Décor Dictionary: Contemporary vs Modern

In the field of design & décor, you have to be very careful with what you label “Modern” or “Contemporary.” So often we see & hear people incorrectly referring to an interior or furniture piece as “modern” when they actually mean “contemporary.” We have even seen this grave mistake in design blogs and magazines!

In design & décor (and even other visual departments such as art & theatre)  “modern” is a static term referring to the era  & style of what we today call “Mid-Century Modern.” So Sista, if it doesn’t smack of delicious Mid-Century retro-ness – it’s not “modern.” Contemporary is a little more difficult to explain in design terms as it is a dynamic, ever-changing “style.”

Another factor that is further confusing the matter is the fact that Mid-Century Modern is currently experiencing a revival – the web is littered with contemporary-modern hybrid interiors.

To help you, I will be defining the terms “Contemporary” & “Modern” (i.e. Mid-Century Modern). Later today I will also be “reblogging” 2 excellent articles written by Lindsay form Urban Domesticity. In the articles, she chats in detail about the difference between contemporary & modern. It’s extremely well written and a superb read – be sure not to miss it.

Two examples of the sleek, minimalist, linear style that can be thought of as current (about the last 5 years) contemporary design.

Contemporary Style:   basically means “of this moment.” It is a new current style of design and interiors that exist in the here-and-now. Today, we often relate Contemporary Style to the simplistic, minimal, clean and uncluttered look – think linear lines, neutral colour schemes, stainless, glass, and sleek timbers. However, Contemporary as a style is ever-changing and dynamic – what we view as contemporary today might will not be contemporary tomorrow. For example: In the 80s the Biggie Best country cottage style was BIG in South Africa – it was the contemporary style of the time (i.e. the 80s), yet today it is outdated and vintage.

Here you see two great examples of authentic Mid-Century Modern interiors and the image below on the left is a brilliant Mid-Century recreation with authentic period furniture pieces.

Mid-Century Modern Style:   is a mid-20th-century style of architecture, furniture – and product design that originated in the early 1930s and continued into the mid-1960s. Often referred to as “modern” or “retro”, the style is characterized by simplicity, clean lines, organic forms, and the use of moulded plywood, metal, and plastic. Mid-Century Modern design was greatly influenced by the uncomplicated and practical Scandinavian designs of that time. It was also a golden period of furniture design – gorgeous and innovative designs by masters such as Charles & Ray Eames, Verner PantonEero Saarinen and Arne Jacobsen – but to name a few.

A beautiful example of a contemporary modern interior. Notice the contemporary art, lighting & sofa mix with the mid-century modern occasional chairs & TV unit. Image via contemporist.com
Image sources:
Contemporary images: via
Authentic Mid-Century images: via
Mid-Century Recreation image: via
Contemporary mid-century image: via