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6 Differences Between Modern and Contemporary Furniture

Modern and contemporary furniture differ in time and style. Contemporary style goes with what is trending now, taking cues from all eras and furniture styles. It has more artistic elements, which are ever-evolving. The modern furniture style is strict and follows 20th-century furniture designs.

What is fashionable now could be out of fashion tomorrow, but what is of the modern mid-century remains the same. The modern look adheres to straight lines and neutral colors.

Contemporary style, on the other hand, breaks the clean look rules by adding some curves and pop colors.

If you are looking for indoor and outdoor decor for your space, you can easily get confused by contemporary and modern, which are mistakenly used interchangeably.

Coming up are details of what modern furniture is and its main characteristics. You'll also read about different traits and materials used in modern furniture.

This post will also cover contemporary furniture and differentiate modern and contemporary furniture types to help you settle on any of the two themes for your space.

What is modern furniture?

Modern furniture is minimalistic. It is sleek with straight solid lines rather than chaotic curves. The furniture style of the 1920s to 1950s adopts simple geometric shapes with straight lines and edges to achieve a clean look. It deviates from an ornamental, cluttered look with elaborate craftsmanship.

The modern furniture style was a rebellion from traditional ornamental designs. It began in the late 1800s and early 1900s at the Bauhaus School of Design before climaxing in the 20th century. Later, it experienced a revival in the 1950s.

See the edges in this Embassy Sofa.

 Embassy Sofa

Main characteristics of modern furniture

Some of the characteristics of mid-century modern furniture are:

  • It is simple and functional with clean edges and geometrical lines;
  • It has smooth, shiny surfaces
  • It is built from natural materials like wood, leather, linen, etc. It also employs metals like stainless steel, aluminum, or nickel.
  • It uses warm neutral colors
  • It features a clean design and has lots of open space.

Modern furniture materials

Modern furniture uses natural materials, such as teak, linen, leather, and exposed wood. It also uses metals like stainless steel (often tubular steel), aluminum, or nickel.

The use of metal in modern furniture designs helps create a clean and less cluttered look compared to traditional ornamental designs.

You'll also find some furniture pieces with plastic, molded plywood, or laminated plywood. You'll also see fiberglass and polished metal in chairs and tables.

Some tables have square metallic bases. Modern furniture also uses lighting fixtures made of metals in different shades, mostly brass or darkened metals. 

Lamp Lamp


Rocio Table Light

Natural materials include stone on tables and wood to bring that natural vibe to your space.

Modern furniture style

Modern furniture style is simple but with smooth, shiny surfaces and clean edges with warm neutral colors or the earth palette. Shades of neutrals on walls, predominantly white, expand the feeling of ample space.

The open space style picks only necessary items. You'll only find functional multipurpose furniture with lots of storage. The minimal use of rugs exposes concrete, neutral tiles, and wooden floors.

Lounge Chair


Dining Table


The 'Mad Men' series set exemplifies the modern furniture style heavily influenced by Scandinavian design.

Clean edges and the iconic Barcelona chair

Living room


This lecture hall design has a black ash wood finish with natural ash wood veneer and walnut finish options. It is best for homeschooling families and your home office.

Another iconic piece of the 1900s modern furniture style is the tongue chair, a 1955 Arne Jacobsen design for a school.

Eiffel Chair

The Eiffel Ana Chair with tapered legs

Eiffel Round

The Eiffel Round Swivel Chair

You could look for one with a fabric or leather finish, like the ones above. Other finish options are veneer or oak.

Notice the powder-coated steel legs and also the trendy chrome legs.

In summary, the modern furniture style features:

  • A clean, sleek look with smooth reflective surfaces.
  • Simple geometric figures.
  • Simple yet sophisticated functional pieces
  • Furniture pieces of neutral colors-warm earth color pallet, offset by wood tones, stones, concrete, and bright colors.

The colors could be whites, charcoal gray, navy blue, browns, tan, reds, Aztec gold, brown coffee, platinum, taupe, and so forth.

If you want to achieve a modern look for the space you’re looking to decorate, accessorize it with lighting fixtures with darkened metals or stone pieces.

For lighter furniture, brands use polished metals and natural materials like teak or accessible ones like fiberglass and plastic.

Achieve the feeling of open space by painting walls white and using raised chairs or sofas.

What is contemporary furniture?

Contemporary furniture is trendy, fluid, ever-changing, and not limited to a specific period. It borrows designs from different furniture design types.

The contemporary furniture style borders on comfort and has ample open floor space like the modern style. However, you'll find artistic decor with odd shapes that stand out, like this Oblo ceramic dining table.

Dining Table

It has the same neutral colors, but instead of the clean edges, you'll find a chair upholstered in curvy wood and sometimes bold statements, like the Elk Chair.

This Infinity Lounge Chair has the same concept and embraces the use of natural materials, a trait of contemporary furniture.

Lounge Chair

Notably, contemporary furniture lies low and is chunky or quirky.

Lighting fixtures are artsy and wispy thin, like this Nuevo atom pendant.

For the bathroom, swimming area, sink areas, or outdoor terraces, the Shag mat is perfect. It is antis lip, resistant to mold, mildew, and chlorine- the contemporary circle shape and black color fit for its use.

If you need extra storage for a small bedroom, then the Lax storage platform bed is a good option rather than squeezing in a bed and a cabinet. Throw in a round mirror to complete the look.

Main characteristics of contemporary furniture

Contemporary furniture style has the following characteristics:

  • It is ever-changing depending on the time period it takes cues from;
  • It features more artistic designs with curvy lines;
  • It uses bright, bold colors. It also employs white and black for contrast;
  • It employs contrasting design elements.


What are the differences between modern and contemporary furniture?

Often, people use contemporary and modern interchangeably. However, the two interior design styles are different and have distinct characteristics.

Understanding the specifics of each furniture design will help you get the look you desire for your home's interior.

Static versus ever-changing

Modern furniture style sticks to the defined principle style of the late 1800s to mid-1900s. The contemporary design, however, refers to the trending design. It is ever-changing and borrows from modernism, futurism, post-modernism, art deco, and much more.

Furniture pieces don't have to be from the same designer, provided they are in sync so that you could have a Point Fup large ottoman and a Rebecca metal two-seater sofa.

Pouf Sofa


A more creative aspect that keeps evolving

Contemporary design furniture style is more creative and will include a more considerable range of artistic elements. The modern furniture style, on the other hand, sticks to minimalism.

Use of lines

Soft contemporary goes ahead to play with gentle curves for that timeless look, sometimes wide sweeping curves, while modern furniture sticks to straight lines.

Functional decor versus ornamental decor

Sometimes contemporary furniture design uses furniture pieces for decoration purposes, while modern furniture style only incorporates functional furniture like the Greenington nightstand. It is not only a nightstand but also a drawer.

Earthly hues versus pop colors

You'll find wide use of neutral and earthly tones in modern furniture; colors like Starbucks green, olive green, turquoise, blush, brown, or rust.

However, contemporary furniture style sometimes likes to use bright colors in their furniture pieces-colors like true red, bold indigo, and saturated orange.

Contemporary style also loves whites and shades of black for contrast. Modern furniture style sticks to neutrals and warm colors.

Simple versus sterile

Contemporary design is far more crisp and sleek, and in its quest for an incredibly minimalist refined look, it lacks character, giving off a sterile vibe.

The danger of designing with simplicity is that furniture pieces sometimes fail to speak to each other or the viewer. That’s how contemporary furniture risks becoming lifeless.

However, contemporary furniture pieces are best if you like stark contrasts.

On the other hand, a modern home will have a considerably warmer feel, with more layers, natural textures and materials, and a somewhat cozy, inviting vibe.

Living Room


Lounge Chair and Sofa



Modern furniture is uncluttered and minimalist, with straight lines and sharp edges, while contemporary furniture is more artistic and keeps evolving depending on what is popular.

The modern furniture has neutral colors and is functional, often raised chairs and sofas. It uses powdered metals and natural wood and has shiny, smooth surfaces in open spaces.

On the other hand, contemporary furniture has a love for contrast, and often blacks and shades of white are part of the color palette.

The significant difference between the two is time, in that modern furniture adopts the 1920s to 1950s style, while contemporary furniture is not limited by time. Other differences are vivid hues versus bright colors, curves versus lines, simple versus sterile, and more creative ornamental decor with contemporary furniture design.

If you are designing your home from scratch or touching up some pieces, Viesso will give you some inspiration.

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