A Comparison of Modern and Contemporary Furniture Design

When you love interior design, a chair is not just a chair – terminology matters. Unfortunately, some terms are used interchangeably, which often leads people to believe that they mean the same thing. This has long been the case with contemporary and modern furniture design.

Clean, simple lines, natural textures and materials, and neutral colours are traits that can be applied to both contemporary and modern furniture. It is no surprise, therefore, that most people use these terms interchangeably. While a thesaurus would suggest that these words are similar, these are two distinct design styles.

This differentiation is essential if you are particular about the look and feel you want to achieve in your space. Fortunately, the furniture experts at Carrocel Fine Furniture have put together a guide for identifying the key differences between modern and contemporary pieces to help you.

The Differences Between Modern and Contemporary Furniture Design

For anyone who is not a furniture expert, it’s understandable if you cannot tell the difference between contemporary and modern furniture design. Even though these two styles share some characteristics, they also have some distinct differences that separate them.

Time Period

The time period is a crucial differentiator in furniture style. With contemporary furniture design, it refers to the architectural fashion being created right now with ever-evolving dynamic features and traits. As such, contemporary furniture borrows bits and pieces from other designs and eras in line with what’s trending. Some characteristics that define contemporary style include stark minimalism, neutral palettes, organic silhouettes, and clean lines.

In contrast, modern furniture design specifically refers to architectural fashion popular between the early 1900s and 1950s. Key differentiating traits include warm woods, bold lines, comfort, and symmetrical designs.

While both styles lean towards clean lines and shapes, contemporary designs tend to feature curvier furnishings. Currently, common features of modern design are trending, and therefore mixing with contemporary design. This has helped contribute to the interchanging of terminology.


At the height of the mid-century era, most mid-century furniture designs had a unique industrial edge. This was apparent in the materials used, such as leather, stone, moulded plastic, acrylic and natural hardwood.

On the other hand, contemporary furniture designs combine sleek metals (like chrome and steel), polished woods, and natural fibres. There are also furniture options made from materials such as travertine, plaster, and concrete. Some common examples include galvanized steel pendants, marble-cube tables, lacquered wood cabinets and sculptural chairs with cut-outs.

Colour Palette

Modern furniture designs typically feature earthy tones and bright primary colours such as blue, yellow and red. This is inspired by the art movements from the early and mid-20th century.

Contemporary furniture designs tend to focus on greyscale and neutral colour palettes. The pieces are accented with bold, bright colours that pop against the more muted base.


Modern furniture typically has an earthy feeling, coming from its natural materials. The combination of warm neutral shades, wood tones, and streamlined, vintage style gives each piece a sense of casual comfort and ease unique to this style.

In comparison, contemporary furniture is very streamlined and gives off a feeling of less is more. This does not always mean that pieces are bare or minimal, though.

The Similarities Between Modern and Contemporary Furniture Design

Both contemporary and modern furniture styles feature simple, sleek designs, a neutral colour palette, clean lines, and artistic flair. They can both be used to create a calming and welcoming environment in your home that is perfect for relaxing.

Since neither utilizes heavy elements or ornate designs, they are perfectly suited for minimalist homes as well as more elaborate decorating styles. Both styles feature exposed legs for sofas, chairs, and ottomans. They also make use of reflective materials such as metal or glass and feature bare wood.

How to Choose Between Modern and Contemporary Furniture

Both styles offer something different, and the choice is largely based on the look you want to achieve. Modern design is most suited for those looking for a single design theme, dominated by warm natural colours and clean lines. On the other hand, contemporary design may be more appropriate for a person looking for new trends and innovations. These styles can also be combined to create a unique space that perfectly matches your taste. Ultimately, the decision depends on your style, taste, and budget.

Modern Furniture Buying Checklist

Walking into a furniture store in Toronto without a plan will likely result in confusion and frustration. Therefore, before you begin your search, here is a checklist to help narrow down what you are looking for.

Determine Your Needs

Determine what your needs are for the space. This will let you more easily decide the best piece of furniture to serve that specific function. Also, keep in mind any limitations you have for your furniture, including allergies, pets, space, or materials.

Find Your Style

Identify the style and aesthetic you want to achieve before looking through catalogues or visiting furniture stores. Having a clear sense of what you want gives you the freedom and confidence to buy pieces that exactly fit into your ideas.

Prepare a Budget

Prices on modern furniture can vary significantly across different furniture stores in the city. Therefore, set a realistic budget and stick to it to avoid overspending.

Quality is Key

Knowing the quality of the furniture you’re considering is important for the needs of your space and your budget. The quality of furniture for a patio or kid’s room may not be the same as what you would expect from your sofa or dining furniture. For wood furniture, in particular, the quality will determine how long the piece will serve you.

Learn Your Fabrics

In addition to colour, consider the type of fabric that will best serve your needs. This is in terms of your lifestyle and your unique needs, such as having children, owning pets, or frequently hosting parties. Some fabrics are easier to clean and less prone to wear and tear under regular use.

Find Beautiful Modern and Contemporary Furniture at Carrocel

Knowing what to look for can help you shop with confidence, knowing that you will make the right decisions for your home and family. At Carrocel, we have a large collection of modern and contemporary furniture choices to meet your unique needs, preferences, and lifestyle. Visit our showroom or contact us today to learn more about the options we have available.

Custom Modern Porcelain Black Dining Table with Geometric Pedestals

Pair of Modern Cream Arm Chairs in Black Velvet

  • Pair of Modern Cream Arm Chairs in Black VelvetModern parlor arm chairs
  • Finished in cream lacquer and upholstered in designer obsidian velvet
  • Pair of Modern Cream Arm Chairs in Black Velvet

Modern Black and White Custom Center Table

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