The difference between Modern and Contemporary Design

Mar 7, 2023

4 min


Uncover the advantages of studying two designs that are commonly perceived to be alike.

In your next 3D rendering project, If clients consult you about a house design that has been around for a while but continues to adapt to current trends, what advice would you give them?

Contemporary design. 

This house design is the only style that has always been around, among other styles which only existed for a certain time. 

How come it existed all the time when Contemporary means "Modern?" you may ask. Well, the word contemporary may be synonymous with modern in most dictionaries, but when talking about design styles, these two are different. 

In this blog, we will talk about the difference between contemporary and modern design. Here are their differences: 

1. Time period

Contemporary design gained immense popularity during the 1970s, influenced by an individualistic spirit and global trends. Its roots can be traced back to earlier times, while Modern design has a long history. Modern design was a way to get out of the excessive ornamentation of the previous era. Its origin can be traced to the Arts and Craft movement that began in Britain to oppose the inhumane impact of late 1800s industrialization. It further developed and became the core of the Bauhaus movement in 1919, whose primary principle is "Form follows function." Modern design existed from the 1900s to the 1980s. See the details below: 

1900s - 1950s: Modern 

1950s - 1960s: Mid-century Modern

1970s - 1980s: Postmodernism

2. Key proponents

Technically, contemporary designs were created by renowned artists such as Mario Botta, Frank Gehry, and Jean Nouvel. On the other hand, the modern design traces its roots to heavyweights like Le Corbusier, Charles and Ray Eames, and Florence Knoll.

3. Styles

The contemporary design incorporates features from various genres, including minimalism, art deco, and deconstructivism, and also borrows certain aspects from Modernism. The latter, on the other hand, prioritizes minimal functionalism and rejects the lavishness that preceded it.

4. Elements

Contemporary showcases styles "of the moment." which means that it adopts the elements of whatever design is trending. Thus, the contemporary design elements– their form, color, line, and texture,-- vary from time to time. But according to Design Ideas Guide, Contemporary design includes ideas and elements that are steady over the years: 

  • Simple Spaces without clutter (same with Modern design, probably the reason why most people confuse modern with Contemporary)
  • Exposed elements, i.e., wooden sofa legs or exposed beams. 
  • Organic silhouettes

Modern design style, on the other hand, has a fixed definition of what its elements are: 

  • Crisp lines (found in some contemporary designs), Strong lines. 
  • Neutral palettes, mostly accents of black and white
  • Balance
  • Functional décor pieces (since Modern design follows the Bauhaus movement's primary principle, "form follows function.”)

After outlining the disparities between Contemporary and Modern design in relation to their respective time periods, leading figures, styles, and elements, we can now explore some of how these two design movements share similarities and drawbacks, especially regarding their advantages and disadvantages.

  • Contemporary design is often used by artists who build properties that aim to reduce their carbon footprint. The popular contemporary design uses ordinary and straightforward, and natural materials. (Less process, lower carbon consumption).  
  • Since Contemporary design blends different elements, the house interior, which employs this style, rarely looks outdated. 
  • Often spacious. 

Meanwhile, some of the benefits of modern design are: 

  • The open-concept space incorporated in this style makes the space wider and allows for fluidity in terms of house re-arrangement. 
  • Since Modern design uses large windows or glass doors, sunlight can easily illuminate the room, lowering energy consumption. This feature also allows your client to easily enjoy outdoor views, especially if they live in higher places that overlook the city or nature.
  • Modern designs are also eco-friendly, like Contemporary styles. The two styles also have some similarities regarding the furniture to choose from because they are both popular. With popularity comes more comprehensive furniture and home decor options at lower prices. 

In this section, note that the benefits of Contemporary and Modern designs mostly coincide. The same is true for the drawbacks of having these styles. 

  • If your client wants their home to stand out, modern and contemporary designs will quite make it hard for them to do so because it is popular nowadays, and no matter how expensive their furniture is,  their house will just be another version of another home. 
  • Modern and Contemporary designs don't easily fit with the exterior of any home. If your client has a classical home style on its exterior, renovating it with a modern or contemporary style in its interior may not look as appropriate as it can be. If your client wants these styles, they should renovate their exteriors as well, which could be costly.

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See the examples of 3D rendering interiors  by our HomeRender artist to know the visual difference between contemporary and modern design below: 

As we mentioned a while ago, Contemporary designs are more into blacks and whites, a blend of crisp lines and curves, and ornamental décor. Note that Contemporary design may vary depending on the style "of the moment." these styles are just some of its examples: 

Take a look at the photo below for examples of Modern designs. 

After evaluating the distinctions between Modern and Contemporary home designs, which do you think your customer will prefer for their dwelling?

This article was last updated on Sep 20, 2023