The terms “contemporary” and “modern” are often used interchangeably to describe something that is current, present and happening “now”.
Honestly, it’s my biggest pet peeve when people try to apply this logic to design! Modern and contemporary do not mean the same thing to an interior designer. They stand for two entirely different design movements, and embrace aspects from eras increasingly far apart.
Modern design is heavily influenced by the shapes and materials which were en vogue in the forties, fifties and sixties. In fact, thinking of it as a shorthand for Mid-Century Modern (or MCM), should make the distinction easier to remember.
On the other hand, contemporary design reflects what is fashionable right now. By its nature, contemporary design is more fluid and transitions with new technology and trends.
I’ll confess that, at the moment, there is a LOT of crossover between the two styles. Neutral colour palettes, natural materials and minimalism is a central theme, and overly ornate details or chunky furniture are both out. Even so, that doesn’t mean you should be lazy about their distinct differences!
In a bid to save interior designers yet another headache, I’m going to use kitchen design as an example to walk you through aspects of modern and contemporary design.
Modern: You can afford to be playful with modern kitchen design. The lines of your cabinets, flooring and windows should be clean and unfussy, but these formulaic grids can be broken up by ergonomic shapes in tables and chairs. To pinpoint that mid-century chic, balance the highly-ordered aspects of your kitchen, with quirky atomic lighting, or an understated ercol dining set.
Contemporary: There’s no room for playfulness here; unforgivingly crisp lines are your path to creating a contemporary kitchen vision. Floor patterns, wall tiles and floating shelves should be satisfyingly regimented, and you should opt for handle-less storage wherever possible. Just as you’re about to start seeing squares behind your eyelids, you can add one piece of circular interest. An unusual extractor fan or curved dining table is the unmistakable flair when it comes to creating the ultimate contemporary kitchen space.
Modern: In a modern kitchen, it’s all about complementing swathes of natural wood with pops of plain-coloured man-made materials. Work this into your home by using wooden cabinetry topped with neutral quartz, or reverse it with birch counters over plain, pale-coloured cupboards. Breakfast bars can enjoy slimline stools in metal, with leather cushioning for added interest.
Contemporary: Natural materials are having a comeback in current design, too – except the focus is on variety. Mix exposed masonry with combination counters in wood and marble, juxtaposed with seamless planes of concrete and glass. To balance this cold, masculine feel, your finishing touches should be a combination of warm copper fixtures, and throws and rugs in wool, sheepskin and linen.
Modern: For a modern look, you’ll want to be paring light and warm neutral surfaces with accessories in fun retro shades, like mustard, coral or turquoise. Stick to one or two bright shades, and use them for light fittings, rugs or – if you’re feeling particularly bold – cabinet doors.
Contemporary: At the minute contemporary design dictates that monochrome is king. Combine tones of one shade of grey or cream throughout the space, and anchor them in place with a dramatic worktop in black slate or dark walnut. A rule of thumb is to have contrasting floors and cabinets, layered with a braver shade, like claret, emerald or indigo. Keep these to a minimum though, focusing on barstools or framed prints.
Modern: Ditch the kitsch, because modern minimalism is all about the subtleties. Instead of garish tchotchkes and pop-art posters, adorn your kitchen with understated details, like iconic Arne Jacobsen flatware or some Bauhaus-inspired vases. Instead of cluttering up your counters, keep decorative pieces together on one or two dedicated shelves.
Contemporary: Don’t detract from those aggressively clean lines by adding unnecessary frills. Instead, use carefully hidden LED lighting strips and downlighters to emphasise the striking architectural brilliance of your workspace. If you really can’t handle an entirely empty surface, make a statement plant the centre of attention on your kitchen island.
Got all that? Well, even if you’re not an interior design expert just yet, hopefully this brief dissection of modern versus contemporary styles will help you on your way when the time comes to plan your next home revamp. At the very least, you’ll probably delight your designer!
(Images courtesy of Pixabay and Unsplash)