Home DecorInterior Design

The differences between modern and contemporary design style

…with a rant as a side dish

(5 min read) A couple of months ago I wrote a little piece about the differences between interior designers and interior decorators. I tried not to be too harsh on the decorators, but the article could be summed up in one sentence: Anyone can be an interior decorator, but not anyone can be an interior designer. However, the key point of the article was that people who are not into interior design or decoration have no idea about these differences, which makes them an easy pray for money-hungry scammers. The article was written for an online publication, so I won’t repeat myself here, but I cannot stress enough how important this “word plays” can be if you are building your home interior from scratch.

Beautiful Eclectic interior design.
Eclectic modern design. Photo by Twist Tours.

Anyway, at this point, you are probably thinking: “What TH does this have to do with the title?”, but hang in there, I’ll get to it. So, that whole thing with the article got me thinking how lightly we throw some words around and most of us are unsure of what half of those words even mean, let alone what exactly they represent. That brings us to our point: decorator vs. designer, monochromatic vs. muted, industrial vs. steampunk, modern vs. contemporary, etc. You are not so sure what the differences are, right? Luckily, I’m here to do the research for you.

Contemporary Interior Design
Domesticated contemporary style.

Most people think that the terms “modern” and “contemporary” are synonymous, and I’m not talking just about interior design. As an avid reader and bookstagrammer, I can say for certain that both of these terms are often misused in regard to literature as well. So, let’s determine the differences once and for all.

Contemporary Interior design style
Contemporary interiors with pops of color.


Modern refers to the time period ranging from the early to mid-twentieth century and its key figures were Florence Knoll, le Corbusier, Ray Eames, and Charles. One of the primary characteristics of modern design was and still is its focus on block colors. If you come across a minimally decorated, but not quite minimalistic room, with lots of industrial materials colored in primary hues, chances are it is designed to fit the modern style narrative.

Modern Interiors with primary colors
Primary colors in a comfy modern setting. Photo credit: Tejas Shah / Workshop Inc.

Defining modern interior design can be challenging simply because its reign as the favorite design style of many lasted for more than one century. From boujee royals to wives of blue-collars, everyone wanted some modern in their homes.

Simplicity interiors works best.
Rejecting the artificial through simplicity, Photo credit: Subhash Patil / Sunil Patil and Associates.

Urban colorful interior design.
An urban take on the modern design style.

Essentially, modern interior design is all about clean lines and simplicity. It includes lots of modern art, abstract lines, concrete, and steels, with strong pops of primary colors. The movement itself was founded on rejecting the artificial, so modern paralleled its approach to beauty with its approach to functionality.

Luxury and minimalistic interior design.
Luxury modern.


Unlike modern, contemporary design isn’t attached to a particular time period. Contemporary design constantly evolves and adapts itself, aiming to reflect a variety of presently popular styles. It will take from Art Deco, minimalism, rustic industrial, eclectic, coastal. farmhouse chic and many others, but it will remain its own thing.

Contemporary murals enhanced the interiors.
Contemporary art on the wall speaks volumes. Source: https://www.luxdeco.com/

Although, contemporary style is almost completely ambiguous, there are some distinctions that can help us define it. One of the main characteristics of contemporary design is exposed to construction and materials. Bare structures and sculptural lighting are always a good indication that you are in a room done in a contemporary design style.

Exposed beams make a beautiful contemporary design.
Exposed beams and naked large windows.

Contemporary living room design.
Earthy hues in a contemporary living room.

Contemporary art on the walls, lots of earthy and natural hues, and an open plan with lots of space are also some of the main elements of the contemporary design style. Because the style itself is evolving, it can be tricky to pin-point all of its key figures. Fernando Mastrangelo, John Lawson, Lily Kwong, and Jorgen Hovelskov are just a few of the maestros of contemporary interior design.

Spacious interiors with natural colors.
Spacious interiors with natural tones. Source: IGTV.

So this post was a trip, amirite? We’ve determined how important terminology can be, AND we now know the difference between modern and contemporary interior design styles. In this age of political correctness, it is good to be on fleek with the terminology because you never know how people around you will interpret what you said if you don’t word your thoughts properly.

colorful contemporary interiors.
Colorful contemporary.

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M. Belosh

M. Belosh

Passionate art enthusiast; avid reader (you can find me on Goodreads under the same name); movie connoisseur; intolerable before my morning coffee.


  1. Stephanie
    August 5, 2020 at 4:20 pm

    I definitely lean more towards the contemporary side for most of my home. But, in the office, I prefer a more modern look. The Earthy hues living room and the beach one below it are gorgeous!

  2. Kileen
    August 5, 2020 at 10:13 pm

    What a great post! I love contemporary styled homes. This was so informative!

  3. Heather
    August 5, 2020 at 10:35 pm

    My friend and I were just talking about this. I always thought the two styles were very similar.

  4. Krysten Quiles
    August 6, 2020 at 7:42 am

    I’m definitely more into contemporary, but I do like both features. Thanks for the info!

  5. Neely
    August 6, 2020 at 7:45 am

    Those vaulted ceilings are all I want in design life! Love this so much

  6. Selly
    August 6, 2020 at 8:25 am

    Both styles look supper pretty, but I prefer the modern one more! Thank you for sharing this with us!

  7. Emily Fata
    August 6, 2020 at 8:53 am

    I personally prefer a more contemporary interior design, over the modern look. I do like modern design, just not for my own living space/

  8. Kristine Nicole Alessandra
    August 6, 2020 at 11:38 am

    Thank you for making me understand the difference between the two. If I were to choose, I’d go for the modern style. I think that suits my personality the best. I like things to be simple but functional.

  9. brandy toenges
    August 6, 2020 at 1:24 pm

    I would fall in the contemporary style out of the two but I am definitely BOHO all the way

  10. Aya
    August 6, 2020 at 2:08 pm

    oh wow these designs and ideas sounds interesting and so lovely..glad you shared this with us..great work though..

  11. Yeah Foodie
    August 6, 2020 at 3:13 pm

    I am loving the contemporary design and styles more than the modern look, as to me it is more pleasing to the eyes

  12. Amber Myers
    August 6, 2020 at 3:14 pm

    I think I prefer contemporary. The modern is too cold looking for my taste. I like color and comfort.

  13. melissa
    August 6, 2020 at 3:29 pm

    I love both design styles but I lean more toward contemporary for my own home.

    August 6, 2020 at 3:38 pm

    Such great styles in these rooms. I really love the colorful hanging lights

  15. Keila
    August 6, 2020 at 7:31 pm

    Colorful contemporary is probably my favorite. Thanks for explaining the differences between contemporary and modern. I was using the terms interchangeably for a while.

  16. Heidi
    August 6, 2020 at 7:54 pm

    These are all great examples and helpful. I like the mid century modern style. 🙂

  17. Marie Phillips
    August 6, 2020 at 10:00 pm

    This all makes perfect sense to me! Thank you for helping to make the different terms clearer. Upon reading this, I am definitely more contemporary and less modern!

  18. norma
    August 6, 2020 at 10:26 pm

    Seems amazing. Mosaics are super cool!!

  19. chei
    August 6, 2020 at 10:30 pm

    Wow! This modern and contemporary designs looks all so fabulous. I think i am gonna decorate my house after this pandemic.

  20. Santiago
    August 6, 2020 at 11:43 pm

    Nice one and I really learn from reading this article. I can now differentiate what designs they use once I visit one place. Thank you!

  21. Darlene
    August 6, 2020 at 11:51 pm

    Thanks for sharing. This is something I always wondered about but never took the time to research.

  22. Rose
    August 7, 2020 at 12:40 am

    I love the contemporary with pop up colors style.. It made it look like a happy place.

  23. Ann
    August 7, 2020 at 12:43 am

    I love the contemporary with pop up colors style.. It made it look like a happy place.

  24. Josfolio
    August 7, 2020 at 2:40 am

    So informative ….!! definitely going to take these informations for my home build. Its all about mixing and matching different style to suit your taste.

  25. Mary
    August 7, 2020 at 4:23 am

    This is such a lovely post, the pictures are gorgeous and you really educated me on the differences between them.

  26. Rivera
    August 7, 2020 at 6:24 am

    I never knew the difference between the two before reading this post. Modern style is definitely more my thing. Thank you for clarifying!

  27. Melanie williams
    August 7, 2020 at 7:41 am

    Ooo this is food for thought never even realised that there was a difference between the two x

  28. Sel
    August 7, 2020 at 8:11 am

    Both styles are absolutely beautiful! But I do find myself more attracted to the modern design, it looks really neat and just the kind of design I’m into, thanks for sharing this info with us!

  29. Lyanna Soria
    August 7, 2020 at 8:15 am

    Those are some great tips to keep in mind. Never been into decorating but I think I prefer the modern type with minimalistic designs.

  30. Rachel
    August 7, 2020 at 8:39 am

    I definitely like both, but I keep being drawn back to the colorful contemporary. Such a gorgeous style.

  31. Lyosha
    August 7, 2020 at 9:05 am

    that is very helpful. A lot of people (me included) often get issues with these two styles, easy to mess up

  32. Elizabeth O
    August 7, 2020 at 9:43 am

    Very interesting piece and worth remembering. My last home was a mid century modern home with mainly modern decor with eclectic touches. Reading this brings back memories of my home.

  33. Kath
    August 7, 2020 at 10:51 am

    The different drop lights kept getting my attention. They are simply gorgeous.

  34. Annie Mason
    August 7, 2020 at 12:10 pm

    I love this post. “Modern” vs “Contemporary” is difficult to define; as it is in the art world that I live in, too. The definitions used in the post were succinct and spot-on. I loved the sample photography, also.

  35. Paula S.
    August 7, 2020 at 12:38 pm

    This idea is so amazing and these designs looks so lovely and beautiful..glad you shared this with us..great work though…

  36. Amanda
    August 7, 2020 at 2:08 pm

    Such fun rooms your shared! For me, I don’t particularly prefer a modern or contemporary look – I just love minimal colors and not a lot of clutter!

  37. Michelle
    August 7, 2020 at 2:36 pm

    Thank you for sharing, I really didn’t know the difference modern and contemporary design.

  38. Monidipa
    August 7, 2020 at 2:50 pm

    I used to think that modern and contemporary is almost the same until now. I really liked this luxury modern.
    . Apparently, maybe I am fond of modern designs.

  39. Rachel Nelson
    August 7, 2020 at 3:15 pm

    I never knew the difference, thanks for educating. I like both contemporary and modern, but I lean a lot more towards modern.

  40. Rick B.
    August 7, 2020 at 5:58 pm

    I love the clean look of the contemporary design, especially the exposed beams and naked large windows. Totally my style

  41. Christa
    August 7, 2020 at 8:15 pm

    Such a amazing design inspo! I want to redecorate my whole house after reading this. Lol.

  42. Ana Smith
    August 7, 2020 at 8:42 pm

    What else dare I say?

  43. LuciWest
    August 7, 2020 at 10:47 pm

    How fascinating. I had never really thought about the difference of these terms, maybe because I feel so drawn to the modern style (and that’s how my home looks, with a dash of that more natural less artificial feel) that I hadn’t even given the contemporary style much thought. Now I know.

  44. Jay Aguirre
    August 7, 2020 at 11:11 pm

    Wow they both look so amazing. I’m definitely a fan of both styles of design. I’ll likely model my home like this one day.

  45. Beth
    August 8, 2020 at 1:16 am

    I had not thought of the differences between these styles but can see that eclectic modern is closest to my vibe. Thanks for providing the examples!

  46. Vaibhav Mehta
    August 8, 2020 at 3:08 am

    Lovely contrast between the two. My house is also a mix of the 2 styles, gives it a unique personality!

  47. Joanath
    August 8, 2020 at 8:55 am

    We enjoyed and appreciated reading your articles as part of a designing style. Modern design refers to an era that has passed, while contemporary design is all about the present and the future. Thanks.

  48. Jane
    August 8, 2020 at 10:34 am

    this modern vs contemporary style sounds quite interesting and amazing one..glad you shared these designs with us they looks so lovely and great one..

  49. Steve
    August 8, 2020 at 11:21 am

    You are so right about people misusing words. Right now in my neck of the woods, Modern is all the rage (even though many people say they want contemporary).

  50. Ana
    August 8, 2020 at 5:17 pm

    I am oriented towards the contemporary design! I didn’t know there’s a difference between interior designer and decorator, will check out that article! Thanks for sharing this informative article 😊

  51. Alpa
    August 9, 2020 at 12:27 am

    Great post with lot of information about Modern vs Contemporary. The pics are beautiful.

  52. Kez
    August 9, 2020 at 2:26 am

    While I like elements of both, I think I’d rather contemporary for my interior.

  53. Kiwi
    August 9, 2020 at 10:32 pm

    A very eye opening post! I always thought contemporary and modern was the same too but I learn something in this post and I can distinct the song too!

  54. Taru
    August 10, 2020 at 1:30 am

    What a great post! This was so informative!

  55. pranita deshpande
    August 10, 2020 at 11:58 am

    Super article with engaging points.

  56. Musa
    August 27, 2020 at 6:45 pm

    I love how you went through the differences of these two styles in such a simple way. I love interior design in general, but personally, my style leans more towards modern designs.

  57. Zachary Tomlinson
    October 21, 2020 at 11:10 am

    Wow, I love how the contemporary style of a home is something that boasts an exposed look, such as using sculptures or wall art. My friend is looking for ideas on how he could change the look of his office space. I’ll go ahead and recommend that he start by purchasing contemporary art from an art gallery.