What is Modern Interior Design?

Sheri Cyprus

Modern interior design is hallmarked by clean, straight lines and an uncluttered look. It's the opposite of traditional interior design with its ornate, antique furniture and detailed embellishments. Although the terms modern and contemporary interior design are often used interchangeably, there is a difference between the two.

Modern interior design is hallmarked by clean, straight lines and an uncluttered look.
Modern interior design is hallmarked by clean, straight lines and an uncluttered look.

Whereas contemporary interior design can only mean trendy looks that are in style at any current moment, modern interior design refers to the specific geometrical, clean-lined style called modern. The fact that the modern style may also be a part of a current look or trend adds to the confusion between modern and contemporary. The creation of the modern interior design style is credited to the group of European designers and architects that started the Bauhaus School of Design in Germany in 1919. The Bauhaus philosophy is that form should combine with function in all interior designs. For the first time, useful industrial materials such as glass and metal were combined to create household furniture.

Modern interior design is often inspired by Japanese design.
Modern interior design is often inspired by Japanese design.

Much of the inspiration for the new modern style came from the uncluttered, geometric architectural features of Japanese house interior design. In Japanese design, space isn't considered as empty but rather as an important element. Form and function are predominant in Japanese interiors. For example, furniture such as a round table may be placed in the middle of a room both to create a focal point and to create a useful area that's easy to access.

Modern furniture can often be described as minimalist.
Modern furniture can often be described as minimalist.

Traditionally, interior design materials were different types and colors of wood that were often ornately carved and shaped, so the modern looking stark designs were a sharp contrast to traditional interiors. Whereas detailed wallpapers and printed fabrics in multiple colors added to the warmth of wood furniture, plain walls and accessories in one main accent color brought out the coolness of the new modern furnishings. In this way, traditional and modern interior designs are complete opposites and any combination of the two creates eclectic looks that aren't clearly defined in style.

Organization is a big part of modern interior designs. Since an uncluttered look and functioning furniture are important concepts in the modern interior design style, innovative storage in sleek furnishings is popular in modern interiors. For example, modular office furniture is geometrical in shape and can be stacked and combined in different ways such as a rectangular desk piece used with a curved desk section to add extra storage and additional style.

Modern interior design can be applied to a professional office.
Modern interior design can be applied to a professional office.

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Discussion Comments


As is stated in the section on painting on this website, preparation is very important. Something like bathroom cabinetry is probably an excellent starting project, because usually there are not as many cabinets to deal with as one would find in a kitchen. As a low odor alternative to traditional oil paint, try Eco from Fine Paints of Europe.


The "modern" period was from the late 20s to late 60s. Clearly, not every design of this period was modern.

Often times, people confuse "modern" with "contemporary." One such example is describing a kitchen as "modern". Granite and marble countertops were seldom installed in the 20s - 60s, and certainly not the material choice of modern architects. The modern countertop was laminate. Thus, the ubiquitous kitchens of granite, stainless steel appliances and dark cherry stained cabnitry are contemporary, in the same way floral wallpapered, avocado appliances and vinyl flooring was contemporary in 1978, but I'll bet homeowners still called it "modern."


@turtlez - A lot of people don't realize or seem to think about the fact that you can really achieve that modern home with Interior Design simply by decluttering your space. A lot of those shows that everyone is talking about here show you that it's important to organize your home and keep it de-cluttered just as much as it is important to design it and come up with a cohesive design in the first place. I think that's a tip that everyone should keep in mind. You'd be surprised how much that saying, "Less is more" really is true when it comes to modern design elements.


@doppler - I love that people have found a way to compromise - even in design. My family and I definitely have some interesting opinions when it comes to design. I like modern Interior Design colors while my kids like bold splashes of color (of course) and my spouse, of course, likes more neutral tones. The work out of this was to use the modern colors in the kitchen and living spaces, neutrals in our bedroom and the bold colors in the kid's rooms. It seemed like the only answer. I personally love the entire modern design style, but with younger children the harsh lines and edges can be a hazard somewhat. Thankfully, though, there is that ability to meld the flowing lines in things like circular or contemporary and traditional furniture pieces with the clean lines of things like an entertainment center.


@leiliahrune - I have seen a lot of design shows that do just what you are talking about. In many cases, the color show on HGTV (Not Color Splash, the one with the female designer, I forget what it is called) combines the thoughts and design preferences of a couple of people (usually husband and wife I guess) in order to create a more cohesive design in their home. This is usually done by explaining the ways that certain colors will work together or against one another with in their home. We personally have a modern Italian interior design style going on in our home that I just love. My boyfriend isn't too keen on it, but he has his little "man cave" thing going on as well in another part of the home... so it's all good.


The good news about Interior Design is that you can meld one style with another. For instance, if you like modern design, but your husband likes contemporary design then you would have a modern contemporary Interior Design style. What you would most likely do is include the modern stylings in the way of straight, clean lined furniture. The contemporary elements would most likely be included by way of accent pieces like lamps, rugs, and accessories.

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