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Contemporary VS Modern Furniture Design - The Difference Between The Two

Updated on September 27, 2010

What is the difference between CONTEMPORARY design and MODERN design?

Being that I work in the interior design and architectural product industry, I am constantly having to inform people that there is a difference between the two. This was something I once laughed about a while back when I first asked the question myself, "There's a difference between contemporary and modern?"

In terms of art and design, YES.

Contemporary Means "Today" or "Recent"

The word contemporary refers to today, or present time. Contemporary designs or contemporary furniture refers to furniture designs of the 21st century. You use the word contemporary to describe the latest style and designs.

Modern Refers to a "Look" or a Particular "Style"

The word modern on the other hand does not mean "modern" as in "recent". When it comes to anything art, music, design, or architecture related, the word "modern" is actually a style. The MODERN STYLE started back during World War 2 when Bauhaus designers (students of the Bauhaus school of design in Germany) left the country and spread their design styles across the world. The Bauhaus modern design style emphasized on minimalism, simplicity, and function when compared to traditional design. When you hear the word modern being associated with style, you should understand that it refers to a simple functional design, not exclusively to current or recent design.

In fact, "modern design" has been around for around 50 years now. Modernism or the modern movement referred to an era many years ago when art and design was radically shifting to a new attitude - one centered on zen-like minimalism and functionality. Modernism wasn't always about simple design. Modernism also referred to a time when things were moving away from the traditional. Modern art and music was considered modern because of how different it was from traditional forms of art and music.

So Why Is Contemporary and Modern Being Used Interchangeably?

The biggest reason for why people use these two words interchangeably or confuse them together is because they both still refer to similar items. Currently, the "modern style" of simplistic, functional designs are not out of style. The current trend and high-end products today still feature very simplistic functional looking designs. Think about the Apple Ipod or Ikea furniture. Notice how they are all space-saving, simple design, sleek solid lines and shapes, yet also highly functional? Ikea furniture isn't like your grandfather's closet with lots of "elegant" shapes and curves, and embellishments on the corners. The Ipod isn't bulky like a CD player.

So now you see that modern look and modern design is still very much popular in style today. Which then of course means that modern style is still very much contemporary. Pretty confusing, right?

How what will happen to contemporary/modern styles in the future?

Well, 100 years from now the word "modern" will still refer to the simplistic design and uncomplicated look and functional form. The word "contemporary" however, will refer to the latest design style of that present time. So as the years go by, MODERN will always refer to the same simple design era but CONTEMPORARY will only refer to what is current.

Contemporary VS Modern

Modern Bathroom Design
Modern Bathroom Design
Modern Living Room
Modern Living Room
Modern Product Design
Modern Product Design
Contemporary Living Room
Contemporary Living Room
Traditional Furniture Design
Traditional Furniture Design

Modern Bathroom Designs 2010


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    • iZeko profile image

      iZeko 6 years ago

      Really good and useful article! I also thought that "contemporary" and "modern" is the same thing ;-)