Two interior design terms, both alike in dignity, finally defined on the Impress Home Design blog, where we lay our scene…
The articulation of the words modern and contemporary have perplexed and puzzled people since their inception - there’s been long standing confusion over what each term means and represents, and even more confusion from interior designers over how they are used throughout industry discussions interchangeably; despite representing two very different design aesthetics.
We’re here to set the record straight, and to solidly define each term for the benefit of those seeking to update and revamp their interior spaces with a particular style in mind. Whether you’re thinking modern, or contemporary, each has a very different visual style, history, and budget associated with them. In this post, we’ll help shed some light on these pillars of interior design.
In short, modern interior design doesn’t refer to the most recent or up-to-date interior design trend. The term modern design represents a very specific time period of design that was dominant from the 1920’s to the 1950’s. In particular, it became very popular after the end of WW2. Modern interior design does not change with time, and it does not waver in its principles. Modern design therefore, is by definition, a design trend ironically from the past.
Thematically, modern design represented a complete rejection of the ornamental decorations and accessories that were pillars of other design styles of the times. Modernism rejected the themes of such design ideologies like Gothic and Victorian design, and argued that the traditional forms of art and architecture didn’t fit the lifestyle made popular by new economic, social, cultural, and political climates.
As a precursor to modern interior design, modern architecture and style was introduced thanks in part, to radical improvements in construction methods and materials. Use of glass, reinforced concrete, and steel were pillars of the modern aesthetic, and continue with modern interior design.
Themes & Style
Modern design was to be the antithesis of other established design styles. This helped a distinctly sharp, clean cut visual style emerge that’s dependent on components of construction, furniture, and minimalism. The prominent use of both natural and industrial materials like polished steel, sanded wood, concrete, molded plastics, and leather give the design style a crisp, and unobstructed feeling.
Unique to modern interior design is a very minimal use of trim, wall coverings, doors, and walls - open floor plans are a signifier of this school of thought, enthusiastically maximizing sightlines.
Modern furniture is typically very angular, and raised up off the ground to allow for a unique flow of air and energy. Storage solutions like bookshelves, cupboards, and display cases are often recessed into walls, rather than protrude into a room. It’s also not uncommon to see chrome or polished metals accent modern furniture, typically in structural capacities like table legs, or exposed chair framing.
Colours are used minimally, whereas white is usually a dominant colour, helping to maximize the expansive feel of modern design.
Budget considerations for modern design components vary. While it may not cost a fortune to minimize your wallcoverings and paint a room white, furniture considerations that follow a modern design style can fetch hefty price tags thanks to their integrated materials, and clean upscale aesthetic.
Contemporary design constitutes occurring, or existing design that is being used, or is popular today. Contemporary design therefore, adapts, evolves, and changes over time and is constantly in motion. This design theory perpetually updates and borrows pieces and styles from other design methodologies, and from other era’s. In ten years, what’s considered contemporary today probably will not be considered contemporary.
This blending of styles and principles means that contemporary design can appear quite eclectic, and its inclusion of modern and postmodern design cues is likely the main culprit for the interchangeability of the two terms. Contemporary design may indeed borrow from modern design, but it may also simultaneously borrow from Art Deco, Futurism, minimalism, and even maximalism. This nonchalant attitude to mixing and blending styles in the main difference-maker from the strict format that modern design must follow.
Contemporary design themes have no trouble at all bouncing to and from different schools of thought, borrowing ideas from one aesthetic, furniture from another, and use of colour from yet another. Contemporary style also varies from modernism by embracing curves rather than straight angular lines.
Colour wise, contemporary design includes bold statement colours, relying heavily on organic neutral colours like browns, tans, copper, cream, and white. Accent walls of vibrant colours are also a staple of the ideology, using bright wall art or an area rug to pull the room together. Furniture is typically clean and smooth, and large enough to appear strong and solid. Breaking away from modern furniture solutions, contemporary design style sometimes uses lighting like floor and table lamps to create emotion in a space.
Materials used in contemporary furniture are typically light-coloured woods like ash, birch, or teak, and frosted glass, nickel-plated metals and even chrome. Fabrics are often used for their textural addition to the overarching style, with cotton, wool, and linen being popular choices for their natural, neutral tones.
The blended and inclusive nature of contemporary style means it’s an affordable alternative than modernism which requires certain finishes and ideals. Contemporary designs are attainable because they typically embrace eclecticism and diversity, making the thrifty and design savvy shopper a powerful design force to be reckoned with. Contemporary style is synonymous with freedom, because just about anything can be made to complement and fit a space in transition.
Modern and contemporary design styles are distinct schools of thought, but often can overlap in their design preferences. It’s this overlap in style that often contributes to the miscommunication and mix-up of the two words.
Whatever style you most identify with, style is immensely personal and makes our houses homes. Both design styles are beautifully inspiring, and each deserve your consideration and humble patronage, but only you can decide for yourself if you’re a more contemporary or modern style aficionado.