The words “modern” and “contemporary” get thrown around together a lot, often used interchangeably to refer to something that’s happening now, in the present — for example, “modern love” and “contemporary fiction.”

When it comes to art and design, there is an important difference between modern and contemporary.

The term “modern” in the design world comes from the Modern art movement, which spanned between the 1860s and 1970s. Modern artists explored new approaches to seeing and portraying nature and art in their work. This is captured, for instance, in the work of Manet, Monet, Picasso, and Matisse.

Modern furniture design developed along with the Modern art movement, and mid-century modern refers to furniture design specific to the 1950s and 1960s.

Girl before mirror museum
Modern artists, such as Picasso introduced new mediums and styles of art that helped form the Modern art movement.

Hallmarks of modern interior design — especially when we’re discussing mid-century modern — include clean lines and unadorned structures, often made from natural materials such as wood, leather, and teak. However, plywood, plastic, and polished metals were also featured.

Modern furniture design tended to be open and raised off the ground, contributing to a light, airy feeling.

An Eames chair and ottoman.

Iconic examples of modern design include the Eames chair, an elegantly curving lounge chair with ottoman made from molded plywood and leather; Vladimir Kagan, whose pieces recalled natural forms made from wrought iron, cast aluminum, and sculpted wood; and Frank Lloyd Wright, whose “organic architecture” tied his buildings into their environment.

On the other hand, contemporary design means “of the present” and refers to the latest trends. Contemporary designers and artists are those who are living and working today.

In a nutshell, ‘modern’ refers to a specific point in time, and what is considered modern will always be modern. ‘Contemporary’ refers to what’s happening now, and what is regarded as contemporary today will not be regarded as contemporary in 20 years.

That said, the modern movement is currently having a moment, and therefore it’s accurate to say that what’s modern style is also part of contemporary style — for now. And this time around, modern style gets an update when paired with pieces that reflect global influence and eclectic tastes.

BDI’s Dino tables merge modern and contemporary design by mixing wood, metal, and glass materials.

At BDI, our designers take inspiration from mid-century modern forms. We love the modern movement’s clean lines and natural materials, which feel all at once controlled and organic. 

However, we consider contemporary concerns, such as the owner’s relationship to technology and today’s busy lifestyles that demand flexibility.

So, is BDI modern or contemporary? We’d say we’re the best of both worlds!