People often use the terms contemporary and modern interchangeably, and while they do share some overlapping elements they are in fact quite different terms. You might be thinking to yourself, “Potayto, Potahto” but the distinction between terms is important to make clear if you’re a client working with an interior designer to update your space and vice versa. So what’s the difference between contemporary and modern furniture design? Read on to find out!
Broken down in the simplest of terms, modern design refers to design of the past while contemporary design is referencing what is happening here and now.
Modern design refers more specifically to designs between the 1920s to the 1970s. The most notable of these designs can be observed in the clean lines, beautiful symmetry and warm wood tones of mid-century modern furniture. Modern design was birthed during the peak of the modern art movement and was influenced by Scandinavian and Bauhaus designs. Form and function were at the forefront of modern design and led to groundbreaking new shapes, lines and colors in everything from furniture to wall clocks.
Contemporary design, on the other hand, does not refer to any one particular time period but rather is constantly evolving, fluidly shifting with the currents and informing the future of design. It is a mash-up of styles borrowing highlights from minimalism, modernism and global styles to create it’s own unique voice that doesn’t get caught up in rules or restrictions like some movements of the past. This playful ambiguity can make it hard to clearly pinpoint characteristics of contemporary design, but it generally displays neutral palettes and organic silhouettes cloaked in minimalism.
Modern designers favor a different set of materials than contemporaries. Modern furniture is often constructed with warm woods, especially walnut or plywood and accented by other organic materials such as leather and stone. These natural materials were often effortlessly paired with man-made materials such as acrylic, fiberglass and plastic which were hugely popular at the height of modern design. A notable furniture piece to mention here is the iconic molded plastic Eames chair that has been recreated many times since it’s initial creation.
Contemporary designers utilize similar juxtapositions of materials. Lacquered high-gloss wooden finishes cohabitate with sleek metals like steel or brass and natural fiber materials such as angora, flax or silk to create an entirely new interior utopia. Other natural materials such as concrete, marble or plaster in stunning finishes add depth and sculptural weight to light and airy contemporary design.
Both modern and contemporary design favor minimal-ish, neutral-ish color palettes. Modern interior design often featured furniture pieces that were rich and earthy or vibrant and colorful, pulling mostly from primary color palettes. Influenced by Scandinavian and Bauhaus art movements, the color palettes of modern interiors echo that of notable works from the era.
Contemporary palettes appreciate sleek, monochrome-adjacent colors. While there are no specific rules, contemporary interiors more often than not have a foundation of bright white, muted gray and black to anchor additional accent colors or hits of natural materials like wood or clay.
If you’ve been thinking about giving your space a modern or contemporary makeover we’d love to help! Our team of expert designers and craftsmen are ready to bring your furniture sketches to life. Contact us today to start collaborating!