2nd June 2020

Modern vs Contemporary Design Style: What’s the Difference?

Trying to choose an interior design style for your home and struggling to decide between ‘modern’ or ‘contemporary’? It can be easy to get confused about the differences between modern and contemporary (after all, aren’t they basically the same thing?) However, there are a few key differences that we can explain to help you navigate the terminology and what the two different styles include.

This information will give you the power to choose the right interior accessories (like mouldings, skirting boards and architraves) for your home, so you can accurately embrace these popular design styles.

What is the difference between Contemporary and Modern design?

Although modern and contemporary design sound like they would be very similar (and are often mistakenly used synonymously), they’re actually two entirely different interior styles.

Time period: The main difference between the two is the time period to which each design was (or is) popular. Modern design specifically refers to the architectural style that was popular between the 1900 and 1950, whereas contemporary design belongs to the time period we are currently in.

Because of the huge variety of architecture and interior design styles currently used in ‘contemporary’ homes, this makes it hard to pin down contemporary as one defining style; instead, it ebbs and flows as the years go by, embracing different designs, interiors and styles over time.

Lines: Another difference between contemporary and modern design is the distinct shapes, structures and architectural ‘lines’ that accompany each style. Modern homes (the ones reminiscent of 1900 to 1950 styles) tend to be designed with straight, rigid and hard lines, whereas modern designs embrace bold, sweeping, curvy, yet still clean lines.

Colours: Colours are another aspect of difference between modern and contemporary homes. Modernistic and current homes favour warmer and more subdued colour palettes, whereas contemporary interiors tend to embrace bolder, starker and more striking hues.

What is Modern design?

Modern design is the precursor to contemporary design, occurring at the peak of the modern art movement, which was inspired by the Scandinavian design and the famous German Bauhaus design movement. Key architectural influences on the modern design interior and architectural style include Florence Knoll, Le Corbusier and Charles and Ray Eames.

Modern design has a heavy focus on simplicity and function, and is best known for being the cornerstone of the design of the modern American corporate office, with modernistic and minimalist interiors and even, unbroken lines

The time period of Modern design

Modern design refers to design, interiors and style that were popular in the early to mid-twentieth century. The ‘mid-century modern’ style evolved from the original modern style and became popular in the interior design world in the 50s and 60s. Today, the terms ‘modern’ and ‘mid-century modern’ are often used to refer to the same design style.

Key features and styles of Modern design

Key features and styles of modern design include a focus on simple form and function, alongside earthy, warm palettes and the use of natural materials like wood, linen, leather and stone. Modern design favours hard lines to contribute to the style, as well as earthy, warm, rich colour palettes.

Sleek furnishings are often used in modern design, with an emphasis on simple forms over fanciness, detailed embellishments and anything that could be labelled or seen as ‘excessive’. Furniture is often made of plastic, metal or glass, and colourful geometric patterns are used to add a touch of retro-chic to the design aesthetic (like rigid squares and rectangles to complement smooth curves and clean lines).

Intrim’s favourite Modern looks


Which mouldings suit a Modern style?

If you’re choosing to adopt a stylishly modernistic design for your home, the best choice of interior moulding will be a minimal shadowline skirting, or a smaller profile with sharp, hard lines, such as a half splay. More recently the negative detailing of Shadowline skirting has surged as a hugely popular trend, and we can see why! It provides the perfect combination of sophistication and class as a contemporary skirting board without going over the top. Some options are below and listed in order: SK40A, SK50, SK61, SK800 Shadowline.

SK40A 66mm FJ PineSK50 90mm FJ PineSK61 66mm FJ Pine

When choosing a modern skirting board, it helps to think of straight lines, geometric patterns and anything that evokes a sense of minimalism. Modern skirting boards made from timber are usually painted and when curved lines are used, they are clean, simple and uncluttered.

What is Contemporary Design?

Unlike the more rigid modern design, contemporary design is ‘of the now’ and is constantly evolving. It includes a wide variety of interior design styles and allows for flexibility, creativity and the amalgamation of different styles to create something entirely new. It borrows qualities from modernism, minimalism, the Art Deco movement, coastal styles and all global cultures to create ambiguous and often natural-feeling features (as contemporary style often takes inspiration from the natural environment surrounding the property).

The time period of Contemporary design

Contemporary design is in its definition ‘contemporary’; living and serving at the same time. It is the style of now!

Key features and styles of Contemporary design

Contemporary design is a constant reflection of what is in style today; it’s a reflection of the popular interior styles of now. Therefore, it shifts and blends depending on the year (or even month!) However, there are a few key features and styles of contemporary design that can provide a little more clarification around its tangible elements.

Contemporary design favours neutral palettes that are often cooler than the warm and earthy colour palettes of modern design. For contemporary design, think cool whites, sophisticated greys, tonal beiges and coastal blues and greens. Contemporary interior styles also favour minimal simplicity, clean lines and organic, natural silhouettes. Common materials that are usually prominent characteristics in contemporary design spaces include chrome, steel, nickel, timber and clay, alongside natural textures like hemp, linen and jute.

Intrim’s favourite Contemporary looks

contemporary stair case    

Which mouldings suit a Contemporary style?

Typically, skirting and architraves used in modern homes had minimal detail, generally had hard sharp lines, and are usually smaller in height and thickness, until recently. We have seen the popularity of the use of taller skirting board profiles being used in contemporary homes so they become more of a feature, adding to the architectural detail of  a room. Curved lines, so long as they are clean and uncluttered are commonly used, such a a pencil round skirting and many modern designs based on this profile.

Options listed in order: SK864, SK102, SK51, SK22.

SK864 90mm FJ PineSK102 138mm FJ PineSK51 230mm FJ PineSK22 66mm FJ Pine

Which style should you choose – Modern or Contemporary?

There really is only one way to decide whether you should choose a modern or contemporary style for your home – think about which one you like the look of most!

As we’ve discussed, modern style focuses on design elements (like hard lines, simplistic, sleek furniture and warm tones) that are common to the years 1900 to 1950. So, if you enjoy the aesthetic elements associated with that era and enjoy highly functional elements, then you would do well to embrace a single design theme like modernism. However, in order to make your modern homework, you will need to be committed to the aesthetic by making succinct design decisions (like your skirting boards, architraves and handrails) and sourcing pieces that suit this era.

If however you find having a sense of flexibility and adaptiveness when it comes to your home’s interiors, then the contemporary design style may be more for you. You’ll be able to embrace different trends and types of decor, and enjoy bold contrasts in colour and texture. If function isn’t your ultimate priority and you’re a fan of ‘changing with the times’, then the contemporary style may be better suited.

Choosing modern skirting boards or contemporary skirting boards

Once you’ve decided which home style you’d like to go with, turn to Intrim Mouldings for your modern and contemporary skirting board, moulding and architrave needs.

We’ve been manufacturing and supplying timber building products for over 23 years, and have evolved to become a leading manufacturer in finely crafted, quality architectural skirting boards. We focus on service, innovation, reducing our environmental impact and helping our customers make their interiors look truly spectacular!

Choose from our extensive range of prestige elegant timber moulding designs to suit both modern and contemporary designs.

Speak to one of our friendly and experienced team members today by calling 1800 622 081.