The terms “contemporary” and “modern” are very common in the world of design, decor and the market for modern and contemporary furniture. Interestingly enough, these words are often used interchangeably to describe a similar artistic style when, really, there are actually some major differences that define what each of the terms ultimately mean.
Despite having major distinguishable traits, the two terms also share a few similarities that add an area of gray, no pun intended, to defining each term.
It’s important to note that these two styles have many subcategories and variations of the primary themes that they represent. Modern design has multiple variations in style and furnishings just as contemporary design has a number of variations as well. Subcategories aside, each style has overarching themes that are common among most of the variations.
In terms of modern furniture and decor, modern design usually focuses on simplistic and minimalistic use of objects and furnishings. Contemporary design is more of a dynamic style that changes with time, focusing on what is currently “in the now” and offers slightly more freedom than traditional modern design.
As previously mentioned, modern design focuses on being simple, tastefully minimal and comfortable. Defining characteristics of the style are low profile furnishings, creative use of abstract patterns, defined sharp, angular frames and also visually interesting artwork.
Modern design tends to favor a more natural theme; leather, glass and wood being typical materials used to make most modern furniture. Sofas, tables, and even beds tend to be elevated off of the floor in order to create a more open environment. Continuing with the natural theme, colors in modern design tend to be more neutral with occasional accents of a few chosen colors spontaneously and thoughtfully placed throughout the room.
The surrounding walls and floors in a modern setting continue the natural theme by reinforcing the neutral color scheme and natural materials. Walls are typically painted using neutral colors and floors are often made of polished wood or concrete.
Contemporary design is a little harder to define. The term typically describes something that is living or occurring at the present moment. Unlike modern furniture, contemporary furniture tends to have sleek lines, not necessarily sharp or rigid, reflective surfaces and unusual, often bright colors.
The contemporary style is often abstract and interesting to the eye. Due to the less-natural theme of contemporary art and furniture, decorators are given slightly more freedom to express their artistry through the use of a wider range of available colors. Chrome, stainless steel and rounded corners are often considered to be staples of contemporary furniture.
Because of the dynamic nature of contemporary design, a room or home that is truly to be considered contemporary is never actually finished. Contemporary homes are continuously decorated and improved as time goes by and new furniture or artwork is added to compliment the tastes of the artist. Contemporary design is like a living, breathing project that gets better with time.