Modern vs Contemporary kitchen design – What’s the difference?

Modern and contemporary kitchen design might sound as though they’re one and the same thing, but in fact, ‘modern’ is a distinctive design style – and many of today’s contemporary kitchens are not, properly speaking, ‘modern’ at all. Find out all about the differences (and the crossover) between modern and contemporary kitchen design, with our expert guide…

Find out all about the differences (and the crossover) between modern and contemporary kitchen design, with our expert guide…


What is a modern kitchen?

Today, the term ‘modern’ is often used in a generic way, to describe something that’s up-to-date and from recent times, as opposed to something that’s old-fashioned or from another era. However, in design terms, modern actually refers to a specific design movement that originated in the first half of the 20th century. 

Modernism was founded on the principle that ‘form follows function’, ie. an object should be designed first and foremost with its practical purpose in mind. (For more on the origins of the concept, see The Frankfurt Kitchen - the kitchen that revolutionised modern design.)

Modern kitchen design is characterised by sleek, clean lines, simple materials and straightforward geometric forms. Modern kitchens have a neutral colour palette and a minimalist, pared-back approach with little pattern or ornamentation, with the main focus on simplicity and functionality, as well as sustainability. 

The middle decades of the 20th century saw the rise of ‘mid-century modern’, which continued the traditional modernist emphasis on form and function, while also embracing the latest materials, appliances and technologies, and introducing some additional flourishes such as geometric patterns, a striking piece of artwork, or bold pops of colour, including warm oranges and reds.


What is a contemporary kitchen?

‘Contemporary’ is a more difficult style to define – or arguably it’s not a design style at all. Contemporary design is of the moment and on trend: it’s what’s happening right now. As such, contemporary kitchen design is a more fluid and organic concept than modern kitchen design, which is rooted in a specific era. 

As well as reflecting the latest design trends and materials, twenty-first century contemporary kitchen design also embraces elements of other styles and eras, pairing current trends with more traditional or transitional elements – from the elegance of Japandi style, to industrial, vintage, or the timelessness of the farmhouse kitchen – and, of course, modern kitchen design.


>The Original Ladbroke kitchen in Samphire green combines the minimalist lines of modern kitchen design with contemporary features like the solid walnut breakfast bar and an eye-catching brass splashback.


What are the similarities between modern and contemporary kitchen design?

Modern and contemporary kitchen design share a number of characteristics, and some of the key principles of modernism remain very much a part of contemporary kitchen design today. Like modern kitchen design, contemporary kitchen design tends to favour clean, crisp lines and a sleek, uncluttered look, with an emphasis on simplicity and efficiency, and the idea that less is more. Both design styles champion well-organised storage and the clever use of space, with today’s contemporary kitchens boasting a host of different options for integrated appliances and smart ‘hidden’ storage solutions. 



What are the main differences between modern and contemporary kitchen design?

While modern and contemporary kitchen design share a number of core elements, there are some significant differences which can help to define them, including:


Colour scheme

Modern kitchen design is notable for its pared back, monochromatic colour schemes and white or neutral walls. Contemporary kitchen design is also big on muted tones, such as greys and whites, but also features two-tone colour schemes and bolder colours such as cabinets painted in dark blues and vibrant greens, as well as brighter pops of colour via splashbacks, accessories, soft furnishings or a striking feature wall.


Style and form

Modern kitchen design promotes sleek, clean lines, Think simple frameless or full overlay flat panel cabinet doors with no detailing, a handleless design, plain worktop edges, and a minimal amount of items on display. Contemporary kitchens can have a more relaxed and open feel, incorporating curves and rounded edges, open storage, and extra detailing such as trim and mouldings, characterful handles and accessories


Materials

Modern kitchen design emphasises minimalism and practicality, and champions durable, man-made materials such as acrylic, melamine, plastic, linoleum and tile. Meanwhile, contemporary kitchen design embraces an additional range of materials and textures, including warm, organic natural wood grain, stone, concrete and metal, as well as soft furnishings such as textured rugs. 



Where modern meets contemporary kitchen design: ideas and inspiration 

The similarities between modern and contemporary kitchen design mean that the two design styles work very well together, and there are lots of ways you can incorporate modern and contemporary design elements into a kitchen. Here are some ideas and inspiration from the Naked Kitchens portfolio…

1) Combine simple cabinets with warm, natural elements


The Ascot kitchen

Simple cabinet doors are a great way of recreating a modern feel in a kitchen, and frameless slab cabinet doors offer a lovely seamless look. The Ascot kitchen (above) features our sleek frameless Ladbroke doors and reeded glass cabinets, creating a minimalist design with clean, simple lines. Meanwhile, the combination of neutral white walls against the striking green of Wiveton Fern adds a contemporary edge, and together with the oak accents creates a warm, bright, open feel.

2) Introduce contrasting colours and textures

The Glaven kitchen

The Glaven kitchen in white and limed-grain oak is a modern, functional space with contemporary design elements. The simple flat cabinet doors with our recessed J-Groove handles are paired with sleek Ceaserstone concrete worktops, creating a neutral backdrop and maintaining those minimalist lines, while the end panels between the cabinets add extra interest and a more contemporary aesthetic. The glazed units and white panelled splashback provide texture, and the darker accent of the wall offers depth and contrast.


3) Add a traditional twist to modern design elements

The Hampton Court kitchen

The Hampton Court kitchen is a great example of a contemporary kitchen that takes key modern design elements and gives them a traditional twist, with in-frame slab door cabinets and bright feature handles. Meanwhile, the green and pink painted cabinets, open shelving and a striking copper splashback add a colourful contemporary element.


4) Use a striking two-tone colour scheme

The Beach House kitchen

The Beach House kitchen offers a sleek, contemporary kitchen space which combines the smooth, minimalist lines of modernism with a striking contemporary blue-black colour theme. The vibrant blue of the slab cabinets is complemented by the black open shelving and dark wooden flooring, adding a distinctly Scandinavian feel, while the brass light fixture and handles add interest and vibrancy.


Naked Kitchens are built for real life. Whatever your style, find out how to create your dream kitchen.




Frequently Asked Questions


Are modern and contemporary kitchen design the same thing?

Modern and contemporary kitchen design are actually two different styles. However, they do share some key characteristics, including a love of sleek, clean lines and a minimalist, uncluttered look.


Can you mix modern and contemporary kitchen design styles?

Modern and contemporary kitchen design have some key areas in common, meaning that they work very well together – and by including elements of both, you can create a kitchen that’s smart, stylish and works for you. 


Should I choose a modern or contemporary kitchen design?

As a general rule, modern kitchen design is more formal than contemporary kitchen design, promoting simple, clean geometric lines and a pared-back, minimalist approach, and makes more of an outright design statement. Contemporary kitchen design incorporates many of these elements, albeit in a more relaxed and flexible way, with additional flourishes and borrowings from other design styles, allowing you to create a space that’s more individual to you.



See also

Frameless versus In-frame kitchens: what's the difference, and which should you choose?

Clever bespoke kitchen storage solutions - 11 ingenious ideas to inspire you

Kitchen ergonomics: 5 clever ways to make your kitchen design more efficient




Kitchen inspiration: mixing and matching different cabinet styles for visual effect

Kitchen inspiration: mixing and matching different cabinet styles for visual effect

Design for Life:  Architect Thom Brisco on what makes a great family kitchen

Design for Life: Architect Thom Brisco on what makes a great family kitchen

How to create the ideal utility room – an expert guide

How to create the ideal utility room – an expert guide

Built for… the Eventful Life

Built for… the Eventful Life

How to create the perfect boot room – an expert guide

How to create the perfect boot room – an expert guide

Practical minimalist kitchens - how to get the minimalist look in real life

Practical minimalist kitchens - how to get the minimalist look in real life

All white kitchens: an expert guide to getting white right

All white kitchens: an expert guide to getting white right

Blown away in Bloomsbury! Why the Naked Kitchens showroom experience is unlike any other…

Blown away in Bloomsbury! Why the Naked Kitchens showroom experience is unlike any other…

Kitchens Unbound: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Duncan House kitchen

Kitchens Unbound: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Duncan House kitchen

Choose your style

Your global style will be applied to each applicable cabinet in our catalogue. It will not affect your products in the basket.


Your browser is outdated!

Our website may not work correctly in your current browser, We recommend that you update to a modern browser.

Update my browser now

×