Modern and Contemporary furniture are often considered to be in the same category of design styles. When you think of both styles, you probably think of clean lines and minimalistic shapes. These are two of the characteristics of Modern and Contemporary furniture. They are two distinct styles, however. First of all, they were popular during different time periods.
Modernism came first, after World War I, and Contemporary furniture didn’t come about until the 1970s on. Times were hard after the war and, during the first half of Modernism, furniture was mass produced to cut costs. It got better later on but, by the 1970s, inflation was rising and interest rates went up.
While it is true that the two styles are very similar, they do have their unique sets of characteristics. Taking a look at the various materials used, let’s compare and contrast the similarities and differences between the two styles.
Remember that cheap materials are used to cut costs in hard times. Modern furniture used tubular steel and chrome-plating in many of its designs. It was strong, yet affordable, and it gave a dazzling effect during hard financial times. Plywood was molded and bent to certain shapes to create unique designs. Finally, leather, hide, aluminum, and metal rods were used in modern furniture design.
Contemporary furniture was often made of injection-molding, because it could be used to form any shape desired by the designer, and marble was combined with cheaper materials such as wood and glass. Recycling was a new, popular activity during this time period; designers were beginning to use found objects in their creations in order to produce a unique design, as well as for environmental reasons.
Designers of both styles used brightly colored plastics. Glass also appealed to designers of both eras to create a clean, minimalistic feel.
Elements of design in Modernism included curvaceous lines, horizontal lines, cantilevering (where an object appears to be floating with no support), splayed legs, and exposed structures. Contemporary designs used asymmetrical shapes, appropriation (the use of motifs from past styles), handcrafts, and cartoon looks. Modular furniture also became popular in the Contemporary era. Both styles appreciated minimalism, geometric forms, plain surfaces, and bold colors.
Although Modern and Contemporary are two distinct styles, this does not mean that you can’t intermix the two. Whether you have a modern or contemporary home, you can use elements of both eras to furnish it.
Miller, Judith. Furniture: World Styles from Classical to Contemporary. 2005.