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Contemporary vs. Modern - What's The Difference?

Lessons In Style

When it comes to furniture styles, you don't have to be a graduate of Design School to know the difference between a comfy casual couch - suitable for your entertainment room vs. a formal, showpiece sofa - more appropriate for the living room. However, what might leave you a little dazed and confused is the difference - if any - between Modern vs. Contemporary styles of furniture. If you thought they were one in the same, you are not alone. Although the two styles share similar shapes and lines, they are actually two distinct designs each possessing their own unique characteristics. Think of Benny Goodman's music of the Big Band era of the 30's and 40's and Justin Timberlake's just released Jazzy, Big Band, funky fusion stylized album and you will have a pretty good picture of Modern vs. Contemporary. They share similar sounds, musical influences and a great horn section, but definitely come from a different time and place.

A Different Era

Like Benny, Modern furniture is actually a style of a bygone era. The style - reflecting consumer's post-war demand for affordable, simplistic, colorful furnishings - emerged after World War I and lasted into the 50's and 60's. To get a good feel for retro Modern design, visualize Don Draper of the hit show Mad Men standing in his newest Manhattan office.  His white plastic pedestal table accented with matching white vinyl - buttoned- streamlined chair, define Modern chic in its purest form - just add a Martini and a olive-laced swivel stick and you have the complete retro package.

Influenced by minimalism in all its forms, the early designers of Modern style furniture focused on creating clean lines by using materials such as shiny metals and colorful plastics. Before the phrase "lighten up" became hip, they brought it to life in each new artistic expression of creative genius. Heavy ornate dark woods were not only materials of the opulent past; they were considered representative of a lack of social conscience. Modern style was to the progressive eco-friendly buyer of the 50's - as is recyclable, organic, earth conscience consumers of today.

New Twist

Contemporary design, like Justin Timberlake's music, is NOW... it's what is cool and happening in the design world today. Even though Contemporary furnishings came on the scene in the 70's, the style is somewhat like a chameleon - it changes with each decade reflecting the mood and collective conscience of the day. The year 2020's "Contemporary" will definitely be different than what we are furnishing our homes with today. The common thread that defines the distinctive style throughout time however is the minimalistic, geometric forms along with the use of asymmetrical shapes and bold bright colors.

The great news is - when it comes to choosing which style of furniture best fits your taste, it's not what you know in your head - it's what you feel in your heart. Whether you are attracted  to Modern or Contemporary styles of furniture, the one rule of thumb you can always remember is mixing and matching different styles is not only acceptable - it is the way to go!

posted on 3/29/2013