Streamlined Design

Modern interior design refers to the style appearing in the early to mid twentieth century. The current definition of modern interior design is a healthy mix of Scandinavian, mid-century modern and post-modern influences.

By Moe Godat

Architecture and interiors by Marmol Radziner. Photography by Manolo Langis.

Styling by Langoworks.


Modern vs. Contemporary: When you ask most people the difference between modern and contemporary design, they draw a blank. While the two design styles are easy to confuse, there’s one easy way to tell the difference: the age of the style itself. Modern design appeared in the early 20th century and follows more concrete design guidelines. Contemporary refers to whatever is current in design, focusing on new and innovative ideas. Many designers aiming for a contemporary home will use references to the modern interior design style mixed with new advancements.

Modern Materials: To create the smooth, sleek surfaces identifiable in modern design, opt for metal, chrome and glass furniture and accessories.

Bold Accents, Neutral Backgrounds: Moving away from the embellishment of Victorian design, modernists gravitated toward neutral walls and furniture such as white and gray. Using these neutrals as a base allows your chosen artwork and accessories to shine. When choosing art and accessories, opt for bold colors (but don’t overuse them! You’ll want each piece to stand out on its own.)

Art: Modern art expresses feeling in bold colors and unlikely forms rather than through realism. When choosing art for your space, focus on the colors that speak to you most. These colors will often lead to accessory choices throughout your space. Large art pieces with either a minimal frame or none at all works as an anchor in an otherwise neutral room. Avoid gallery walls, as they can appear cluttered.

Striving for Simplicity: Though modern homes are known for clean lines and sleek surfaces, you can still make them comfortable! The best way to achieve comfort in your modern design is through simplicity; the design style itself embraces minimalist values of no-fuss and less clutter, creating a productive and calming environment. One simple way to achieve a more modern aesthetic is avoiding ornate architectural designs like molding or decorative woodwork on cabinetry.

Between the Clean Lines: Sleek surfaces are complemented by modern clean lines in furniture and architecture. Architecturally, you can add interest to your home with cylindrical columns that create clear, vertical lines in a space. Add horizontal lines of focus with a modern fireplace or restrained furniture. When choosing furniture, avoid bold patterns and prints. Consider using a plain performance fabric on sofas to avoid unwanted stains.

Natural Highlights: Modern interior design focuses a lot on lighting, though it isn’t as obvious as some other design styles. Having a well-lit space doesn’t require large pendants or elaborate chandeliers, but rather takes a softer approach. Focus on function! Large windows during sunny days will allow plenty of light in to showcase your space.