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The Difference Between Modern and Contemporary Design

“Modern” and “contemporary” are often used synonymously. After all, both define as “belonging or relating to the present”. But when it comes to interior design, the two actually have quite different meanings. Today, we explain the difference between modern and contemporary interior design? The two can often be confused with each other. Here’s how they differ!

The Difference Between Modern and Contemporary Design | WPL Interior Design
Photo by Jay Greene Photography

What is Modern Design? 

When designers talk about modern design, they are referring to the International Modern period or the Modern movement. The Modern movement started in the late 1920s and continues up until the Mid-Century Modern movement, which is its own time period from the 1950s through the 1960s. Pioneers of modern architecture and design include Le Corbusier, Mies Van der Rohe, Eileen Gray, Walter Gropius. 

Major characteristics of modern interior design include sharp, geometric shapes, asymmetrical forms, and very functional construction. Much of the modern movement philosophy favored function over style, resulting in very simple designs without decorative details found in traditional design.  

Contemporary Design Today 

Whereas the Modern movement is now considered the past, contemporary design is all about what’s happening right now. We can see why many homeowners confuse the two, though, as a lot of today’s designs have influences from the modern movement such as clean, architectural lines and open spaces. 

Photo from Shutterstock

Contemporary means what’s happening now and always continues to flourish and evolve; it showcases what’s fresh and up-to-date in today’s world. So while there are plenty of trends inspired by the Modern movement today, you’ll also see more designs that are bolder, more futuristic, and sleek.  

Modern vs Contemporary Design 

While current contemporary interior design has a lot of influences from Modern designs, particularly the mid-century Modern movement, there are still some big differences between then and now. 

The Difference Between Modern and Contemporary Design | WPL Interior Design
Photo by Jay Greene Photography


In the past few years, color trends have skyrocketed towards vibrant pops of color. Homeowners no longer obsess with creating the clean “white” look inside their homes. Instead, they are opting for black front doors, blue kitchens, and gold finishes. Modern design, on the other hand, highlights color palettes of natural materials, such as wood, metal, leather, and stone.  


Big, bold patterns and mixing textures is becoming a huge trend. This is a huge contrast to the modern movement, where textures were more subdued, simple, and natural.  


Mid-modern century furniture has been a huge trend today, but that’s not the only time period trending in today’s furniture world. Vintage light fixtures are top picks by homeowners. They brighten up your space while also being a statement piece for any room. Modular and multi-functional furnishing are also more innovative in design as small-space living and downsizing continue to trend. 

Staying Up-To-Date 

The Difference Between Modern and Contemporary Design | WPL Interior Design
Photo from Shutterstock

Every client at WPL Interior Design has a different vision for their home; our job is to turn your interior design dreams into reality. This means appreciating the designs and styles of different time periods, such as the Modern movements, as well as staying up-to-date on today’s trends. In the upcoming weeks, we’ll be heading to High Point Market to catch up on the latest and greatest. In addition to trending styles, furnishings, and finishes, we’ll also be seeking out the newest home technologies. Stay tuned for our High Point Market reports in a few weeks!

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