Feb 1

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


modern bedroomIt seems that in the furniture realm the words “modern” and “contemporary” are used almost interchangeably, yet the two terms do have their own applications. There is overlap in the terminology, to be sure—especially today Read on to learn the difference between contemporary and modern furniture.


“Modern” is a relatively specific term in interior design because it refers to design from a particular time period, and you can assign several characteristics to the modern furniture category. Designers differ on where they will place modern design; some say that it is confined to design of the 1920s through the 1950s, while many others will say that it’s anything from the 20th century.

Whatever the particular time period, you should know that many interior designers use the term “modern” to refer to mid-century modern interior design. Here are some of the most common and easily recognized traits of mid-century modern design:

  • Clean and unadorned interiors
  • Geometric lines and slight, soft curves
  • Use of natural materials like wood (especially teak), polished metal, and leather
  • Introduction of manmade materials like fiberglass and plastics
  • Neutral colors with vivid colors as accents
  • Highly practical pieces that simplify the everyday lifestyle


Technically speaking, the term “contemporary” is loose in that it doesn’t refer to a particular time period; it’s ever-changing because it is used to refer to what is popular and used in interior design right now. In other words, what is considered contemporary now might not fall under the same category in 20 years’ time.

One reason that so many people might use the terms “modern” and “contemporary” interchangeably so frequently is that much of what is on-trend right now is modern. In today’s furniture stores, you’ll often find furniture pieces that are reminiscent of the mid-century modern era. Contemporary homes are filled with practical pieces, clean lines, and bold accent colors.

In addition, many modern design characteristics easily translate into broader characteristics that can then be grafted into contemporary design. Where in modern design you see clean interiors, for example, you’ll see open floor plans in contemporary design. Where in modern design you see white walls, you’ll see white or off-white walls and large windows in contemporary design.

Modern design truly does seem to have left its mark on contemporary design, and that doesn’t seem like it’s going to change anytime soon.