Am I modern or contemporary?


By Vicky Earley

It really is such a difficult decision … should I decorate in modern or contemporary style? Oh wait … hold on … aren’t those the same?

We do tend to use the terms modern and contemporary interchangeably, but in the world of design, the styles have distinct qualities and features.

Contemporary design is simply a nod toward the style of the day. Since the definition of the word contemporary is “of the moment,” contemporary design is a snapshot of the existing trends and culture. Yesterday’s contemporary is today’s vintage, and tomorrow’s contemporary is still unknown.

Because contemporary style is fluid, it can easily morph as new colors and pieces are incorporated over time.

Recognizable features are reflective surfaces, clean and sleek lines, unexpected colors, graphic patterns, rounded forms and asymmetry. Lucite and stainless steel details are hallmarks of today’s contemporary, while recycled materials have a strong foothold.  Concrete, paper and chrome are usually close by in contemporary setting.

Modern design is static and does not change with time. It was born of a desire for an escape from the heavily ornate Victorian era. Thus, it is the bedrock of simplicity and minimalism.

Modern design is characterized by angular frames, low profiles and geometric and abstract fabric patterns. Art is simple and devoid of fussy. Natural materials like linen, leather and teak wood are prevalent, unembellished and understated.

In modern design, the furniture is often raised from the floor with the help of straight, unadorned legs. This purpose is to create a lighter, cleaner atmosphere. While the walls in modern design are typically shades of white and ivory, the interest is derived from carefully orchestrated shocks of color in fabrics and accessories.

Since modern design has its roots in the 1920s, it often imparts a retro effect as it features vintage pieces, such as Eames chairs, Formica tables and ottomans. In contrast, a futuristic element is created by contemporary design through the use of modular shelving and pod seating.

Modern and contemporary are cousins at best … they are related only by the tendency toward cleaner lines and features. Beyond that, they are distinct and individual.

Portions of this article include information from Urban Domesticity.

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