The Contemporary Conundrum of Modern Kitchens


Contemporary or modern, modern or contemporary?

If you’ve ever considered renovating or remodeling your home, you’ve probably stumbled across these two terms. You might be asking yourself, “don’t modern and contemporary mean the same thing?”

While the dictionary tells us that modern and contemporary both refer to something “of the present moment,” quite the opposite is true of interior design.

What’s In A Name?


As it turns out, ‘contemporary’ refers to design trends that are popular now. Because the present is ongoing, contemporary trends are much more fluid and prone to flux than modern design, which has quite specific guidelines.

Despite its name, modern design doesn’t refer to what is trendy now; instead, it is what was current then. Modern design conforms to the trends of years gone by. But because ‘modern’ isn’t really specific to a certain era, it can be a little tricky to characterize.

Modern design was born in the early 20th century, based on Germany and Scandinavia’s style trends at the time. Modern design is the predecessor to later iterations, like mid-century modern and postmodern design. Its simplicity and preference for practicality stems from the industrial development and shifting economic markets of the 1920s, 30s, 40s, and 50s.

Stylistic tenets of modern design are seen in both the German Bauhaus art movement and Scandinavian design. Both have a preference for earthy, natural materials, neutral color palettes, and a generally unfussy aesthetic.

Similar, But Different

Contemporary is bold, innovative, cutting-edge, and trendy. Modern, meanwhile, is subdued, practical, simplistic, and peaceful. But in a lot of ways, modern and contemporary design are actually very similar. Both have an affinity for open-concept layouts, minimalism, and clean lines. And while it can be a little harder to pinpoint where they differ, there are a few key elements that will help you see the light.

Color Scheme

While both contemporary and modern tend towards neutral hues, coloring is an easy way to tell one from the other. Modern design prefers more natural tones, like browns, greens, beiges, soft greys, and off-whites. Contemporary style, meanwhile, likes to make a statement with color, or lack thereof. You’ll see a lot of stark contrast, especially black and white, often together for added impact. Contemporary may also feature other pops of saturated color, but usually in decorative elements.

Materials and Textiles

In keeping with today’s idea of futurism, contemporary spaces tend to feature a lot of smooth and sleek materials. Chrome, glass, marble, tile, and leather make regular appearances in contemporary design. Modern design, while similarly eschewing fluff and frills, favors natural materials like concrete, stone, wood, and woven fabrics like linen and cotton, wicker, bamboo, and even leather.

So how can you put these principles into play when designing a kitchen? Glad you asked!

The Contemporary Approach

An easy way to incorporate contemporary design’s bold juxtaposing color scheme into your kitchen is with dark cabinets and white countertops. Black, of course, is very on-trend, but you may also like dark slate grey or deep navy blue. Create contrast with a bright, glossy countertop–white quartz is an excellent choice, and it comes in a variety of subtle patterns that won’t take anything away from your minimal aesthetic.

If a white tile floor feels a little too cold and clinical for you, try warming it up with blonde or honey-colored laminate flooring. Woodworks too, but laminate is a little more hardy and low-maintenance, making it great for the kitchen.

Accessorize with shiny appliances and sink fixtures in stainless steel or chrome. For a touch of the eclectic, try adding a unique light fixture like a laser-cut metal shade, pendant globe, or linear bar light.

Modern All The Way

Modern design favors natural wood. Wood cabinets, floors, chairs, and floating shelves are great ways to get that look. For a neutral-yet-colorful kitchen, try doing your cabinets in olive green or dove grey. Shaker or flat-front cabinets are perfect for both modern and contemporary kitchens.

In the modern kitchen, every piece has a purpose. Because of its utilitarian roots, modern design tends to shy away from egregious decoration. You can, however, make the most of certain functional elements, like with an eye-catching vintage-inspired light fixture. While modern design prefers clean lines, that doesn’t mean they have to be straight! Neat curves look beautiful and elegant without being overwhelming.

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If the thought of designing a kitchen of your own makes your head spin, never fear! J.T. McDermott Remodeling is here to help. We’ll take care of every detail from tip to tail, so you can get back to enjoying what really matters. Connect with us today to start exploring.

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