Modern vs. Contemporary Furniture - What is the Difference?

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What is the difference between modern and contemporary furniture

Modern Furniture

For those who are considering decorating their homes with a new type of furniture style, one of the oldest questions that is asked is what is the difference between modern and contemporary furniture? That is actually a good question that many in the furniture industry get from time to time and it can be quite confusing given the nature of the terms themselves.

After all, we do live in the modern age which is also contemporary to our time, so what is the difference and why is it so confusing? Unfortunately, the English language is filled with terminology that can be confusing and the same words can mean different things to different people.

In terms of furniture design, the types of items that were developed are a reflection of the age in which they were created. So naturally the time that people live in which they would call the “present” would also be known as “modern”. Just as we view people who lived a hundred years ago as living in quaint, bygone era, so too did the people of a hundred years ago call the people who lived a hundred years before that as living in a quaint, bygone era.

What is Modern Furniture?

Modern Furniture

Essentially, the Modern design refers to a specific period of time from the 1920s to the 1950s when furniture design when through a remarkable change. Before the 1920s, furniture tended to be very ornate and hand crafted to the individual. Mass production of furniture existed before the 1920s, but it still tended to reflect an earlier time.

The Modern era came about in the 1920s when new designers came into prominence with their clean, sleek design of furniture that centered on function. In fact, “Modern” is actually short for “Mid Century Modern” which is the full term. Mid Century Modern design is clean, unadorned lines and uses natural materials such as wood, leather, teak and so forth in the creation of the furniture. However, you can find plastic and molded plywood as a part of Modern furniture design as well.

As the Modern period ended in the 1950s, it no longer is continuing in terms of its design. This means that a home decorated in the Modern style will be open, clean and excel in the use of space. Even the walls are painted white to expand the feeling of space inside a home. The furniture tends to be off the floor and open in its overall design to help enhance the feeling of having spacious interiors. Even when polished metal is used, the emphasis is on simplicity and clean lines to create a feeling of openness.

What is Contemporary Design?

Contemporary Design

The very name “Contemporary” means “existing” or in other words, what is happening today. Yes, we live in modern times, but a Contemporary Design refers to all the designs that are currently in vogue and are ever changing and growing. So, whatever furniture design is happening today in terms of growing and changing is Contemporary.

Contemporary design is often used for what type of furniture or interior design is popular at the moment. Plus, it can include a number of different designs that reflect today’s age of furniture. For example, you can have a sofa created in one popular design while your chair and table are crafted in another. As long as the designs are popular, growing and changing, your interior design can be referred to as “Contemporary”.

In fact, many people enjoy having a rather eclectic look for their interior design that combines different pieces together. So, whether you choose a specific design or have each piece unique to its own designer, it can all still be Contemporary in terms of the current fad or popular design patterns. In fact, you can even have pieces from the Modern era of furniture design and still call it Contemporary because you are creating a new format for your residence. However, if all of your furniture is “Modern”, then you have chosen a Modern design for your home.

Basically, it’s not just that Modern and Contemporary are two different designs as they are really two different things entirely. Modern refers to “Mid Century Modern”, a specific design period of furniture while Contemporary really means “right now” and does not refer to a specific design other than including designs from today.

Today, a Contemporary design may include having large windows, an open floor plan that includes interesting, odd or unique shapes and having a connection between the inside of your home and the outside to denote harmony with nature. Natural elements are a large part of Contemporary design, especially in the use of cedar or fir along with stone to create an overall natural appearance.

However, there are some Modern touches to many of the furniture designs that are popular today. The sleek, clean lines and use of natural materials is found in many Contemporary designs and helps to augment the overall natural look of the room. The key here is comfort and function, which are still part of the Modern design era that influences many in the Contemporary design field. There is even a form called “West Coast Contemporary” which denotes the origins of many designs that are popular today.

However, it must be noted that what we call “Contemporary” today will change in a generation and it will be referred to as something else to separate it from what is popular in that day and age. When that day comes, what we see today in terms of “Contemporary” could be named “Early 21st Century” or something of that ilk to separate it from the popular designs of that day. Just like “Mid Century Modern” is a term used to describe what was at the time “Contemporary”.

So, just to keep it simple, a “Modern” design refers to a specific period of time in furniture design which was from the 1920s to the 1950s. “Contemporary” is the design period that is popular today which may include influences and even pieces from the Modern era.

July 21, 2014