Contemporary Vs. Modern: How To Choose Your Design Style

These days there are so many different types of designs styles that it is nearly impossible to keep up with them all. Modern and contemporary are very closely related and in most cases, they are directly related.

Contemporary Vs. Modern

But when it comes to interior design, contemporary and modern are quite different. It’s important to know the difference so you can appropriately shop for one or the other, depending on your own preferences. 

So today, we’re going to define both contemporary design styles and modern design styles before moving onto two categories. The similarities between them as well as the differences between these two trendy styles. 

What Does Contemporary Mean?

What Does Contemporary Mean?

Contemporary is a design term used to describe a certain design style. The design style didn’t come to light until the 2000s and since then it has been one of the most popular design styles to date, even after a decade or two. 

This is because the contemporary design style changes every year. The contemporary design style is whatever is currently trending in the modern time. Right now, the contemporary design style relies on a few things.

These include contrasts, sharp lines, and simple furniture. Minimalism is very popular in the contemporary design field. You won’t see a lot of busy patterns or farmhouse-style decor in the contemporary design in 2021. 

What Does Modern Mean?

What Does Modern Mean?

The best thing about modern is that it can refer to any given era. Mid-century modern is the most popular type of modern, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have a modern home in the 2021 modern sense. 

Sometimes, modern is seen as a category with many branches, contemporary being one of them. Modern is definitely used more loosely than contemporary which is a very specific design style relevant to modern times. 

Although it can refer to many designs, such as contemporary, mid-century, or even industrial, modern can also be its very own design style. Today, we’ll also talk about what the “modern” design style most likely refers to.

Similarities: Contemporary Vs. Modern 

Similarities: Contemporary Vs. Modern 

Because the actual definitions of the words are so similar, the design styles of contemporary design and modern design are very similar. Unlike other design styles, they are much more vague and open to the current interpretation. 

But in general, we can list a few things that stay true through the years in both modern and contemporary design styles. These things are generic categories and the two styles often have different interpretations as well. 


Minimalism is a core part of both contemporary and modern design styles. However, the type of minimalism is slightly different. Modern designs tend to focus on a lack of items while contemporary is different.

While contemporary minimalism is more about choosing only the type of decor that suits your style and your needs. But the basis of both types of minimalism is the same. So you can’t really mess it up if you stick with minimalism. 


This primarily means clean lines, but it really can mean cleanliness in general. The less clutter, the better for both of these design styles. So keeping things clean is of utmost priority to successfully achieve this style. 

This can also mean keeping very clean rugs or no rugs at all. The fewer lines that there are the better as well because the fewer lines, the cleaner the lines will be. Avoid too many overlapping lines as well.

Exposed Legs

Exposed legs make any room look larger. This means exposed legs on all tables, couches, chairs, and beds. Because exposed legs open up so much room, even if they don’t add any actual usable floor space.

Skirted furniture is fine and so are long table clothes. But if you really want to make the most of your modern or contemporary design, this open look is much more true and appropriate to the design style.


L shaped kitchen with marble doors

An open-concept look isn’t necessary for either of these designs but it is trending in both of them. This goes with all of the above points too because they are all about the appearance of as much space as possible.

Keep in mind that open concept looks don’t have to sacrifice coziness. They can still be warm and cozy even if they are spacious with an open concept look. Just add touches of coziness and warm colors. 

Geometric Shapes

Geometric Shapes

Geometric shapes are common in contemporary designs and modern designs as well. The exact shapes do change slightly with each of them. Modern rooms usually stick to classic shapes with squares and circles.

But contemporary designs often feature octagons and hexagons as their primary shape. This shouldn’t be a deciding factor but can definitely help you when finding artwork that suits your design style.

Artistic Inspirations 

L shaped kitchen with marble doors

Artistic inspirations are prevalent in both contemporary and modern designs. While modern designs are quite simpler, when it comes to contemporary designs, you’ll probably notice a bit of a difference. 

With modern art, you’ll see more of a mid-century or retro pattern. But with contemporary art, you will notice more expressive and eclectic art. This interpretive art can be the feature piece for your room. 

Reflective Materials 

Reflective materials refer to glass and metal, primarily. This isn’t the only type of material you will use in your home but adding it automatically makes your space look more modern or contemporary. 

Chrome is always a winner and so is transparent glass. But you can go with brushed nickel or frosted glass too and still have a similar effect. Because any type of metal or glass can look modern and can definitely look contemporary.

Differences: Contemporary Vs. Modern 

Differences: Contemporary Vs. Modern 

Although there are similarities, there are also many differences between contemporary and modern design. After all, the terms aren’t always interchangeable though aesthetics-wise, they are for most people. 

But when it comes to differences, there are only a few noticeable differences that can help you make your decision. Let’s take a look at the key differences between contemporary and modern designs styles. 

Color Schemes 

Color Schemes 

The color schemes in contemporary and modern can be similar, but more often than not there are key differences to be seen. Contemporary design usually has a very monochrome scheme of black, white, and grey.

Modern design colors on the other hand usually have earthier tones when color is added. This includes burgundies and sages. When color is added to contemporary, you will often see more light blues and chromes. 

Arches And Curves

L shaped kitchen with marble doors

Arches and curves aren’t seen in modern designs very often at all. But when it comes to contemporary designs, you will definitely see plenty of arches and curves in the furniture and in the architecture.  

Curves are common in most design styles, so this makes modern designs very unique. When it comes to contemporary design, the curves are usually sharp and clean, not cluttered with decals and intricate molding.

L shaped kitchen with marble doors


The era for contemporary design is right here, right now. The year that we are in, no matter year that may be. That’s why contemporary style often changes. It may not be what it was a year or two ago.

But when it comes to modern, things don’t change. Modern will always be modern, for the most part. This is similar to retro, which has never changed in style because retro describes a certain type of design style.


Modern Practicality 

Practicality is important in both contemporary and modern designs, but it is much more important in modern designs than contemporary. Because modern designs are all about making things as simple as possible.

Contemporary designs can incorporate this too, but there is more room for that artistic flair. Not everything needs to be for practical reasons, some things can be purely ornamental and not multi-purposes. 

Nature’s Impact

Nature plays a big role in both contemporary in modern designs. However, the role is much smaller than it is for other design styles. Modern designs have much more natural features than contemporary. 

While you will see a lot of wood, leather, and stone in modern designs, contemporary designs are more likely to feature hemp and bamboo but not much else. This is because the contemporary design is newer and this has more artificial features. 

Choosing Contemporary Or Modern

Choosing Contemporary Or Modern

Now, this is probably the question you’ve been asking yourself. Should you choose contemporary or modern? This can be difficult to answer because the two are similar if you like current design styles.

While asking a professional to help you create that dream design is optimal, you can definitely at least decide on which one you want on your own. You just need to take a few steps before committing.

The best way to decide is to look at the different features rather than the similar ones. Take a look at some photos featuring contemporary designs and compare them to modern designs. This is a great place to start. 

Because then you can pair the knowledge you’ve gathered with the pure instincts of choosing which pictures you like best. That’s the best way to decide once and for all if you want a contemporary or modern design.