Contemporary Vs Modern Interior Design: The Comprehensive Guide

If you’ve been bouncing between contemporary and modern interior design and you’re not quite sure how to differentiate the two, or decide on which one to choose, then this is the article for you.

We’re going to break down some of the key differences and style highlights to facilitate a better understanding for your convenience.  

Although both contemporary and modern interior design styles are often confused with one another, the two are actually rather quite different. Certainly, there are some factors in which they may be synonymous, but they are otherwise able to stand up on their own.

What is contemporary interior design?

In order to differentiate the two, first let’s outline the key definitions and features of both, individually. So, what is contemporary interior design?

The literal definition of the word contemporary is: “living or occurring at present.” As such, contemporary design is fundamentally “of the moment,” indicating that this design style leverages current design trends whilst giving a humble nod to the past.

Contemporary design dates back to the 1970’s and is unique in and of itself – save for a few elements that it borrows from several other design styles. Thus, with contemporary, you’ll be certain to see modern features alongside inspired notes from Art-Deco and the occasional futuristic design flourish.

One other key aspect of contemporary interior design style is that it is constantly evolving. Of course, this is a crucial part of its “of the moment” nature, after all.

Unlike many other styles that are geared toward a specific time, era, and vibe, contemporary style refers to those emerging trends that are valid and gaining traction today.

The contemporary design of right now is layered with neutral palettes, smooth, curved lines, and prominent minimalism.

What is modern interior design?

Given that the word modern is defined as: “relating to the present or recent times as opposed to the remote past,” it’s easy to see why both modern and contemporary design are so often confused with one another. But, what is modern interior design?

Modern interior design is made up of a great number of different features which makes it a little more complex in terms of defining its true nature. In an attempt to lay it out in the simplest of terms, modern design refers to the most modern art movements and interior décors of the home.

Rooted in Germanic and Scandinavian design and architecture, the modern style concepts tend to be pleasantly easy and uncomplicated. All of the décor and furnishings in modern design are geared toward earthy tones and neutral materials, eliminating any unnecessarily elaborate detailing.

While contemporary interior design often boasts hints of colour, modern interior design styles favour monochromatic colours, pattern-less fabrics, and clean, whitewashed spaces.

Contemporary Vs modern interior design: Key differences

Now that we have a clearer image of the two, let’s dig even deeper into the various essential elements and hallmarks that differentiate both interior design styles:

  • Modern design incorporates earthy elements: Modern interior design tends toward an earthy-mix of natural materials. These can include wood, stone, and leather (both faux and genuine depending on the situation). Certainly, contemporary interior design often uses a similar approach to using natural materials, but they’re typically paired with industrial-inspired elements such as concrete and / or steel.
  • Modern decorative features tend toward functionality: In modern design, you’ll often find the most decorative pieces are purpose-built, where décor in contemporary interior design is much more aesthetic oriented.
  • Contemporary concepts are more fluid: As contemporary refers to “of the moment”, the style is forever evolving. As such, these designs tend to be more eclectic, drawing inspiration from different eras. Whereas modern design is more rigid in its minimalist format, geared toward clean lines and balance.
  • Modern spaces can feel warmer: Although modern interior design is minimalist in nature, the spaces don’t tend to feel cold as you’d expect. This is because they are filled with natural materials and warm neutrals, giving off a comfortable air. Contemporary styles however, boasting monochromatic black and white can send to feel bolder and stark, whilst being partial to plenty of colour as well.
  • Contemporary furniture tends to be curvier: Modern design furniture incorporates strong and straight lines, whereas contemporary focus more or organic shapes. For contemporary, the furniture tends toward a blend of comfort and refinement, blending metals such as chrome and stainless steel.
  • Modern design has earthy colours and hues: One of the biggest distinctions between contemporary and modern interior design is the colour palette. Contemporary stick to a much stricter palette of black, white, and grey – and whilst other colours are introduced, they tend to have saturated tones like red and orange. Modern design however, blend natural hues and tend toward rustic and earthy colours such as green, rust, and turquoise.

It’s easy to get the two mixed up as both design styles favour geometric elements. That said, as the nature of contemporary design is ever evolving, many of the latest elements that it picks up – modern design is unable to utilise.

Contemporary Vs modern design: What are the similarities?

Let’s take a look at how contemporary and modern interior design are similar:

  • Both favour minimalist aesthetics
  • They have an open-air feel about them
  • Neither favour ornate or elaborate designs
  • Furnishings feature exposed legs and other elements


Certainly, there are a number of overlapping elements between both contemporary and modern design, but fundamentally, they are unique in their own right.

As you can see from this article, it’s easy to understand why the two are often confused with one another. However, we hope that you have found this article helpful and that you now have a much better understanding of how the two differentiate. If you are looking to explore a project then consider reaching out to an experienced Interior Designer, no matter the oriented style Instyle Deco Paris is here to help you bring your vision to life.

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