Interior Design Glossary: Modern Design VS Contemporary Design


In the realm of interior design, there exist two confusing styles: Modern design and Contemporary design. People tend to conflate the two, since in daily conversations, the two words carry similar connotations, meaning ‘up-to-date’.

In the world of design, the Modern and the Contemporary are distinct styles coming from different times. Modern design has its roots in the 1950s, while Contemporary design is all about 2019, now.

Contemporary design changes over time as new trends replace older ones.

In contrast, Modern design is a stable set of colours, structures and materials especially popular in the 50s and had developed into a style that can stand on its own.

Modern design with additional Contemporary elements


Modern design

This design is a style proliferated and became internationally popular in the mid-twentieth century. This design features a fascination with the mass production culture, as well as all things high-gloss. This includes furniture that are made of glass, acrylic and polished wood.

First and foremost, the Modern palette is a smash of highly-saturated candy colours like avocado, mustard, burnt sienna, and earthy tones that go well with wood and brick, the common building materials in the 50s.

But the most emblematic feature of Modern design is low, horizontal furnishing and the lack of pointy angles.

Geometrical structures with smooth angles are showcased in the forms of low, symmetrical leather sofas, curved acrylic chairs and pendant lights.

Low sofa and chairs in a Modern style

Modern design sometimes incorporates elements of industrial design, except the roughness of materials. The Modern glossiness is always there.

Japanese Country design in a 50s Modern palette, does this remind you of the Showa style?


Contemporary design

Contemporary design is the design of the now. You can almost call everything currently on trend  ‘Contemporary design’; this style can be an expression of the avant-garde.

At the moment, this style is always a bit minimalist. An overall transparent quality, cleanliness, spaciousness and comfort are pivots of Contemporary design.

Contemporary design: futuristic furniture and minimalist palette

A neat and frugal palette lends the interior an air of silence. An open design increases the feeling of spaciousness in the interior. The size of the windows also leans on the larger side in Contemporary design.

Both Modern and Contemporary design feature the use of wood and stone, but Contemporary design tends to be monochrome and rejects dramatic colours. Contemporary design is tidier in a sense.


Modern VS Contemporary: similarities and differences

Similarities shared by Modern and Contemporary design

  • Clean lines, geometric features
  • Open space
  • Simplistic, light-handed about ornaments


Differences between Modern and Contemporary designs

Modern Contemporary
Warm, earthy tones and saturated colours

Monochrome, greyscale

More natural materials like wood, leather and natural fibres Furniture made of glass, metal and other newly-invented materials
Confined to an era in time, but still widely used (eg. 1950s’ designs) Ever-changing, thus hard to define and confine
Practical furniture shapes, usually rectangular and adaptable, ‘form follows function

More adventurous about the shapes of furniture and relaxed about conventions

A relatively static style Frequent incorporation of unprecedented design elements like round shapes and streamlined shapes

Modern furniture shapes in a Contemporary palette



Modern and Contemporary design are like twins, connected in essence but possess individual, distinct personalities.

Nowadays, designers often fuse the two together, utilising new materials but keeping the palette earthy and modern.

In addition, Modern design comes in great variety: Scandinavian Modern, Country Modern, Minimalist Modern, Japanese Modern. These varieties are quite innovative and can indeed be called Contemporary designs.


Author: decoadmin