Mid-Century Modern vs. Modern Contemporary

A Look at How These Design Styles Compare

The term mid-century modern was first used to describe its particular design style in 1984. With its minimalist approach and use of natural elements, there is a reason this style has continued to evolve over time and remains popular today. Modern contemporary, on the other hand, is current rather than historic and refers to a design style that captures the here and now. Let’s compare these two styles to better understand their similarities and differences.

Defining Each Style

First, let’s examine how these two design styles overlap. Both mid-century modern and modern contemporary designs use clean lines in furniture and decor. Both styles also lean toward a more minimalist look. Elle Decor says that while contemporary design is ambiguous and ever-evolving, it borrows characteristics from other styles including Art Deco, minimalism, and modernism. Another way modern contemporary draws from mid-century modern is the use of open floor plan spaces, which we see a lot of today. It is easy to confuse the two styles, since the terms modern and contemporary are often used interchangeably. However, each style has characteristics that make them unique.

The Use of Color

Mid-Century modern design uses color differently from modern contemporary. In a mid-century modern design, you might see the use of more natural tones, like an olive green or rust orange. However, according to My Move, a contemporary design will often use highly saturated colors, like bright red or yellow. These pure colors are often set against a more neutral background, such as white walls or cabinets to contrast the difference in color and tone.

Leveraging Different Materials

Modern, and especially mid-century modern designs are often full of natural elements and textures. Wood, leather, and stone are used to bring warmth into a space. Modern contemporary design, however, is known for using materials such as chrome, steel, and glass. This can sound cold and unwelcoming, however, when used in the right ways, a modern contemporary space will use these elements to create structure and visual appeal.


Lighting is a key element of any room or design style. Mid-century modern places a large emphasis on natural light, but when lamps or chandeliers are needed, they often have intentional symmetry. Think spherical pendants, for example. In modern contemporary design, lighting often features curved edges, shapes, and patterns. In addition to this, track lighting is becoming more common in the contemporary spaces we see today.

Whether it’s mid-century modern or modern contemporary, understanding which design style you prefer is the first step in deciding which pieces will work best in your space. From bespoke seating options to unique dining and occasional tables, there’s something to align with any style or motif.

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