Modern vs. Contemporary: How to Pick The Right Style for Your Home

Trying to figure out what the difference is between modern and contemporary interior design? After all, don’t they mean the same thing? While these two styles certainly have similar elements, they have distinct design details that can make your home feel minimalistically modern or contemporary cool. Learn the similarities and differences between these two design styles and figure out which one is more you!

What is modern design?

Living room with modern design - Faux leather sofa.

Referring to an interior design style that reflects the modern art movement in home interiors, modernism emerged from a rejection of the ornate details that were typical of earlier design styles, such as Gothic, Renaissance, and Victorian. These older design styles incorporated heavy textures, elaborate carvings, and dark wood tones.

With modernism, less is more. Every piece makes an intentional statement, reflecting the spirit of the modern art movement. Furniture and sculpture are one and the same, with functional items such as couches and coffee tables doubling as art pieces. Clean, straight lines and a minimalist approach are the guiding principles of a modern design aesthetic.

How to decorate with modern design

If modernism intrigues you, you might be wondering how you can incorporate this design style into your own home. Here are a few simple steps you can follow to decorate your space with modern design.

Evaluate your space

You should take note of the dimensions and features of the room you’d like to decorate. In general, the modern style is ideal for smaller spaces because of its minimalist approach to decorating. By incorporating a few key pieces, modern design maximizes the use of space and promotes calm and simplicity in a home or office. For instance, the Ego nesting tables boast a space-saving design that simultaneously adds visual interest. The asymmetrical style draws the eye, while the nesting style means the tables can be used separately when needed or displayed together as one piece to save floor space.

Choose a modern color palette

As far as a typical color palette, modern homes feature neutral tones, such as beige, grey, brown, black, and white. These calm and unimposing colors are a perfect backdrop for the strategic introduction of color — another hallmark of modern design. A bold furniture piece in a primary color serves as the focal point in a space, such as an orange chair or red leather sofa, geometric pillows, or a brightly colored rug. As an example, the Baldwin sofa epitomizes the clean lines and neutral tones that are central to modernism. You might choose to pair the muted elegance of this sofa with a brightly colored area rug or bold piece of wall art to create a distinctly modern look.

Pick your materials

While neutral shades are a key component of modernism, textures and materials are also essential in creating that modern look. For instance, chrome and stainless steel feature prominently in modern design, serving as table legs or the exposed portion of a chair frame. The Perth cocktail table and Mila chair are prime examples of modern furniture design at its best. Both feature a marked use of polished metal, while their slim dimensions and low profile are sized to fit smaller spaces.

Cut back on clutter

Clutter-free spaces are another key attribute of modernism. In a home with a modern design aesthetic, you won’t see books piled high on shelves, or knick-knacks proudly displayed on every available flat surface. Decorative vases, pottery, personal collections, and excessive pillows or blankets are also big faux-pas. Instead, a true modernist will only include the bare minimum of necessary items, and even these are stored out of sight behind doors, in a cabinet or storage bench.

What is contemporary design?

Woman on phone sitting on sofa in contemporary style living room.

People often use the terms “modern” and “contemporary” interchangeably when referring to interior design, but this is not accurate. In contrast to modernism’s more esoteric roots in the modern art movement of the early 20th century, contemporary design borrows from a range of styles and is continuously evolving. The result is a wonderfully eclectic look that is held together with playful colors and patterns.

The contemporary design of today draws heavily on Bohemian style. Dating from the 1800s, “Bohemian” was a romantic description of those who chose to live a certain lifestyle — primarily as vagabonds and wanderers. Travelling was a trademark of the lifestyle, and interesting pieces collected in one’s travels were incorporated into the decor, resulting in a personalized and eclectic space. It should come as no surprise that rooms in today’s contemporary style are bold and inspiring, allowing you to make a uniquely personal statement.

How to decorate with contemporary design

Does the Bohemian inspiration of contemporary design pique your interest? Decorating in this style is simple and fun — just follow a few easy guidelines.

Choose your space

In general, contemporary spaces are multi-functional and storage-friendly, with plenty of natural light to bring the outdoors in. Because today’s contemporary style is intended to be comfortable and welcoming, it avoids clutter and dark tones in favor of spaces with loads of natural light and minimal clutter. As a result, this style works wonderfully just about anywhere you want to feel relaxed and at ease, whether in offices, stores, loft apartments, or even traditional homes.

Seek out architectural lines

Contemporary design works in just about any space, but it is particularly well suited to rooms with architectural details such as high ceilings, large windows, and bare brick walls. Interiors tend to showcase the space rather than things, focusing on color and shape for a clean and fresh atmosphere.

While the lines and shapes of the space itself are important, don’t fret if you don’t live in an industrial loft apartment. Contemporary furnishings can also create the distinctive style you’re seeking. Clean lines and striking profiles are essential, with sofas, chairs, and ottomans with exposed legs serving as key pieces. Mirrors are a great way to create that airy, fresh feeling, while simple pieces such as the Boardwalk smoke blue dining chair and Aniyal Desk embody the clean lines and exposed legs of contemporary furniture.

Mix and match colors and patterns

To create a light and welcoming space, the color palette is crucial. Contemporary design incorporates neutral colors such as cream, white, beige, grey, and black. However, these simple shades only serve to highlight the bright colors and patterns that contemporary style is known for. In fact, the more color, the better! Use any artwork, mix and match patterns. If there is empty space, feel free to fill it with art, pillows, and accessories. Pillows feature geometric shapes and add a shot of color. Layer rugs on the floor and add an ottoman to the space where you can sit back and relax. After all, contemporary design is really about comfort and personalization.

Incorporate a variety of textures

When it comes to upholstered pieces, look for neutral shades crafted from natural fibers such as wool cotton, linen, silk, and jute. Larger furniture pieces in a muted shade — such as the Brody sofa — serve to anchor the eclectic choice of artwork and accessories, while the use of natural fibers is a great way to complement the vibrant colors and patterns inherent in today’s contemporary design.

Heavily textured rugs are also used to soften and warm up spaces. However, there is also generous use of metal, stone, and opaque or clear glass in addition to these softer textures — an aesthetic embodied by the Simpson dining table.

How to successfully mix styles

Modern and contemporary styles may be distinct, but that doesn’t mean they need to be mutually exclusive. If you find that you enjoy elements of both, mixing furniture design styles isn’t prohibited — it’s encouraged!

You can upgrade your existing decor with just a few simple touches. Add a new accent pillow or piece of artwork to transform your space into a modern or contemporary masterpiece. As long as you pick pieces you love, you can’t go wrong.

One of the easiest ways to incorporate your favorite interior design style? Purchasing furniture in sets. CORT Furniture Outlet offers modern and contemporary furniture sets for your living room, dining room, and bedroom. Shop online or in-store to find matching furniture that defines your personal style!

Find your style