Contemporary vs. Modern interior design: A breakdown of the styles

Breaking down styles is never easy. In case you’re not well-versed in the art form you’re going after, it’s pretty common to lose yourself while trying to figure out what is what. And when it comes to interior design, most will struggle by confusing contemporary with modern. Luckily for you, we’re here to help.

The confusion between the two

There’s no shame in admitting you don’t understand something. And when your confusion stems from something that so many people get wrong, it’s best to accept it and look for answers. Our article will aim to help you notice the differences that make contemporary and modern interior design two separate styles.

In reality, they are two different worlds. You can think of them as Mars and Jupiter if you’d like. Nevertheless, there are some common tropes they share, but we’ll talk about them later on. For now, we’ll focus on both styles separately in the hope of helping you form the basis for further analysis.

What is contemporary design?

Like we’ve said, both modern and contemporary styles share some similarities and are easy to mistake for one another. But what is contemporary interior design? Well, it means something that occurs in the present. Moreover, something that’s of this day.

It follows current trends while also borrowing elements of past styles and paying homage to them. Back in the ‘70s, the contemporary design would incorporate elements of Art Deco and futurism. Hence, you could say it’s the middle of the road as it combines the past and something that is yet to become standard.

The most important thing about contemporary design is that it’s never stuck in one place. As time changes and tastes evolve, it morphs with them. It doesn’t have a definitive look that is symbolic like the aforementioned Art Deco. Nowadays, you can spot neutral color palettes, swerved lines, and minimalism as its common go-to tropes.

What is modern design?

Unlike the previous style, modern interior design is a bit trickier to explain. The definitions are many, and most will seem confusing to ordinary people. However, we’ll try our best and hopefully help you understand what it means to be modern when it comes to interior design.

For something to be considered modern interior design, it must implement elements of modern art. It has its roots in Scandinavian and Central European architecture and design. Here, modern means simple and free of tradition. The colors are natural, and there are no complex decorations.

Design features usually use monochromatic color schemes. Also, there are no patterns as walls tend to be plain, but still with warm colors. Some will argue that it’s soulless, but that’s a whole other topic we can’t get into right now. Nevertheless, it’s important to remember that this style uses modern art while keeping things basic and simple.

Contemporary vs. Modern

  • Contemporary design ideas are pretty much fluid and open to all sorts of concepts and choices. Since we’ve said that it’s all about the present, this form is in constant evolution. It uses all sorts of ideas for inspiration and eventual design. In other words, it’s pretty much eclectic.


  • Modern design is no stranger to wood and earth-friendly elements. For it to not feel shallow and empty, it also uses natural materials such as stone and leather (both real and faux). Of course, you can see these elements in contemporary design, but they usually mix with concrete and steel.


  • When it comes to pieces of furniture, contemporary design is happy to use curvy elements. And yes, it can use straight lines and sharp edges, but the amount of wavy stuff is much more present. It aims to be comfy while still being stylish and fancy. Also, metal is present all over living rooms and other parts of the house.


  • As mentioned before, laypeople will claim that modern design can feel somewhat cold and lifeless. However, it’s pretty much the opposite. It uses natural and warm colors to avoid that. Modern interior decorators will avoid black and white cliches and use a monochromatic scheme of warm tones.

The similarities between the two

One of the reasons why so many people confuse the two styles is that they both tend to be minimalistic. And that’s true to some extent since both use clean lines. They avoid being flashy and eye-capturing. Both contemporary and modern design aim at sophistication and timeless elegance.

Another similarity is their open-space feel. We’re sure you’ve seen houses that merge the kitchen with the living and dining room, making it all part of one big space. This open plan intends to feel airy while still being comfortable for the homeowners.

On the other hand, both these interior design styles look to escape details. They try to keep things as simple as possible. You’ll usually see plain walls while still feeling like there exists a clear composition to your surroundings.

Which one is better?

Unfortunately, there’s no clear answer to this question. After all, tastes differ, and there’s no point in arguing something is better than the other. You should experiment with both styles if you want to find out what suits you better. Of course, we don’t mean that you should mix them because that would probably end up looking weird.

Having a contemporary home is a safe bet, but that also means that your place won’t look much different from others. It will make you feel like another face in the crowd. But that’s not necessarily bad. Sometimes, people find comfort in the same stuff, so if you feel like that, do consider following current trends.

On the other hand, modern will help you stick out from the rest. However, it might mean that others won’t understand you. It might appear somewhat eccentric and over the top at times, but that’s the price you’ve got to pay. Hence, our only advice would be to pursue the style that feels right for you.

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