Modern vs. Contemporary: What’s the Difference in Home Design?

Pinterest Hidden Image

You know that your house looks current, and you do your best to stay on-trend. You might call your style modern — or you might call it contemporary. But did you know there’s a difference between the two? Despite being synonyms in day-to-day usage, the terms modern and contemporary have distinct meanings in home design. In this post, we break down the key differences between the two to take some of the confusion out of the design process.

Whether your home is modern, contemporary, or something else entirely, the design team at brick&batten can create a virtual exterior design that perfectly suits your style. Our team of virtual exterior designers can combine your favorite elements and features into one cohesive plan to make your home the envy of the block.

Modern vs. Contemporary: What’s the Difference?

To put it simply, the terms modern and contemporary refer to different periods in time.

Modern design was born out of the modern art movement and spans the early to mid-20th century. The movement includes Art Deco designs of the 1920s and midcentury modern trends of the 1950s and 1960s. Bauhaus and Scandinavian design inspired this distinct style. Swiss architect Le Corbusier and designers Charles and Ray Eames (yes, like the chairs!) further popularized the look.

Virtual exterior design of a midcentury modern ranch

Contemporary design refers to designs “of the current moment.” It is tied to no particular period of time and is therefore very fluid. Current values and trends — including concepts like environmentalism, globalism, minimalism and individualism — inform this ever-changing style.

Modern vs. Contemporary Home Styles

The materials used in homebuilding and design accents mark one of the key differences between modern and contemporary homes.

Modern styles exude a lived-in warmth, so modern homes utilize rich, natural materials like wood, leather, and stone in functional, minimal shapes. True to the period, designers coupled these elements with then-groundbreaking materials such as acrylic, molded plastic, and chrome.

Virtual exterior design of a home with a modern design

Contemporary design also celebrates natural materials but in a more updated execution. Polished wood and sleek metals like steel commingle with organic elements, including plaster, travertine, and concrete. Reflecting a more forward-looking perspective, contemporary furniture and accessories typically incorporate striking and unusual forms in interesting finishes.

Virtual exterior design of a home with contemporary design elements

Modern vs. Contemporary Color Palettes

Both modern and contemporary styles are rooted in natural colors, but their distinct approach to color sets the two styles apart.

Reflecting the themes in modern art, modern design has very few patterns, instead preferring bold blocks of color. Color palettes are often warm and neutral, incorporating earthy hues like brown, rust, and olive. For home exteriors, natural colors work great with a bold primary color pop on a front door.

Virtual exterior design of a home with a modern color palette and style

If modern design uses warm, lived-in colors, think of the contemporary design color palette as a breath of fresh air. The style also uses neutral colors, but it takes them in their natural form — picture faded sandstone or sun-bleached driftwood. Stark contrast, black and white pairings, and crisp whites define this style. Uses of brighter color take the form of rich jewel tones or highly saturated colors used to emphasize architectural elements.

Virtual exterior design of a home with a contemporary color palette and style

Key Characteristics of Architecture & Form

Both styles have a lot of similarities, which can make it hard to tell them apart. Modern and contemporary design and architecture both prioritize clean, architectural lines. Homes in both styles often have open floor plans with large windows for natural light. However, there are a few notable characteristics that differentiate the two.

Modern design is much more structured and formal than contemporary design. Strong, clean lines define the style. As a reaction to the opulence and artificiality of previous time periods, the modern style prioritized function over form, so there is little clutter or ornamentation.

Virtual exterior design of a home with modern architecture and style

Similarly, minimalism and clean, simple lines are a hallmark of contemporary design. However, this design loosens its form and embraces irregular shapes, asymmetrical façades, and curves. You might find mixed materials, like stone and wood, on the exteriors of contemporary homes. Indoors, construction elements or exposed materials such as brick and concrete frequently make an appearance.

Exterior Updates That Honor Your Style

Whether your preferred design is informed by the past or is looking to the future, the virtual design team at brick&batten can help you navigate the elements of modern and contemporary styles to find the look that’s perfect for your home. Learn more about our virtual exterior design service, and get started with your exterior makeover today!