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June 13, 2006

Modern? Contemporary? What's the Difference?

We spend a lot of time discussing the difference between the words Modern and Contemporary with designers, readers and folks who are just plain confused. Sometimes the words are used interchangeably but that usage doesn't sit well with most, especially DWR founder Rob Forbes. Here, Forbes details the differences for L.A. Times writer Janet Eastman.

Forbes is usually serious when he's discussing modern design. He can spend 20 minutes explaining the difference between the words "modern" and "contemporary" -- in a nutshell, modern is a lifestyle while contemporary is a time period. "Everything that is made at any current time is 'contemporary,' " he says.

"Modern is a progressive attitude that takes advantage of new technology and social purpose. It's a disciplined approach," he says.

The hybrid Toyota Prius is an example of solving an environmental problem "that's modern thinking." The iPod works for him with its reduction of gadgetry and gizmos. He says he respects Google for its simplicity. "It's smart, modern too," he says.

He rails against "stupid" objects, overcomplicated technological gadgets "like my programmable thermostat that I can't figure out" and new retro-looking cars that "focus on superficial styling."

"Modern simplifies our living so we can devote our time to things that add value; it adds to the pool of what makes us important as people. You could be living in a Craftsman and going to work on a bike and that's a modern lifestyle," says Forbes, who rides a Vespa the two miles between his office and city loft. "Modern is honest and helps you not be distracted by stuff that have no meaning to you."

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Comment on This Article Here! Modern? Contemporary? What's the Difference?:

This is great! I've always wondered what the difference is. When I've googled contemporary furniture, I've gotten results that look that don't look too good. But modern searches almost always brings up stuff I like. Gotta love that clean look.

Posted by: Siggy | Jun 13, 2006 5:19:38 PM

Yeah, I think he pretty much has the two words sorted out: modern is contemporary but not all contemporary things are modern. Though I'm not sure you can have a modern lifestyle living in a Craftsman house, if you want modern living a modern home is best.

Posted by: Stella-Rondo | Jun 13, 2006 8:06:38 PM

Unless im a slow learner, i'm still greatly confused!!! Why can't anyone simplify this for me. I have done many searches and time after time come up empty handed.

Posted by: Maurice | Apr 16, 2008 4:00:23 PM

This article was really interesting to read.
i had some confusions about the word "recent" and modern. Now i see the difference.
i thought that modernism was, like contemporary, a time period. in this article i see it isn't.
and if it is not, what is post-modernism? do you understand my point of view?

Posted by: Decio Silva | Jun 29, 2008 9:26:14 PM

Sorry this may be a tad long.

Modernism is a school of design.

You can have a piece of furniture from 1960 and it can be a contemporary piece because it was created during a certain time frame (1960). Therefore, it represents its era because it was created during that time frame, making it a contemporary piece. Same thing could be said of a Louis XVI chair. It would be a contemporary representation of the Louis XVI era.

Modernism orginiated in the Bauhaus, school of modern design, in Germany. The Bauhaus thrived between 1919 - 1933. Many of the great modern furniture designers and architects came from the Bauhaus.

The main underlying design mandate of modernism, if you will, is function and form are always the same. In Modernism, function dictates form and design. That's why modern furniture has a very distinct look and feel to it.

Post-Modernism began around 1960 in the USA as a response to what many perceived to be the impersonal and purely functional design of modernism. Post-modernism is literally everything that comes after the era of modernism. (Post-Modernist borrow from other period styles to make unique designs. Embellishments, comfort and rich materials are some elements of post-modern designs.)

I hope this helps.

Posted by: Sally Painter | Mar 4, 2009 4:29:39 PM

Im still a tad confused... I get the concept of difference between modern and contemporary (the one being the time period and the other more into the taking advantage of new technology etc... I get that whole thing... But whenever I google pictures of modern and contempory - it looks pretty much the same...

so what would make modern of this time and contemporary of this time different? How would you know in this time, by looking at the interior of a modern or contemporary room (for example), the difference between the two?

Posted by: Kylee | Aug 13, 2009 2:04:06 PM

Interesting but doesnt help. Agree wt kylee.

Posted by: Confused | Jun 5, 2011 2:36:25 PM


Posted by: bubble chandelier | Jun 7, 2011 9:44:21 AM

Now I can make the difference between my chandeliers

Posted by: Chandeliers | Sep 5, 2011 11:40:55 AM

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