What’s the Difference Between Modern and Contemporary?

Your buyers may say they want a “modern” or a “contemporary” home, but those two words are not interchangeable. So, what do they really mean?

Modern and contemporary styles do share many of the same traits, but they are two distinct styles. And they often get confused, according to an article by Marvin Windows and Doors that sets out to clarify the two styles.

Contemporary tends to refer to architecture of today and, as such, it is constantly evolving. It could contain a mix of aesthetics, including from traditional and even modern architecture. Contemporary homes are often characterized by asymmetrical shapes; mixed materials; open spaces; energy efficiency; curves or sweeping lines; abundant natural light; and a combination of indoor-outdoor spaces where those spaces get nearly blurred.

Modern, on the other hand, tends to center on straight lines and limited details. That’s a big difference from contemporary styles, which use curves and sweeping lines. Modern uses sharper, very sparse lines.

“Modern design is a more honest look at what a building is—load-bearing columns, beams that transfer the weight, and not putting things in for decoration,” says Rebecca Comeaux, an associate at Lake/Flato Architects in San Antonio. “It’s still beautiful, but there’s kind of a level of honesty and simplicity in the design.”

Modern design is marked by rectangular exteriors with flat roofs; clean, straight lines with limited detail; open floor plans; changes in elevation, like split-level spaces; monochromatic color palettes; and spaces that have minimal decoration.

Learn more about residential architectural styles so you—and your clients—can talk intelligently about the differences in REALTOR® Magazine’s Guide to Residential Styles.