Unlike contemporary design, which refers to style happening right now, modern design refers to a particular era, specifically, the early 20th century. It features lots of sleek, straight lines and minimal details. Rooms feel open and in some cases, intentionally sparse.
While some say modern
design feels cold, fans believe the opposite. Fuss-free, light-filled,
streamlined living actually makes the space feel lighter, like the home exists
to be enjoyed, not tended to like a job.
If you think modern design is for you, it’s easy to pull this look together, in part because so much of it involves paring down. Here’s how to decorate in the modern design style.
Look at each of your rooms and consider necessary furniture. If you have an ample closet, perhaps you don’t need a dresser, for example. The modern movement was all about affordability, a response in part to the years leading into the Great Depression, which means anything considered extraneous was instantly removed. Paring down your furniture as well as your decor to favorite and necessary pieces instantly de-clutters the space, a key benefit of modern design. Your home will seem bigger, and you may find that you enjoy it more. Some modern design fans claim they’re able to think more clearly, too, especially if you’re a person who’s always had a lot of stuff.
Modern design is many things, but fancy and fussy it’s not. The movement came about because of the need for reasonably priced furniture that could easily be mass-produced, so fewer details were better. When designing a space in the modern style, forgo embellishments such as tassels on pillows and ornate, hand-carved details. The simpler it looks, the better.
Look for Low-Slung Furniture With Straight Edges
Modern design doesn’t embrace curves. Instead, look for straight lines and edges with furniture that tends to sit closer to the ground than traditional pieces.
When you sit in a modern chair, it’s nothing like a big, comfy recliner, but you don’t have to sacrifice comfort. This enduring style has been reinterpreted so many times it’s easy to find pieces that feel modern and cozy. Also, not everything has to be stick-straight. Modular-style furniture with rounded edges in soft fabrics is a great example. West Elm is a great example of a contemporary brand that pulls a lot of inspiration from the modern design movement.
Neutral Bases, With Pops of Color
Choose furnishings in a variety of neutral tones and reserve pops of color for key accessories and “look-at-me” pieces. Think grays, blacks, whites, creams, and the full spectrum of beige. (If you’re a fan of mid-century modern design, which came on the heels of the modern movement, you know browns are anything but boring.) Grays have been enjoying the spotlight for quite a while, and classic combos like black and white are enjoying a comeback thanks to the modern farmhouse trend, so it’s easy to find pieces that fit this palette. A great way to mix in patterns and colors is on the walls and with accessories, especially if they’re in graphic and geometric styles. Modern design lends itself nicely to the gallery wall trend, as it allows you to mix a variety of art and decor into one cohesive look.
Embrace Hard Surfaces and Natural Materials
Anything made of metal, wood and leather will likely fit nicely in a modern design space. Also look for reflective surfaces such as steel, chrome, and glass. The famed Eames chair is a signature modern design piece that embodies a lot of these elements.
The current penchant for exposed beams and anything that reveals structural elements are also key traits in modern design, whether that’s leaving concrete floors bare or opting for decor made of natural fibers, like cotton and bamboo.
Let There Be Light
Instead of bogging down windows with shades and curtains, leave them bare for maximum light exposure. If you’re able to make structural changes, consider installing floor-to-ceiling windows, skylights, or retractable walls that can be opened to usher in a flood of light. Modern design is less about privacy and more about embracing the natural world, so the more ample and natural your light source, the better.
Ana Connery is former content director of Parenting, Babytalk, Pregnancy Planner and Conceive magazines as well as parenting.com.
While editor in chief of Florida Travel & Life magazine from 2006-2009, she covered the state’s real estate and home design market as well as travel destinations.
She’s held senior editorial positions at some of the country’s most celebrated magazines, including Latina, Fitness and Cooking Light, where she oversaw the brand’s “FitHouse” show home.
Ana’s expertise is frequently sought after for appearances on “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America” and CNN. She has interviewed the country’s top experts in a variety of fields, including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and First Lady Michelle Obama.