Modern and Contemporary Design: A Primer For The Rest Of Us

Creative trends, by their nature, come and go. Whether it’s fashion, painting, literature, or film—products of creation tend to reflect the culture into which they were born. The same is true of architecture and interior design. We might study architecture from various periods but not understand their core differences. This seems to be particularly true when we encounter the concepts of modern design and contemporary design.

We often use the words modern and contemporary interchangeably, and that’s not exactly wrong. Modern, in a general sense, is defined as anything characterized by the present as opposed to the past. But modern, in a specialized sense, as it relates to all things creative, refers to trends in artistic endeavors during a certain time period, usually agreed to be roughly late eighteenth century through mid-twentieth century.

Modern design tends to favor minimalism and earthy neutral colors. Modern architecture feels clean and natural, without a lot of color contrast. Open concept floor plans that are popular today are a resurgence of mid-century modern. Fewer walls mean greater flow from room to room and creates a sense of greater size. In addition to sharp lines, distinct angles are a hallmark of modern design. These lines, in addition to minimal furniture and décor pieces, create a clean look. White walls of the modern period envelop the room and let those furnishings and details do the talking.

Paramount Woodworking

Image courtesy of Paramount Woodworking

Natural materials are also common in modernism, and also incorporate plastic and polished metal, a reflection of the Industrial Revolution and the influence of the manufacturing world. Modern design in its simplicity makes a statement. The period is revisionist, pushing against the former styles of adornment and showiness. Like Modern art and literature, it represents its culture’s urge to break from tradition.

Similarly, contemporary architecture and design have core characteristics. Like modernism, today’s contemporary design depends on simplicity. However, instead of warm, even color tones, stark contrast and bold color are the hallmark. Modern design’s straight, clean lines are bending, and green living means less plastic and metal, and more wood and stone. Still opposed to pretentiousness, contemporary design is usually open and clean. However, today’s living and work spaces are a bit more experimental than those of the past. Contemporary design, for example, might play with smooth horizontal and vertical structures by incorporating unexpected angles or overlapping multi-textured materials.

However, the term contemporary does not apply to a fixed time period, or even a particular style. Contemporary simply means “now.” As such, contemporary design is always in flux, existing in the moment. Thus, to use the term modern to refer to contemporary design not always accurate.

At Element Designs, innovation is in our DNA. Versed in all trends past and present, we keep an eye on the changes in the industry and speak to the specific requirements of our clients. We create our custom door and door systems with your style preferences and practical needs in mind.

To learn more about Element Designs and how we can help you transform your living or work space, check out our Inspiration page!


The Difference Between Modern and Contemporary Interior Design
Design 101: Modern vs. Contemporary Style
Modern or Contemporary: What’s the Difference?

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