Modern and Contemporary Interior Design: What’s the Difference?

If you’re planning to design or redesign your space, you might have come across the terms ‘modern’ and ‘contemporary’ interior design. While both these styles have a minimalist approach, there are distinct differences that set them apart. Modern design refers to a particular era, i.e., the mid-20th century, while contemporary design refers to the present moment. In this article, we will discuss the differences between modern vs. contemporary interior design and guide you on how to incorporate these styles into your home decor.

What is Modern Interior Design?

Modern interior design refers to a specific style that emerged in the early twentieth century and is characterized by clean lines, simplicity, and a focus on function over form. It emphasizes the use of simple, natural colors, clean lines, and minimalist decor, which adds a touch of simplicity and sophistication to the design. The modern interior design style features a sleek and minimalistic approach that highlights function and simplicity. This style is ideal for individuals who prefer a less-is-more approach and like clean, uncomplicated spaces with minimal clutter and fuss.

The Key Elements of Modern Interior Design

To achieve a modern interior design style, certain key elements must be present. These are:

  • Functionality: Function and purpose are key in modern interior design. The space should be well-designed and aesthetically pleasing but also practical and functional.
  • Clean lines: Modern interior design emphasizes geometric shapes, clean lines, and the use of natural forms and surfaces.
  • Neutral color schemes: Modern design typically features a neutral color palette that includes shades of gray, white, black, and beige. These tones create an elegant and sophisticated look.
  • Minimalism: Clutter is a no-no in modern interior design. The design focuses on the essentials and promotes an uncluttered, simple aesthetic.
  • Modern materials: Modern design features the use of industrial materials such as metal, concrete, and glass, as well as natural materials such as wood and stone.

How to Incorporate Modern Interior Design Into Your Home

If you’re looking to give your home a modern interior design makeover, there are a few things you can do to achieve the look:

  • Stick to neutral color schemes: Play with shades of gray, black, and white with the odd pops of color thrown in.
  • Simplify your space: Declutter your rooms, remove unnecessary items, and aim for a clean, minimalist look
  • Add modern furniture and accents: Incorporate industrial materials, such as metal and glass, natural materials such as wood and stone, and geometric shapes.
  • Light up your space: Modern interior design emphasizes the use of lighting, so use multiple sources of light, such as floor lamps, pendant lights, and candles.
  • Add art or a statement piece: Modern interior design is about creating focal points and adding interest to a space through the use of art, a statement piece of furniture, or a bold accent wall.

What is Contemporary Interior Design?

Contemporary interior design refers to the current style in interior design and is often used interchangeably with modern design, but it refers to a more fluid and evolving aesthetic that incorporates current trends and design styles. Contemporary design can be difficult to pin down, as it changes with the times and is constantly evolving.

The History of Contemporary Interior Design

The roots of contemporary interior design can be traced back to the 1920s and the Bauhaus movement. The aim of the movement was to create affordable, functional design that was accessible to everyone, regardless of their social status. This idea of accessibility and functionality is still central to contemporary design today.

In the 1950s and 60s, contemporary design was heavily influenced by the work of Scandinavian designers. The Scandinavian aesthetic of simple, clean lines and natural materials continues to be a major influence on contemporary design today.

The Key Elements of Contemporary Interior Design

  • Clean Lines: Contemporary design is characterized by clean, straight lines. Furniture and decor are often sleek and simple, without ornate detailing.
  • Neutral Colors: Neutral colors such as white, gray, black, and beige are commonly used in contemporary design, with bold accents of color used sparingly.
  • Metallic Finishes: Metals such as steel, chrome, and brass are often used in contemporary design to add a touch of glamour.
  • Natural Materials: Natural materials like wood, stone, and leather add warmth and texture to contemporary interiors.
  • Minimalism: Contemporary design embraces the principle of “less is more,” with clutter-free spaces and minimal decor.
  • Technology: Contemporary interiors often incorporate the latest technology, with smart home features and sleek electronics.

Contemporary Interior Design vs. Modern Interior Design

While contemporary and modern interior design are often used interchangeably, there are some key differences between the two styles.

Modern design refers to a specific style that emerged in the early 20th century and is characterized by clean, geometric lines and a focus on function over form. It also emphasizes the use of new materials and technologies, such as concrete and steel.

Contemporary design, on the other hand, is more fluid and diverse, incorporating current trends and design styles into a constantly evolving aesthetic. While it shares some similarities with modern design, contemporary design is less rigid and allows for more individual expression.

In short, modern design is a specific style that emerged in a specific time period, while contemporary design is a more general term that refers to the current style in interior design.

Differences Between Modern and Contemporary Interior Design

Interior design trends and styles are constantly evolving, and two of the most popular styles that have emerged are modern and contemporary design. Although the two styles may seem similar, they have several fundamental differences that set them apart.

Origins and Time Period

Modern interior design refers to the design style that originated in the mid-1900s and encompasses the clean lines, minimalism, and neutral color palettes that came to prominence in that era. Modern design heavily relies on the principle of form following function, which means that the design elements should follow and support the intended function of the space. Modern design was a response to the ornate and decor-heavy design popular in the previous era.

Conversely, contemporary design refers to the current design trends that are being practiced in the present time. Contemporary design takes inspiration from a variety of design styles, including modern design, and incorporates current trends and ideas. It is constantly evolving, which means that it may eventually become dated and replaced by the new prevailing design trends.

Design Elements

While both modern and contemporary design styles favor minimalism and clean lines, they have some distinct differences in their design elements. Modern design emphasizes more on using industrial materials such as steel, concrete, and glass, while contemporary design is more flexible in its materials usage.

  • Modern design focuses on a limited color palette, featuring neutral colors like white, black, or grey as the primary colors. Bright and bold accent colors are often used sparingly, such as a singular piece of artwork or furniture.
  • Contemporary design uses a wider array of colors, and unlike modern design, accent colors are often used in larger quantities on walls, furniture, and accessories. Popular contemporary color palettes include bold and bright colors as well as muted, earthy tones.

Additionally, modern design frequently incorporates straight, clean-lined furniture designs, while contemporary design features curved, organic furniture styles that emphasize comfort.

Decor and Accessories

The difference between modern and contemporary design is also reflected in their decoration and accessory choices. Modern design prefers minimalism and simplicity, with little to no additional decoration beyond what is necessary for the function of the space.

On the other hand, contemporary design favors ornamentation and accessories and makes use of artwork, throw pillows, and interesting lighting fixtures to add visual interest to the space.


In conclusion, modern and contemporary design styles may seem identical at first glance, but upon closer inspection, their design philosophies and elements have contrasting characteristics. While modern design honors the past by looking back to mid-century modern design, contemporary design is about the present, looking at current trends and styles. Ultimately, both design styles offer an excellent option for creating a beautiful and functional interior space.

Modern vs. Contemporary Furniture

When it comes to interior design, furniture plays a significant role in defining the style of a living space. Two design styles that have become incredibly popular over the years are modern and contemporary. Although these terms are often used interchangeably, they are very different and have separate characteristics.

Modern Furniture

Modern furniture is all about simplicity and minimalism. It originated in the early to mid-20th century and is characterized by clean lines and sleek designs. Modern furniture pieces are often made of materials such as metal, glass, and leather. The focus is on the form and function of the furniture rather than on ornate details.

One of the most well-known examples of modern furniture is the iconic Barcelona chair designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in 1929. This piece features a simple stainless steel frame with leather upholstery and has since become a symbol of modernist design.

Contemporary Furniture

Contemporary furniture, on the other hand, is all about what’s popular now. It borrows elements from different design styles and incorporates them to create something unique. Pieces of contemporary furniture often feature mixed materials, bold colors, and unique shapes and lines.

One example of contemporary furniture is the Egg chair designed by Arne Jacobsen in 1958. This piece has a distinctive rounded egg shape and is made of wool fabric with a swivel base. It incorporates both modern and futuristic design elements to create something truly unique.

Differences Between Modern and Contemporary Furniture

  • Design Inspiration: Modern furniture draws inspiration from the early to mid-20th century, while contemporary furniture borrows elements from different styles to create something new.
  • Materials: Modern furniture is often made of materials such as metal, glass, and leather, while contemporary furniture features mixed materials like metal and wood, or glass and stone.
  • Ornamentation: Contemporary furniture often includes more ornamentation and intricate details, while modern furniture focuses on clean lines and simplicity.
  • Shapes: Modern furniture often features geometric shapes, while contemporary furniture incorporates unique shapes and curving lines.

Deciding between modern and contemporary furniture ultimately comes down to personal preference. If you prefer clean lines and simplicity, modern furniture may be the better choice for you. But if you like bold colors and unique shapes, contemporary furniture may be more your style.

Modern and Contemporary Color Schemes

When it comes to interior design, two popular styles that often get confused for one another are modern and contemporary design. While both styles share similar traits and principles, they differ in many ways, such as color schemes. In this article, we’ll break down the differences between modern and contemporary color schemes so you can better decide which style works best for you.

Modern Color Schemes

Modern design is known for its sleek, clean lines, neutral colors, and minimal ornamentation. It’s a style that encompasses many design eras, from mid-century modern to current contemporary trends. Modern color schemes include whites, blacks, and grays, often used as backgrounds or bases. These neutral colors allow for accent colors to stand out, such as shades of beige, brown, or muted greens. Modern design often uses natural materials such as wood, metal, and stone, which help create a sense of warmth and comfort in a space.

Contemporary Color Schemes

Contemporary design, on the other hand, is all about boldness and experimentation. It represents the design trends of the present time and is constantly evolving. Contemporary color schemes are highly varied, with an emphasis on bold, vibrant colors and patterns. The use of bright accent colors, such as oranges, reds, blues, and greens, is common in contemporary design. However, the overall color scheme is balanced with neutral hues, such as whites and grays. These neutrals provide a backdrop for the vibrant colors to pop, creating a bold and exciting atmosphere.

Modern vs. Contemporary Color Schemes

  • Color Palette: As mentioned, modern design is characterized by a neutral color palette, while contemporary design is more varied with bold, vibrant accent colors.
  • Texture and Pattern: Modern design tends to feature natural textures, such as wood and stone, and a more minimal pattern selection. Contemporary design often features bold patterns, such as stripes, polka dots, and geometric designs, creating a more lively and energetic feel.
  • Accessories: Modern design often incorporates accessories that are functional, such as lighting fixtures, while contemporary design leans towards decorative and artistic accessories, such as sculptures or abstract paintings.
  • Furniture: Modern furniture tends to have straight lines, sleek curves, and unadorned surfaces. In comparison, contemporary design furniture is more eclectic and varied, featuring both traditional and modern design elements.
  • Overall Atmosphere: A modern interior design creates a sense of calm and tranquility, while a contemporary interior design is often more bold and exciting.


Both modern and contemporary interior design styles offer unique and beautiful design options. By understanding the differences between their color schemes, you can better decide which style fits your tastes and lifestyle. Whether you prefer a subtle, tranquil environment or a vibrant, energetic one, there is a perfect interior design style out there for you.

Combining Modern and Contemporary Design

While the two styles have distinct differences, they can be combined successfully by incorporating modern design in the architecture and structural elements of a space and contemporary design in the decor and furnishings.

Understand the Differences between Modern and Contemporary Design

Before combining the two styles, you must first understand what differentiates modern design from contemporary design. Modern design refers to a style that emerged in the early to mid-20th century, characterized by clean lines, minimalism, and a focus on functionality. Contemporary design, on the other hand, refers to a style that is more current and fluid, incorporating elements from different styles and eras.

Combine Color Palettes

One way to blend modern and contemporary design is to use a neutral color palette. Take inspiration from modern design by using colors like black, white, and gray as a base and then add pops of color through contemporary decor. You can incorporate bold shades like orange, green, or pink into the furniture, artwork, or decoration to create a lively atmosphere.

Play with Contrasting Textures

Mixing textures and patterns is another way to create a harmonious blend between modern and contemporary design. Contemporary design often emphasizes different textures and materials in a room, such as mixing wood and metal, for example. Play with textures like velvet, glass, concrete, or even fur to add a contemporary touch to modern design. However, make sure to keep balance in mind and avoid overdoing it with too many contrasting textures.

Introduce Modern Elements through Architecture

An effective way to incorporate modern design in a contemporary style is to use it in the architectural elements of a space. For example, consider using modern elements like glass walls or minimalistic steel supports to create a structured foundation for a contemporary room. The use of glass can also be combined with lush greenery to create a space that feels modern and natural at the same time.

Use Contemporary Decor

Another way to blend modern and contemporary design is to use contemporary decor in a modern setting. For instance, a contemporary graphic artwork can be placed in a room with a modern aesthetic to create a focal point and add a pop of color. Unique contemporary decor like sculptures, lamps, or even a rug with patterns can be used in a modern space to create an eclectic vibe that is both timeless and modern.

Unify the Design with Lighting

Lighting is an essential aspect of any interior design. When it comes to combining modern and contemporary design, it can be challenging to make lighting work in harmony. A solution to this is to use lighting fixtures that blend modern and contemporary styles. Mixing modern pendant lamps with contemporary chandeliers can add depth and dimension, creating a visually stunning space.


If you are new to interior design, you may have heard the terms “modern” and “contemporary” used interchangeably. However, they are actually two distinct design styles with different characteristics. The following are some frequently asked questions about modern and contemporary interior design.

What is the main difference between modern and contemporary design?

Modern design is a style that originated in the early to mid-20th century and was characterized by a focus on function, minimalism, and clean lines. It is rooted in a specific time period and design philosophy. On the other hand, contemporary design is constantly evolving and adapting to stay current with the latest trends. It may encompass elements of various styles, including modern design, but it is not restricted to any specific time period or design philosophy.

What materials are commonly used in modern and contemporary design?

Modern design often uses materials such as metal, glass, and leather. The focus is on materials that are sleek, polished, and have a minimalist aesthetic. Contemporary design, on the other hand, incorporates mixed materials and unique shapes. It may include wood, plastic, and even recycled materials, as well as textured fabrics and natural elements.

Can modern and contemporary design be combined?

Yes, modern and contemporary design can be successfully combined by incorporating modern design in the architecture and structural elements of a space and contemporary design in the decor and furnishings. For example, a modern home may have clean lines, an open floor plan, and minimal decoration, but it can be furnished with contemporary furniture that is bold, colorful, and features unique shapes and textures. By combining elements of both styles, you can create a space that is both timeless and current.

Are modern and contemporary design sustainable?

  • Modern design can be sustainable if eco-friendly materials are used, such as bamboo, recycled glass, or reclaimed wood.
  • Contemporary design often incorporates sustainable materials and practices. For example, using energy-efficient appliances, incorporating natural lighting, and using recycled materials in decor can be sustainable options.
  • Combining modern and contemporary design can create the opportunity to incorporate sustainable design practices and reduce your environmental impact.

How do I choose between modern and contemporary design for my space?

When selecting a design style for your space, it’s important to consider your personal taste, the architecture of your home or office, and the function of the space. If you prefer a minimalist aesthetic and clean lines, modern design may be a good fit for you. If you prefer a more eclectic and trend-conscious approach, contemporary design may be a better option. Consider working with an interior designer to help you navigate the options and find a style that best suits your needs and preferences.

What’s the difference between modern and contemporary art?

Modern Art Contemporary Art
Art created from the 1860s up to the 1970s Art created after the 1970s to the present
Characterized by a focus on formal qualities, experimentation, and abstraction Characterized by a lack of a single dominant style, variety, and inclusion of different media
Artists involved: Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and Marcel Duchamp, among others Artists involved: Tracey Emin, Jeff Koons, and Banksy, among others

Thank You For Visiting

We hope this article has given you a better understanding of the differences between modern and contemporary interior design. Whether you’re redecorating your home or just trying to expand your knowledge of interior design, it’s important to choose a style that suits your personal taste and lifestyle. Make sure to visit our website again for more helpful articles and tips on how to create a beautiful home that reflects your unique personality. Thanks for reading, and happy decorating!

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