Contemporary or Modern?

Contemporary or Modern – A Quizzical Question

At Coulter Designs, we work with many formally trained and certified architects, engineers, and educated interior designers, who all know (in very precise terms) what they are looking for. However, our staff also work directly with homeowners, who simply know what they like. We pride ourselves in having the adaptability to effectively communicate with all our clients to achieve their dream space! At times, though, this communication comes with some difficulty as technical terms are often used to describe a certain look, feel, and aesthetic, which may not often be a correct usage. This short article aims to provide a little insight into the distinction between Contemporary and Modern, which are technical terms with particular meanings; although we often find the terms being used interchangeably.

Modern refers to a style of architecture and furniture that emerged mid-century and peaked in popularity in the 1950s. Modern designs are characterized by long, low furniture and natural materials like teak wood, leather, and linen upholstery. The lines are generally straight and un-embellished, which is a stark contrast to the ornate and deco looks of earlier eras (think Gone With the Wind for example). In a truly modern interior, most of the furnishings are in neutral tones of brown, white, cream, and gray. Walls are generally white. Floors are bare wood or, sometimes, rubber, cork, or cement. Colors exist in small, isolated doses. In many ways, modern design emerged as a way to showcase modern art. Generally large in scale and bold in color, modern paintings and sculptures need relatively neutral, blank spaces in order to really stand out and shine.

Conversely, there are fewer rules in Contemporary interiors. You are free to use color and pattern. You might combine a vintage mid-century piece with a brand new item from Ikea, or ornate chairs and an oriental rug. Contemporary rooms are always evolving to allow for the infusion of trends and idiosyncrasies. In a lot of way, Contemporary design is eclectic. The confusion between Modern and Contemporary arises because Contemporary designs usually include Modern pieces, but (rather importantly) it also includes trendsetting and traditional pieces all mixed together to create a dynamic, playful space. There are no rules in Contemporary design, but it has an aim toward comfort and sustainability.

In sum, Modern design can be characterized using the following key terms: clean, unadorned, and simplistic. There is a method and order to it all. Contemporary design, on the other hand, is playful, freer with expression, eclectic, comfortable, and casual.

Enjoy some of these photos that illustrate this quizzical question – Modern or Contemporary?  And Visit our Design Gallery in Downtown Vero Beach to see all that Coulter Designs has to offer!


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