of the past in future. However, modern design is and always will be a certain style. The easy way to remember this is:
modern = static
contemporary = dynamic