Modern vs. Contemporary Design: What’s the Difference?

Many people think modern and contemporary design are the same. But there’s a world of difference. They may be synonyms when describing many things, but in design, modern vs. contemporary are quite different.Modern design refers to an era that has passed, while contemporary design is all about the now and the future.The most popular modern design era is the mid-century modern era of the 1950s and 1960s. But Art Deco design of the 1920s or anything from then to the vintage look of the 1970s can also be considered modern.Here are the most popular elements and looks of modern vs. contemporary design.

Modern design often features wood and earthier elements

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Shop These Products Now: Center TableThrow PillowLove SeatRug

family hanging photo logo

Get home decor deals instantly!

Get connected to the home improvement coupons and promo codes you’ve been waiting for.

Contemporary design features state-of-the-art materials, glass and metals

Getty Images

Shop These Products Now: Accent MirrorModern BathtubFloating Sink

Modern vs. contemporary design colors

Contemporary design often sticks to a stricter palate of black, white and grey. If color is added, the color is often the pure, saturated tone like true red, indigo or orange. Modern design colors have an earthier hue and feature shades like rust, turquoise, brown and olive greens. Check out the difference in these two:

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Shop These Products Now: Round TableCouchArea RugThrow Blanket

Getty Images

Shop These Products Now: Dining ChairDinnerwareFruit BowlTowel Bar

Modern vs. contemporary similarities

Both design styles have three general elements in common, which make them good design styles to mix and match into your own signature look. The three shared elements are:

1. The esthetics are both minimalist

Oscar Wong/Getty Images

Shop These Products Now: SofaTripod Floor LampThrow PillowCenter Table

Jacek Kadaj /Getty Images

Shop These Products Now: Sectional SofaThrow PillowArea RugDining Chairs

2. Clean, architectural lines are their signature

Getty Images/Westend61

Shop These Products Now: Writing TableSofaThrow Blanket

Getty Images/Mint Images RF

Shop These Products Now: Display Shelf CabinetCounter StoolHanging Lamp

3. They both have an open-space feel

Getty Images/Westend61

Shop These Products Now: Plants DecorDaybedThrow BlanketPillow

Romy Tesei/Getty Images

Shop These Products Now: Kitchen CabinetDining Table – Dining ChairNow that you know a little more abomodern vs. contemporary design, which style do you prefer?