Picking out the perfect furniture can be a daunting task. A bathroom is no longer a room for showering and brushing teeth; a bathroom is an oasis of serenity and resort-style relaxation, where you also happen to shower and brush teeth. Likewise, a bedroom isn’t just a place for sleeping – it is also a stylish sanctuary away from the kids.
With each corner of your home needing to be both beautiful and functional, completing the furniture puzzle can seem near impossible. Is the aim of your new addition to makeover the entire space? Or are you looking to finally bring your room into the 21st century? In which case, is it a modern or contemporary style you are after?
Wait, aren’t they essentially the same thing?
While it is true that many people mistakenly use these two words interchangeably, modern and contemporary are actually two very different styles. A dive into history can help clear the murky waters and provide a clearer distinction between the two.
The words “modern design” often conjure up images of impractical creations reserved for art galleries and sci-fi movies. While modern furniture certainly leans on the side of minimalism with its sleek, simple lines, that’s where the similarities end.
In interior terms, modern actually refers to mid-century modern: a trend of simple shapes and open spaces that emerged during the post-war era, where people grew weary of nanna-style furniture and compartmentalisation. This style – like French Provincial or Art Deco – is an unchanging one.
Mid-century modern – or retro modern as commonly referred to – is pretty much the godfather of open plan living. Open spaces mean more opportunity to play around with furniture placement, giving your home a grand sense of functional space – as long as you don’t try to cram that space full of furniture! This style is all about creating a clean and clutter-free look.
Modern furniture focuses heavily on bringing the outdoors in. Natural elements of wood, leather, linen and polished metal create a sense of warmth and personality. Neutral colours transcend both seasons and passing trends, giving the space a forever style.
Contemporary style is all about the here and now. It is constantly changing, focusing on new ideas and flowing with the seasons. Because of this, it can be quite eclectic, borrowing features from different styles in time to create something new (like present day music or fashion). There are no definitive guidelines – a contemporary sofa from the 80s might look completely different to its contemporary 2018 counterpart.
Contemporary furniture is the complete opposite of traditional. Big pops of colour, contrast and bold patterns dominate – although natural materials such as wood, glass, chrome, wool or even silk are also popular. The ever-changing style is all about dramatic details and unique shapes that scream “look at me!” as well as trendy materials.
While contemporary furniture stays in the moment, modern design lives in the past (a little counter intuitive given the everyday definition of the word “modern”).
With an emphasis on uncomplicated lines and simple geometric shapes, you can be forgiven for thinking of modern furniture as cold or clinical. However, this style is all about creating simple sophistication by embracing the ‘less is more’ concept while steering clear of bold patterns and heavy textures. The Shelly 3 seater sofa is a stunning example, featuring streamline carved oak legs and a minimalist shape.
Contemporary furniture, on the other hand, can possess a bold starkness – think monochromatic black and white. Compare the Shelly to the Camilla 3 seater sofa, which shows off elegant tufting and a distinct contemporary silhouette. The tendency to include curves and subtle touches of bling mean that a contemporary sofa can create more of a statement piece in your living room.
Likewise, the Bardot side table’s slender rose gold frame and smooth glass surface is a perfect example of modern’s heavy focus on simple shapes and polished metals. The Tully side table, on the other hand, reflects a contemporary twist of black iron in an intricate circular design that immediately draws attention.
Which to choose
For all their differences, both contemporary and modern furniture tends to focus on creating a simple uncluttered feel. Both styles are unique and can create an instant appeal – which is why it can be so difficult to choose between the two.
Like they say in that burrito ad, why not have both? The beauty of living in the 21st century is the ability to mix and match styles – there are no hard and fast rules about needing to keep with one particular style. Blending mid-century modern with contemporary furniture can create a unique and trendy space that truly reflects your personality.
Whatever your preference, always keep in mind the practical aspect of each choice, as well as the current elements of your home and décor – that white couch may look super sleek on the showroom floor and match your coffee table to a tee, but will it look as good with grubby toddler hands or dog fur strewn all over it? The first step in picking out furniture should be understanding the overall look of your home and the vibe you wish to create around to bring out your style and taste.
These days furniture design often combines elegant mid-century form with contemporary colours, patterns and textures. For example, the John 3 seater sofa features elegant lines and the timeless simplicity of the mid-century era, while the bright colour options are typical of contemporary design.
Ultimately, it’s about finding the perfect balance between stylish and practical – whether modern or contemporary, both are guaranteed to leave a lasting impression.