Modern and contemporary design have been popular interior design trends in recent years. However, it’s not uncommon that the two are intertwined or confused for one another. When it comes to creating the perfect modern or contemporary look for your space, the key begins with understanding the telltale differences – and how to best complement each for the full effect.
To help you meet your interior design goals, metro Detroit furniture expert Tom Lias, president and CEO of Gorman’s Home Furnishings & Interior Design, explains what makes both modern and contemporary design each unique in their own ways.
“Once you understand the difference,” Lias said, “you’ll realize how easy it is to achieve a modern or contemporary look in your own home.”
What is modern design?
Modern design centers around a time period. “It is a strict design style that was created during the modern movement in the 1920s to 1950s,” Lias explained. “It’s a defined style – the term ‘modern’ really refers to ‘mid-century modern.’”
Widely recognized for its clean, straight lines and unembellished interiors, modern design commonly uses natural materials such as wood, leather, teak and linen. Walls are typically painted neutral, creamy, white and beige, with a monochromatic color palette used alongside it. The look is natural, simple and functional with pops of color. Contemporary pieces, meanwhile, are much curvier and focused on shape.
When shopping for modern classics, your best bet to find original designs is to go to antique markets or estate sales. “It’s ideal to do research before shopping for modern furniture, so that you’re aware of certain styles and designers that appeal to you,” Lias recommended. “Gorman’s offers plenty of modern options to inspire your personalized look.”
For those leaning modern, furniture brands like American Leather offer classic revivals from the modern movement, along with Bernhardt, which boasts a large selection of statement-making decor that helps create the look. Both are available at Gorman’s.
Milo Baughman is a name to remember whose celebrated modern style lives on today
It’s nearly impossible to talk about the modern design movement without mentioning American furniture designer Milo Baughman. In 1947 at the age of 24, Baughman started his own design firm in California, which garnered worldwide recognition for his sophisticated design aesthetic that transformed and redefined the style of American homes, securing him a spot as a pioneer of modern design still imitated to this day.
Baughman eventually began designing exclusively for furniture manufacturer and upholstery producer Thayer Coggin, a sought-after and popular furniture brand still in production. Up until his passing in 2003, Baughman continued to create stunning furniture for six decades. Even now, top furniture designers continue to incorporate and reinvent his timeless elegance.
Thayer Coggin and Baughman became synonymous with one another and represent the modern era, Lias explained. Together, they created furniture that looked to the future, yet remained unpretentious and attainable for everyday Americans, which allowed the design movement to continue to expand across the country. Now, it’s a staple of interior décor.
If you’re seeking an original-looking modern piece of furniture for your space, but don’t want to search through various antiques dealers, consider checking out Thayer Coggin’s furniture. “The 60-year-old brand has started reintroducing Milo’s classic designs – and they look just like the originals,” Lias described. “Milo’s classics never go out of style.”
While modern design remains classic, contemporary design looks ahead
Time is most important when it comes to identifying modern vs. contemporary design. Modern design has an air of the past, with roots that go back decades and an enduring, ageless feel to it. Contemporary design exists on the flipside – it encompasses the present, pulling current trends.
“Contemporary designs are today’s designs,” Lias said. “Contemporary style is always changing and reflects what is popular today, which in 2018 happens to be minimalist looks.”
If the contemporary look feels right for you, you too can easily incorporate this style into your own home. “Start with the sofa and build from there,” Lias said. “Currently, contemporary design embraces a great deal of mid-century modern style.”
“Contemporary style adds a personalized twist to the classic modern look,” Lias explained, “making it far more livable and comfortable.”
Other tips for putting together a contemporary look in your home? Just like modern, stick to a monochromatic palette. Lias believes statement furniture and art can do the talking. When it comes to creating the perfect look, your options are endless. Rather than the typical natural materials such as wood and metal generally found in modern design, contemporary design allows for more curves and color, which can be blended and assorted in one-of-a-kind ways.
Whether you choose to go for a minimalist contemporary or classic modern style, you can’t go wrong either way, Lias said. If you want to make things even simpler for yourself, Gorman’s Home Furnishings & Interior Design stores will pair you with a complimentary design expert who will help you choose the right options for your home.
Members of the editorial and news staff of The Detroit News were not involved in the creation of this content.