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Modern v Contemporary Kitchen Design – What’s The Difference?

Contemporary and modern kitchen design may sound like they’re the same, but they actually refer to different styles. Learn more in this article!

modern kitchens

If you thought modern and contemporary were one and the same, particularly when talking about design – think again. Put simply, modern design refers to a specific period of time, usually from the 1920s to the 1950s, a period we might actually think of as retro these days, while contemporary design is what’s happening now – a constantly changing entity that can’t be pinned down in the way modern design can.

When we talk of modern design, or mid-century modern, to give it the name recognised by design historians, we are talking about a movement that embraced clean, unfussy lines and the extensive use of natural materials such as leather, teak and linen. The emphasis was on pared-down forms and the natural flow from indoors to outdoors, with extensive use of large windows and patio doors to create that connection between the interior and the outside world. Floors were often bare, furniture was often raised off the floor to create a feeling of airiness. Many mid-century homes had white walls: all the better to show off the craftsmanship and quality of the rest of the furnishings, though bold graphics had their place too, particularly in eye-catching wallpaper designs. It’s the period we associate with names such as Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson, Eero Saarinen (famous for the Tulip dining table) and Aalvar Aalto.

Modern kitchens are sleek, streamlined spaces with simple designs, shiny appliances and a distinct lack of clutter – a look that still works well and is popular in kitchens today. You won’t find curves or unnecessary fuss in a modern kitchen. The cabinet doors are frameless, the countertop edges plain. Cork or linoleum floors are the norm.

So we turn to contemporary. And this is where it gets a bit more difficult. By its very nature, contemporary design is changing all the time – it draws influences from other periods and tends to be eclectic with no one look pulling it all together. Indeed, elements of modern design make their way into contemporary design.

Contemporary design is very much about clean lines which is where it overlaps with mid-century modern but there’s an emphasis on comfort in contemporary style – a rejection of the stark look that sometimes characterises modern spaces. Colourful soft rugs, luxurious throws and plump cushions along with other accessories are important elements in contemporary design that you wouldn’t find in modern homes. Individuality takes centre stage in a contemporary home. Furnishings are likely to be more ornate and reflect the owner’s personality.

Open-plan living is a key component in contemporary homes. There is a natural flow between the kitchen, dining and living areas. You’ll find less wood, except perhaps on kitchen worktops, but other materials such as concrete or stone are prevalent.

As you can see, the lines between what constitutes modern and contemporary are often blurred but while a kitchen that incorporates traditional elements from various eras can be contemporary, it cannot be modern as that refers to a static period in time. And because contemporary is ever-changing, with new materials being developed all the time, what is considered contemporary now, won’t be in ten years’ time, but modern will always be modern.

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