What Differentiates Contemporary Furniture from Modern Furniture?

Contemporary and Modern Living Room


I don’t think a customer has ever asked us what the difference between modern furniture and contemporary furniture is. They are usually asking to see collections of one or the other and many think that the two are interchangeable terms as far as styles go. However, select groups of customers that are specifically interested in Mid-Century modern furniture do know.

So, what is the difference between the two styles?

Are they one and the same?

If so, what makes one dissimilar to the other?

What Is Modern Furniture?

The term “modern” doesn’t just apply to furniture and interior design. It applies to a design movement which began at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century and lasted all the way through 1960′s. Bauhaus movement also originated in this time. Western culture started to take on innovative methods to advance constructed environment and to shape human society including everything from architecture to home furnishings.

As far as modern furniture is concerned, the term “less is more” is usually used to describe this minimalistic design style. Form follows function. There are no ornamentations, embellishments, and detail carvings such as those depicted in traditional or Victorian styles that came before it. The modern style is innovative with simple, clean, sleek lines.


Modern Living Room


The post-World War II era saw an industrialization boom and as a result utilization of materials such as molded plywood, polished metals, and plastics were used in furniture design. Organically shaped furniture was the norm during this iconic era instead of the conventional design. Geometric shapes also emerged. Natural materials such as wood, particularly rosewood, American walnut, or oak, were also utilized. Furniture had a spacious sensation because it was open and elevated off the ground. Sofas, for example, featured long, tapered legs and sometimes they were angled.

Prominent designers left such an impact like Ray and Charles Eames and their molded plywood chair and accompanying ottoman. Eero Saarinen was another innovative designer that is known for his tulip stool, Womb chair, and other incredible designs. There is also Isamu Noguchi who is most notably known for his cocktail table that featured a glass top and a curved wood base. These are just a few but there are so many other influential architectural and furniture designers during this exceptional period that produced amazing things.

What Is Contemporary Furniture?

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, contemporary means, “happening or beginning now or in recent times.” That is exactly what contemporary furniture is. It is current. It is of the moment.

Stylistically though, it borrows styles from a variety of other eras such as Mid-Century modernism. Quite a few characteristics are shared between modern and contemporary styles, especially when it comes to furniture.

Just like modern furniture, contemporary furniture can feature plenty of chrome, glass, and wood. At times the lines can be asymmetrical with contemporary design. Angles are prominent and edges are rather sharp. Stunning high gloss finishes can be the preferred finishing choices. Just like with modern furniture, ornamentation and intricate carvings are lacking.


Contemporary Living Room


Depending from which country contemporary furniture originates, it can fluctuate stylistically and aesthetically. Japanese contemporary furniture, for example, features low surfaces, use of natural materials, and open space which is uncluttered. The best way to describe Japanese contemporary is that it is Zen-like. European contemporary furniture embodies minimalism. It is known for use of simple and clean lines. At the same time, functionality is key. Heavy and unnecessary elements are not needed.

What Is the Difference Between the Two Styles?

So, what is the difference between contemporary and modern furniture?

Although both styles share stylistic resemblances they are not the same. Modern furniture is furniture design of the Mid-Century modern period (from 1920′s to 1960′s). It is Mid-Century modern furniture. Sometimes it’s referred to as retro modern or even classic modern. Contemporary furniture is current. It is of today. However, contemporary furniture can borrow elements from modern furniture but modern furniture always stays confined in its era as far as design is concerned. Modern follows a stringent design format.

Contemporary, on the other hand, can also borrow from other styles. One of the main reasons contemporary exists is because a decade ago, for example, certain technologies and manufacturing processes to make particular materials simply didn’t exist. Contemporary doesn’t follow a stringent format but it rather evolves with time. Contemporary design can and it does reinterpret more traditional styles but with a simpler and much cleaner, crisper look.