I’d love to receive questions from readers about any of the posts on this blog or other subjects I might be able to cover. You can always pose questions in the comments section of each post, or send me an email at urbandomesticity[at]gmail[dot]com.
This question was posed on a design message board I participate in:
What’s the difference between modern and contemporary decorating?
It generated some interesting responses, so I decided I’d share my thoughts in-depth here. Yesterday I addressed the term modern and offered some examples of true modern style. In summary, modern generally refers to styles developed in the mid-century. Natural materials, neutral expanses with pops of primary colors, and long, low lines are common in modern styles. You can click here to go back to the post on modern decorating.
So, what does contemporary mean?
The basic definition of contemporary is “of the moment.” Contemporary art, design, and interiors are “of the day.” They exist in the here-and-now. And, taking this further, they could only exist in the here-and-now because ten years ago some of the materials and pieces wouldn’t have been available. And in ten years from now, there will be new pieces that do not exist today. Yesterday’s contemporary is today’s vintage. And tomorrow’s contemporary is still unknown.
Whereas modern is a static term, contemporary is a dynamic, changing term.
There are fewer rules in contemporary interiors than in truly modern ones, because anything kinda goes. Of course there is still a difference between good contemporary design and bad contemporary design. And everyone has their personal taste. But in contemporary design, you are free to use color and pattern. You might combine a vintage mid-century modern credenza with brand new shelves from Ikea, ornate antique chairs, and a rug from India. (Which would also qualify as contemporary eclectic.)
Here are some pictures that represent contemporary styles. All six images are from now-defunct Domino, my all-time favorite decorating magazine.
The photo above features a few truly modern pieces, such as the coffee table and paper lamp. (Remember how I mentioned that modern pieces often show up in contemporary interiors?) However, the way the modern furniture is mixed with the new couch, blue walls, wicker stool, and ornate rug makes this look contemporary.
The interior above actual includes more formal, traditional furniture pieces. In this case, the white walls, open airy feel, and graphic layout of photos above the mantle keep the look contemporary rather than pure traditional.
If you took away the zebra rub, ornate chandelier and decorative items this would be a rather modern interior. Those touches mixed in keep this look more contemporary, however. And certainly somewhat eclectic.
This serene space uses modern style neutrals, but the overall look is contemporary. Especially because there are no pops of bright color. All those cozy layers on the couch, the gorgeous drapes, and the black furniture qualify as contemporary touches. Some might call this style transitional as well.
Contemporary styles allow for more freedom and trends. Contemporary rooms are always-evolving, meaning good contemporary style changes slightly over the years to reflect changing tastes and the shifting lives of the people who inhabit the spaces. Good contemporary design is almost always a work-in-progress.
Because the tenets of contemporary design are more open-ended, it’s easier to incorporate new pieces and colors into the spaces over time. If you fall in love with an ornate headboard, for example, you could probably incorporate it into an existing contemporary space, but not into a modern one.
Other terms that come up when describing contemporary interiors are eclectic and transitional. Both eclectic and transitional have somewhat different meanings than pure contemporary, but they basically refer to similar looks and feels.
Whew! That was ALOT of information for two days of posts. I’m ready for the weekend! Were these posts helpful? Have I missed the mark? Do you define modern and contemporary differently? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.