Confused? You’re not alone.
Just the other day, someone asked me: “What is the difference between modern and contemporary interior design?” This is a legitimate question given how interchangeably people tend to use those terms. However, there really is a distinction between the two and I’m going to clarify.
Modern design refers to a period of time; it is a design style that was shaped between the 1920s and 1950s. Unlike contemporary design, modern doesn’t – and will never -- change. Most typically, modern design refers to the mid century modern era, which is recognizable by clean, airy and unembellished spaces. Brazilian and Scandinavian architects were very influential at this time, with a style characterized by clean simplicity and integration with nature. Use of natural materials such as wood, leather, teak and linen were prominent. Molded plywood and plastic were also very popular in modern furniture, as well as polished metal. Floors were often bare and made of natural materials; if utilized, area rugs in were neutral and made of wool. Color was used sparingly.
Unlike modern, contemporary designs will change. Current contemporary styles may (and probably will) be completely different 20 years from now. Contemporary interiors borrow from all different eras. Right now, the modern era is popular (as evidenced by major retailers West Elm and Room + Board) which is why, I my opinion, there’s so much confusion over the terms. However, while some of the elements and styles are similar to modern, current contemporary designs incorporate a larger variety of colors and materials. It is also common to see elements of “indoor-outdoor” living.
The bottom line: Modern and contemporary in interior design are not one in the same.
Do you have a preference between the two?