Have you ever wondered what the difference between “modern design” and “contemporary design” is? In this post, I will elaborate on these terms.



“Modern” design refers to design that originated during the Modernist period, which lasted from 1900-1960. Modernism rejected traditional embellishments and decoration and emphasized simplicity and clarity of forms. Industrially produced materials such as glass, concrete and steel enabled new possibilities in design and construction. Factors such as the First and Second World Wars caused enormous upheaval in Western society, and people were finding new ways to live.


The Mid-Century Modern (i.e. 1950-1960) interior style is especially significant. Many classic pieces of furniture originate during this period, e.g. Barcelona chair, Eames Lounge Chair, Eames DSW chair, Panton Chair, Jacobsen Egg Chair, as well as the Tulip Table and Chair. Scandinavian designers and architects were very influential during this time. Medium toned wood, e.g. walnut, was used extensively. The colour palette used warm and cool colours: white, brown, mustard yellow, pumpkin orange, blues and greens. Iconic light fittings from this era include the Artichoke lamp, Sputnik Chandelier, Arco Floor lamp and Tripod lamp.




“Contemporary”, according to the Cambridge Dictionary, means “existing or happening now” or “belonging to the same or a stated period in the past” Contemporary, in the context of interior design, primarily refers to what is currently trending. Design can also be contemporary to a particular era in the past, e.g. colours contemporary to the 1990s were turquoise and magenta.

To further illustrate, let’s look at what would be considered Contemporary in 2021. In terms of colour palettes, we see warm neutrals paired with inky hues. The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted our interior design needs. Comfort is important as we craft spaces we want to spend time in.

Bouclé fabric has made a huge comeback. Bouclé (meaning “curl” or “loop” in French) has a nubby, fleecy appearance created by using yarn with a series of looped fibres. This fabric adds wonderful texture to a design and works exceptionally well when upholstering round shapes.

Biophilia refers to humankind’s innate connection with and affinity for the natural world. This is an important trend at the moment as we seek to incorporate nature as much as possible in our design. Light oak wood, wicker and rattan are firm favourites at the moment. Adding indoor plants and using the colour green assists with turning our interiors into our own personal havens.


Modern therefore refers to the period 1900-1960. Mid-Century Modern (1950-1960) was a significant period, and various iconic furniture pieces originated in this era. Contemporary mainly refers to current trends but could refer to contemporary to a specific timeframe in the past.


I hope this illuminates these concepts!


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