May 26, 2018

HOME & GARDEN: Modern or contemporary?

Many people erroneously call contemporary designs, such as the one here, ‘modern.’ ( photo courtesy of Joseph Pubillones)

By Joseph Pubillones

Many times, clients ask me for a cutting-edge design, and they insist on calling it modern. During our conversations, they repeat over and over that they want a modern interior. But what exactly is modern? And more importantly, what are they really asking for?

The word “modern” is a bit of a misnomer when used to describe design today. “Modern” is so overused that it has ceased to have meaning. Let’s clear the air. Modern is a style of decorating that developed during the mid-20th century. This period of time covered several decades, so many different renditions of modern have been seen, from the simplistic 1930s to the heavy-handed 1980s.

Generally, midcentury modern style meant designers chose restraint and a rejection of fussiness as an expression for an interior design that was reflective of the type of architecture being built at the time. Spare, sleek, chrome-accented furniture inspired by machinery and simple wood furnishings inspired by nature typified the decor of that era. Plain carpeting was preferred over the embellishments of Oriental or European carpeting. Simple painted walls or plain wood paneling was used, making wallpapered or upholstered walls a thing of the past. Shades or blinds were used in place of layers of heavy drapery.

Many of the edicts of modern design have carried over into our present-day contemporary style. Still, when you say “modern,” the connotation is an interior design that is almost clinical—full of practical, easy-to-keep surfaces, with rigid geometrical lines and an absence of embellishment or decoration. When clients are shown interior designs by true modernists—such as Mies van der Rohe, Eileen Gray and Le Corbusier—their expressions are often ones of bewilderment, and most say, “Oh, those are too sterile.”

In reality, what they are after is a contemporary interior, which is not so stylistically severe. Most homeowners are looking for a clean design that is youthful, warm and user-friendly. Contemporary interiors are in demand because they offer a great amount of flexibility.

Contemporary interiors are spaces designed to stay in tune with today’s tastes. Contemporary can range from pure versions of modernism’s early days to eclectic interiors reflective of today’s global access and trade. The contemporary lexicon has an open mind and can easily accept trends and tradition alike.

To keep your home contemporary, you have to pay attention to it, allowing for things to change and evolve over time. Your goal should be to keep things from becoming too static or expected. Almost everyone can attempt doing a contemporary interior. Contemporary interiors bring the benefit of being cutting-edge in mixing things. This doesn’t necessarily mean buying every new item that comes to the market every year. Just be willing to accept the good things that blend with your existing interiors. Avoid furnishing with items that are too strange or bizarre. Good taste is good taste, whatever the style.

Just remember that a contemporary interior keeps up with its time and that a modern design is easily—and usually—dated.

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