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Contemporary or Modern: What’s the difference in interior design?

February 11, 2013

If you want a simple, clean and polished design for your home décor, you’ve likely aimed for contemporary or modern styles. But which one do you really prefer? While many people tend to use these terms interchangeably, each term reflects a distinct, different style.          

Want to know which is which? Take a look at today’s ways to tell the difference between modern design and contemporary design. Then you’ll know exactly what to look for as you update your home décor.


modern mid-century living room decor

Modern Living Room: Note the low-slung chairs, neutral tones and simple mid-century design.

Remember the Rat Pack? They were iconic to Las Vegas, and their signature style extends into interior decorating. Modern design reflects that mid-century period.

Think simple, sleek and too cool for much embellishment. Furniture, like low-slung armchairs, is lifted from the floor to maximize the open space.  Colors are muted in favor of neutral tones, and natural materials (such as wood and linen) are mandatory.

Las Vegas even continues to display this ode to an era in its design. Most notably, “the historic Tony Morelli House in Las Vegas, which is now owned by the Junior League, is a good example of mid-century modern design,” Las Vegas interior decorator Christine Ringenbach says.

While modern interior design can be customized for 21st-century homeowners, its style provides a much more calm, collected and uniform style than its fanciful counterpart, the contemporary design.


contemporary living room interior design

Contemporary Living Room: Look for curved edges, reflective surfaces and warm splashes of color.

If modern décor resembles the post-war 1940s and suave 1950s, then contemporary décor plays with the fun-spirited vibrancy of the 1960s. This design style is also simple and clean, but it’s open for personalization to almost any degree.

Imagine warm splashes of color against a neutral backdrop. Add geometric patterns on the fabrics, and play with various shapes in accessories. Then exchange sharp lines for rounded edges, even for the layout of furniture and overall design structure.

Polish this look with reflective surfaces: mirrors, glass tabletops and metallic accents. Contemporary interior design uses more manmade materials. So Lucite, plastic and stainless steel provide the perfect touch for contemporary décor.

This style is well-known in Las Vegas’s newer hotels, such as in the CityCenter, and it’s making its way into homeowners’ personal spaces as well. Contemporary design is all about a progressive look with futuristic flair while modern design prefers to have its heyday with retro inspiration.


mid-century modern living room

Modern or Contemporary: Can you determine this custom living room’s simple style?

Homeowners, now that you know what you like, try these styles in your home. For a complimentary design consultation, contact interior decorator Christine Ringenbach at 702-914-3741. She’ll help you identify your needs, personal style and the best products for a custom design that’s all your own!

Author: Allyson Siwajian,  Inspired by Christine Ringenbach of Decorating Den Interiors © 2013

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