Modern vs. Contemporary

Architecture & Interiors

There is a little debate going on here that I
thought I would throw some commentary on:

What is the definition of MODERN vs the definition of

MODERN: from the dictionary:

Characteristic or expressive of
recent times or the present; contemporary or up-to-date: a modern lifestyle; a
modern way of thinking.

One who lives in modern

So…by definition, anything that is of current time, is modern.
So isn’t everything contemporary then modern because it is of "modern
time"…aka "now"? Well, no, not really…because just because it is "new",
doesn’t mean that it is "modern".

Why is it that classic "modern" design is defined
by some as "modern" and new design is considered "contemporary"?
Is the term "modern" forever frozen in mid 20th


(Eames Rocker)

CONTEMPORARY: from the dictionary:

1. Belonging to the same period of
time: a fact documented by two contemporary sources.
2. Of about the same
3. Current; modern


Blu Dot Buttercup Rocker

Now I am confused…"modern" is listed under
"Contemporary" and "contemporary" is listed under "Modern".

Now…"Modernism" of course is something a bit
different. That term often refers to the movement from traditional forms within
the art, design, architecture and literature during the 20th century.
Is it fair to say that "Modern" should be the
phrase that refers to any contemporary design that is moving away from
traditional forms of design? If that is the case, when does the old guard
of "Modern" become more stale and traditional and the new designers of current
times become more "Modern" based on the definition?
I guess there will always be "Classic Modern"
defining the innovative design from the past and "Modern" which refers to
"Contemporary Modern" design of now (and the future).
There it is. My 2 cents.

By |


  1. Dave

    Oct 28, 2007 at 9:34 am

    I think you’ve done a good job of analyzing the two words. I generally use “modern” and “contemporary” interchangeably.

  2. Neil

    Oct 29, 2007 at 6:29 am

    I think we all struggle with this; even those who think they are right!! :)
    I believe Modern to be the period, specific to Mid-Century Modern based purely on the use of materials. If I see a modern day shell seat done in a recyclical plastic I view that as Contemporary..
    Maybe for my own use, I should specify, a Modern piece done in contemporary materials.
    Oh…….the dilemna continues.

  3. Mari

    Oct 29, 2007 at 9:01 am

    In the world of art, modern and contemporary are used very differently. But it is because there is that Modern era, with a capital M. So, Modern with a capital M refers to an era: the time of Eames and Jackson Pollock and Clement Greenberg.
    Modern art is old, not new, and not being made now.
    Contemporary art is art that is being made now. Seems to me this should relate to design, where we have Modern Design as an era as well.
    Hope that brings some additional clarity.

  4. rachel

    Feb 26, 2010 at 3:14 am

    Yes, Modern is directly related to a time period, especially when related to any form of art. Contemporary is the appropriate word when describing something CURRENT.

  5. Rosario gonzalez

    Nov 11, 2012 at 4:26 am

    I own a contemporary furniture store and carry both “modern” and “contemporary ” furniture, constant confusion with clients, the way I explain it is “modern” usually refers to “classic designs” of both modern and post modern era, “contemporary”refers to current fresh designs regardless of the influence, could be modern contemporary or traditional with a contemporary flair.

  6. Jason

    Jun 14, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    I always see modern in the terms of modern and post modern so it might just be relegated to the 20th century

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