Are ‘Modern’ & ‘Contemporary’ Styles The Same?


February, 2019

The difference matters to growing numbers of homebuyers, residential architects, and designers.

When home shopping, for either a new build OR a pre-owned home, a customer might say “modern” when they really mean “contemporary” – or reverse. It may not seem like a big enough difference to worry about, until you’ve shown them a few homes that clearly DON’T meet their design wishes.

Modern and contemporary styles do share common traits, but in the end are rather different. Here are some ideas about what is and isn’t:

Modern architecture 

Modern Style

Modern style sees more clean, straight lines with sparser detail. Different from contemporary design, which uses curves and/or flowing, often decorative lines vs. sharper and very plain lines of modern. Windows and doors span broad horizontal areas and are often designed as an expanse of glass walls or accordion/folding type openings.

  • Angular exteriors, flat roofs and a distinct linear framework
  • Clean, straight lines with limited detail; sharp & very spare
  • Open floor plans that connect to outdoor living spaces/nature
  • Changes in elevation (split-level spaces)
  • Monochromatic color palette
  • Spaces with minimal decoration or clutter

“…not every aspect of contemporary architecture needs to have a purpose or observe a set of aesthetic rules. If a crown molding is desired in the dining room, why not? Contemporary style reflects the times and buyer tastes…”

Contemporary architecture 

  • Non-symmetrical shapes, mixed materials, open spaces
  • Sustainable, eco-friendly, energy efficient
  • Abundant natural light
  • More open floor plan with alfresco kitchens, outdoor rooms with fireplaces, a feeling of spaciousness
  • Flex space: a guestroom that doubles as an office, or a craft and homework space combined
  • Aspects of the regional current trends

Contemporary Style

“…The term “contemporary” refers to the architecture of today, of the moment. If that definition sounds broad, it is. Contemporary is a fluid, constantly morphing architectural style. It shouldn’t be surprising to learn a contemporary home could include a mix of aesthetics, including elements of traditional, transitional, and, yes, modern architecture…”

When consulting with a client, really take some time to ask lots of questions about what types of styles and features they like in a home. More often than not, the choices will not add up to one particular style.

Running some listings by your clients that you think may fit them may help you narrow down what they REALLY want. Not everyone can speak ‘architect speak’ so visuals are your best bet.

For your own education, perhaps look for good books on residential architectural design of past and present. One great one I’ve found is:

“A Field Guide To American Houses”, by Virginia & Lee McAlester. It’s been updated to : “A Field Guide to American Houses (Revised): The Definitive Guide to Identifying and Understanding America’s Domestic Architecture ” – November 10, 2015 by Virginia Savage McAlester . 

FATHOM Realty  •  6841 Virginia Pkwy 103-448  •  McKinney  •  TX  •  75071