First, let’s get something straight. Modern is not necessarily contemporary and contemporary is not necessarily modern. We’ll let an industry insider explain.
“Contemporary is, literally, what is being created and produced right now,” said Lane Lenhart, CEO and Owner at 4G Design & Holistic Home in West Hollywood, Calif. “It is dynamic, meaning it’s constantly changing. It can be quite eclectic – contemporary style isn’t tied down to one specific style – it’s of the moment and borrows bits and pieces from a variety of styles and eras.
“Modern style describes a static (era-specific) design and style that breaks with those pre-Industrial Revolution traditional styles. Modern design is connected to the age of the 1920s-1950s (although some make the case that modern design refers to anything from the 20th Century).”
Modern style wants the viewer to see the true nature of the space. You’ll note materials shown in the natural form and even shown off rather than hidden or painted over. Nothing is to look altered or disguised. The modern home wants to reveal the truth, the reality, and that means materials and architectural elements are revealed with honesty down to the nuts and bolts.
One of the best ways to find Modern is to look up. Modern roof lines are bold – a departure from the typical triangle patter. And really, it’s not just one roof line. Many Modern homes have multiple plateaus and often have overhangs that stick out further in some spots than others. It’s all part of a unique sculpture.
A classic modern design is often as much sculptural as it is functional. The roots of this particular aesthetic can be traced back to German and Scandinavian architecture and design. At the advent of the 20th century, it was seen as an answer to the previous century’s reliance on abstract and experimental art forms. Designers and artists wanted to get back to a closer reproduction of the natural world.
Modern Style became vogue in the middle of the industrial revolution, so it shares many elements common during that time. Clean lines, both vertical and horizontal, and an open concept, take precedence over the ornate and all things frilly. Modern literally has a little edge to it.
While earthy tones are a hallmark of the Modern Style, composite materials also began to take hold during the period. Fiberboard, cardboard and synthetic leather are common because they’re inexpensive, simple and practical. But again the industrial influence has roots in the style, so brushed aluminum, polished Stainless Steel, glass and plastic are also big parts of the look.
When you think of Modern Style, furniture is probably the first thing to come to mind. That’s likely rooted in the practicality of the pieces. They are simple, adaptable and work well in small spaces. You’ll recognize modern furniture for its geometric shapes such as squares and triangles. Yes, furniture can be triangle shaped. These pieces don’t look particularly warm or comfortable, but the seating is usually designed with your body structure in mind, so it’s ergonomically optimized.
Modern design makes good use of light and lighting. Because the structures tend to be more open, with more vast rooms, light needs to be spread more evenly throughout the room. One large light can’t simply illuminate the entire space as it could in a smaller area. Many modern homes have lighting that has a translucent appearance. That means it permits light to pass through, but also diffuses it so that people and objects on the opposite side are not easily visible. Uplights, spotlights, wall lamps and lights with dimmers are common in modern design.
Just like Modern design in general, modern lighting includes clean, geometric lines and perfectly shaped circles and ovals. For finishes, you’re likely to see chrome, nickel and even crystal. You want to make sure the lighting doesn’t distract from the minimalism that characterizes the rest of the interior. So you’re not looking for something grand and ostentatious, but subtle and elegant.
Think natural or neutral when you think modern. Flamboyance takes a back seat to the simplicity of blacks and whites. Yes, as you might have predicted, white and black are the two most prominent colors in the style. But there is room for a little color to accent the space, particularly if that color is factory-style brick or any kind of throwback to the industrial age. And bold accents in primary colors look more impressive when contrasted with neutral whites.
Geometric patterns help you meet all of interior design’s basic requirements while looking modern. They are the perfect solution to add visual interest, and will stand out among the whites and neutrals that can typically be found in a modern home. You can add these patterns with wallpaper, artwork or even on your rugs. But keep in mind, with patterns a little bit goes a long way. Too many patterns all over the place and you go against the general tenets of simplicity upon which modern style is based.
In choosing your decorative accessories, make sure they have clean lines and are suitable to the color of your home. If you will use paintings, they should also be modern, eclectic, avant-garde or contemporary in design. Other accessories should make use of sleek and smooth lines to make it appropriate for the house. Take note also that modern design is minimal, do not use too many accessories. If you think you’re overdoing it with accessories, you’re probably right.
Windows, windows, windows. The more the merrier, the bigger the better. And don’t place too much in front of the windows. That ruins the view and blocks the light. Windows provide great natural light and bring you closer to nature. But keep in mind the sun’s orientation throughout the day. You may not want the sun blasting through from the east or the west, depending on the time of day you spend most of your time in a particular room. Make sure some of those windows open easily to provide ventilation during the mild summer days, when a cool breeze invigorates like nothing else. Remember, modern is about practicality and comfort and windows that open easily are part of that.
As we touched on earlier, the open concept is a hallmark of Modern Style. Whereas many older homes segmented rooms and tended to add a bit more furniture, Modern Style does away with some of the walls that separated spaces. And inside those spaces is more room to maneuver. Of course, before you start taking down walls, you need to be sure they aren’t load bearing. But you could also take out the drywall and expose the load-bearing beams for a more open look.
Modern Style’s pioneers also pioneered eco-friendly living. They sought to be one with their surroundings, and to use nature as part of the design. Frank Lloyd Wright built some of his most famous homes into mountainsides and with naturally sourced water running through them. While that might not be the easiest DIY for you at home, there are a few tips that are a little easier to pull off. Plants allow you to bring nature inside. According to Lush Home, “Chlorophytum, any Ficus palm plants, Dracaena and Geranium are the best indoor plants for interior decorating. They improve the air quality, removing pollutants, creating healthier homes.” For a list of other indoor plants that are easy to care for, check out our list of top 10 indoor plants.
Technology has enabled an even more modern space in that many switches, remotes and wires can now be done away with in favor of a more sleek appearance throughout. Now you can control everything from your curtains to lighting to room temperature from your phone. Everything can run on a timer or through virtual automation. Modern Style embraces any advances that make us more comfortable without surrounding us in more things.
Style begat style and a family of Modern Style-inspired movements formed. Here’s a closer look at the Mod Squad of descendants.
This style is characterized by asymmetry – cubic and rounded windows, thermometer windows (when stacked they look like a thermometer running up a building), balconies, roof terraces and plays of shadow and light.
A style that is consciously derivative or imitative of trends, modes, fashions or attitudes of the recent past. Think irony.
Developments in modern design, architecture and urban development from roughly 1933 to 1965, made most famous by the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It’s typically characterized by simplicity, democratic design and natural shapes.
While it may sound like a contradiction in terms, this style strikes a balance. It warms up what are perceived by some to be the “colder” elements of modern style, by instead adding a few well-curated details – still staying away from the clutter.