In the parlance of design, some design terms may sound similar in terms of the dictionary’s definition of the word itself. Certain terms are also often used interchangeably. The design terms “modern” and “contemporary” may sound like the they mean the same thing. If you really think about it, it certainly could be true. After all, isn’t all contemporary decor modern in nature? For example, a new residential development in seremban 2 may simultaneously be described as “modern” and “contemporary”.

However, in the world of design, there is a discernable difference between the two. Although in essence they may have common and overlapping characteristics, these two design styles have different histories and are essentially two distinct styles.

The essentials

Time is the easiest factor in distinguishing these two intertwined styles.

The term “modern” in design style actually refers to “Mid Century Modern”. This is a design style that emerged and is firmly rooted in the early- to mid-1900s, which is the period of time between the 1920s to 1950s. Modern design style is actually a definite style that doesn’t change and will remain the same forever.

Modern design arose from the ideas of the modernism movement. It was birthed from the German Bauhaus schools of design as well as from the Scandinavian design that places emphasis on simplicity and function. Modern décor arose from the middle of the 20th century and morphed into mid-century modern in the 1950s and 1960s and eventually into postmodernism in the 1970s and 1980s. The difference is that mid-century modern is stoic and embraces practicality, while there is a whimsy and irony about postmodernism, as it celebrates form rather than function.

The term “contemporary”, however, refers to a design style that is ever-changing. By definition, contemporary means “existing, occurring or living at the same time, or belonging to the same time”. This exactly how the terms is used in interior design. In essence, it is whatever design that is popular in the current period. In other words, contemporary design style is the style of the moment. It is living and breathing (not in the literal sense, of course, but you get what we mean).

Contemporary design became popular in the 1970s and was originally a blend of styles before it became its own distinct style. It certainly borrows elements from modernism and postmodernism, as well as from a range of other design styles ranging from art deco to deconstructivism to futurism. However, contemporary design is always changing and should never be tied to a specific period of time or a specific design style. In other words, it is an evolving style that changes with the times and reflects what is happening in the world today.

The characteristics

Modern design is characterized by clean and unadorned interiors. Walls are often white or neutral, which adds an expansive feeling to the space. Interiors usually have bare floors and in cases where rugs are used, they are typically neutral in color. Throughout modern design, color is used in moderation to complement but not overpower.

The use of organic elements and natural materials is prominent. These include material such a wood, leather, linen and also stone. Derivatives such as molded plywood, plastic and polished metal are popular elements in modern furniture. Modern furniture is typically open and usually raised off the floor in order to impart an airy feeling.

Contemporary design, due to its ever-changing nature, can sometimes be an eclectic design style. Contemporary style, however, does not necessarily have to be pieces that are designed right now. It is whatever is trendy and popular currently. Due to this, it can borrow pieces and styles from different eras. For example, furniture and art from the modern design era is currently very popular and thus are often incorporated into contemporary design. This is what has given rise to the overlap and confusion in the use of the term. However, this may not be so in the future. For example, in the future, perhaps some other design style will be in trend, and that design style will then be considered “contemporary”.

As for contemporary design in the now, homes might incorporate large expansive windows and an open plan that is in harmony with surrounding landscapes. The style incorporates a plethora of natural elements with finishing details that have clean lines and possess an unadorned simplicity. The terms “comfort” and “sustainability” are key values that characterize a contemporary home.

Modern vs contemporary

1. A modern space typically follows a strict format, while a contemporary space may have many variations.

2. Modern design is rarely stark or cold, while contemporary design may celebrate minimalist trends, which celebrate starkness.

3. Modern design incorporate a range of colors that are usually neutral and complimentary that impart a warm and inviting ambiance. Contemporary design plays off stark contrast with plenty of monochromatic colors such as blacks and whites.

4. Modern design favors strong and bold lines while contemporary style embraces curves and fluidity.


Due to the rise in popularity of minimalism in the late 1990s, both modern and contemporary style tends to favor simple and uncluttered spaces with smooth lines. This is due to comfort and calm being key ideas permeating current design and décor. Neither style features ornate elements or heavy designs.


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Cahaya Diana - A Lifestyle blogger | Also blogging about personal development, social media tips, family and friends and sharing about production industry. Currently fulltime film editor at No Name Films Factory. ::: Working Experience ➤ Film & Drama Editor @Metrowealth MIG; Script Writer & Graphic Designer @DoubleVision ::: Degree in Cinematography (UNIMAS)

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