When talking about interior design, ‘modern’ refers to a specific period of time, covering the 1920s - 1950s. It doesn’t change because it was the style of that time. ‘Contemporary,’ on the other hand is of the moment, and as such is always changing.
Modernism began in the late 1800s and developed in the early part of the 20th century, and by the nature of its name was focused on function and simplicity rather than ornate decoration. We might still consider Bauhaus designs to be relatively new but they began back at this time and therefore fall into the Modern era.
Scandi-style is huge at the moment because of its clean lines and fresh palettes, but that too originated in the Modern movement. Elements of both Bauhaus and Scandinavian design are used by contemporary designers, too, which can be confusing, although they were originally modern.
Modern design evolved into more time-specific Midcentury Modern, which was still very similar, and then into Postmodernism.
Contemporary as a definite style and trend began in the 1970s and eventually became recognisable in its own right having blended various other trends that came before. It took inspiration from the recent Modern and Postmodern fashion, and then began to look elsewhere to Art Deco and even Futurism amongst others.
You could be forgiven for seeing a lot of similarity between the two styles, because there are several. Both styles are built around clean lines with an absence of clutter, and both are simple without the need for lots of ornate detail. Whereas the lines in Modern design tend to be straight, it’s all about curves when it comes to contemporary.
Designers using each style kept decor light, and furniture tended to have legs exposed, and lots of light is bounced around the interiors in both schemes thanks to the tendency towards glass, metal, and other reflective surfaces being on display.
What Makes Them Different
As much as there are similarities, so too are there differences, and those make them very distinct styles. Modern is much stricter with its rules whereas Contemporary allows more variation on the theme. Modern uses neutral colours but Contemporary thrives on making bold statements with either end of the colour scale.
So whilst Modern and Contemporary are not the same thing, they are not so wildly different that a non-expert could easily be forgiven for confusing the two. You’ll be able to start spotting the subtleties of each now, and talk knowledgeably on the subject amongst friends! Check out our Stylish selection of Modern & Contemporary home products here.