Black matte kitchen in a modern home with a view into the garden.

Contemporary Vs. Modern Home Styles

Michelle Giorlando3-minute read
September 07, 2022

If you’re into home decor styles or architecture, you’ve likely run into the terms “contemporary” and “modern” to describe home styles. While these words mean the same thing in most contexts, in the world of design and style, they have slightly different nuances.

Let’s look at the definitions of contemporary vs. modern home styles and what design and architecture factors contribute to each of them.

What Is The Difference Between Contemporary And Modern Home Styles?

In most situations, the terms “contemporary” and “modern” can be used interchangeably since both can mean “present day.” In the world of design, though, they mean two different things:

  • Contemporary design expresses what’s currently popular and trending in the interior design world, and is an overarching term of different design styles
  • Modern design is a single style type and embraces the specific period of the early-to-mid-20th

So, contemporary design is ever-evolving and modern design has a specific look and feel to it. Let’s take deeper dive into both.

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What Is Contemporary Design?

Due to the nature of its definition, contemporary design is ever-changing with what is popular in current architectural style and interior design.

Overall, contemporary designs tend to have open floor plans, clean lines, natural light and neutral color palettes. These consistent aspects of this aesthetic  are a perfect blank slate to add in other design elements like modern farmhouse, boho and art deco. While some contemporary designs are similar to the modern style, contemporary design can mix many different design styles beyond the modern framework. If it’s trendy, it’s contemporary!

Like it’s interior decor style, contemporary architecture mixes different elements to make a visually stunning impact. Asymmetry, lots of glass and eco-friendly materials are often used in contemporary architecture. These homes and buildings trend toward open spaces and multi-use areas, and often pull in nature with big picture windows to maximize outdoor spaces. Prominent contemporary architects include Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, I.M. Pei and Norman Foster.

A beautiful open-plan contemporary living room with a leather couch, a white-painted brick wall with a modern painting. There are big windows with green plants in front, and the kitchen island has stylish lamps and plants on it.

What Is Modern Design?

While contemporary design is of the current moment, modern design is inspired by the early to mid-20th century, right around the 1920s – 1970s. A very popular subset of this design style is called midcentury modern, which is inspired by the 1950s and 1960s. After the grandeur and maximalism of the early 1900s designs, modern style evolved to have a minimalist design. This is accented by clean asymmetrical lines, and values function over fashion, although modern style is fashionable in its own right! Despite its minimalist designs, modern design isn’t boring. The unique curves and simplicity of design draw the eye to things like wood grain – it’s simple but not dull! There are also fun pops of patterns with a mid-century flair, such as the space-age retro-future look.

Some functions of modern style are carried over into contemporary style. For example, open floor plans where the living room and dining room flow into each other are a facet of modern design, a big change from the closed-off rooms of previous home designs.

Modern-style architecture in homes is represented by elements that provide function for its occupants. It also includes geometric shapes, lots of large glass windows and sharp angles and lines. Nature is also hugely present in modern architecture. Modern architecture is an evolution of the Art Deco and Arts and Crafts movements that came in the early 20th century. Notable modern architects include Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright.

A clean, white modern living room and bedroom. There’s a credenza in simple wood with clean lines. It has a plain white lamp and some green plants on top. Through an open doorway, there’s a plain wooden bed with a white spread on top, and a blue midcentury chair next to it.

Contemporary Vs. Modern Homes: Which One Is Right For You?

When choosing a house style, it’s important to pick the style that resonates the most with you. If the tenets of contemporary and modern fit what you’re looking for, then that can help you narrow  down your home search.

To further refine your search for your dream home there are subtle differences such as:

If you prefer function over a lot of ornamentation, then a modern house will be a better fit. This style embodies a minimalist, clean look. Think lots of wood, streamlined furniture, big windows, less clutter and fewer patterns.

If you’re more into mixing styles and form over function, then a contemporary home might fit your lifestyle better. This style is trendier and tends to feel warmer. It’s a great way to stay up to date on home fashions and to mix and match aspects of décor from different styles.

If you’re buying a home, you can help your real estate agent find the style you’re looking for by being very specific on what you want, especially because contemporary and modern styles share similarities.

A contemporary house exterior with some modern hints. The façade is stone, and there are lots of large windows and straight lines. Lamps are lit inside, and it looks very cozy.

The Bottom Line

Though contemporary design and modern design styles share a lot of facets, they’re different in many ways, the main one being that contemporary is of the current time, and modern is firmly in the middle of last century. Are you interested in either kind of home? You can start the approval process if you’ve finally found the perfect style home or if you want to be ready when you do!

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Michelle Giorlando

Michelle Giorlando is a freelance writer who lives in metro Detroit. When she's not writing about homeownership, finances, and mortgages, she enjoys performing improv, gardening, and befriending the wildlife in her yard.