The Difference: Modern vs Contemporary

Modern and Contemporary in interior design are not one in the same, as many people might think. Modern design is a design style that was created in the 1920′s – 1950′s. It doesn’t change because it is a defined style and will remain such. Contemporary design is ever changing. It is of the moment. Part of the confusion could be that many elements of mid-century modern design are very popular and are being incorporated into contemporary designs.


To explain, the term “Modern” in interior design really refers to “Mid Century Modern”. It is recognizable by its clean, unadorned interiors. Use of natural materials such as wood, leather, teak and linen are prominent. Molded plywood and plastic is very popular in modern furniture, as well as polished metal. Furniture is very open and raised off the floor allowing for an airy feeling. Walls are often white adding to the expansive feeling. Modern interiors generally have bare floors and if area rugs are used, they are typically wool, and neutral in color. Hints of color were used in moderation. We generally refer to modern interiors as retro these days.

Modern Contemporary

What is “Contemporary Design”? Contemporary by definition means “existing, occurring, or living at the same time; belonging to the same time.” And that is exactly the same for the use of the term in interior design. Contemporary design refers to what is popular or used right now. Contemporary design can be very eclectic for that reason, because it is ever changing and borrows pieces and styles from all different eras. It doesn’t have to be something that is “designed” right now – for example; furniture and art from the modern era are often used in contemporary design, and tradition moldings and millwork are incorporated in many cases.


Right now a contemporary home might incorporate large windows, unique or odd shapes, open plan and harmony with the surrounding landscape. The finishes would use a lot of natural elements such as fir or cedar and stone. The finishing details and furniture are in-ornate and use clean lines. Comfort and sustainability are key values that are important in a contemporary home. In twenty years from now, something else will be considered “contemporary”.


Whether a modern or contemporary home is your plan, 20-20 Homes can help you build in the Greater Houston area. Look over our designs in our Portfolio and contact us to set up a Builder Interview.

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