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.”

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

The term “modern” – as we understand it in the design world – comes from the Modern art movement, which spanned between the 1860s to 1970s. Modern artists explored new approaches to seeing and understanding nature and art functions. Consider the work of Manet, Monet, Picasso and Matisse and you’ll get the picture.


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; though plywood, plastic and polished metals were also featured.

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

Pablo Picasso’s “Girl Before a Mirror”

BDI’s Corridor Console incorporates a mid-century modern styling for today’s homes.

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.

Contemporary design, on the other hand, literally means “of the present” and refers to the very 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 considered contemporary today will not be considered 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 Hokkaido tables merge modern and contemporary design by mixing materials like wood, metal, and glass.

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 take into consideration contemporary concerns, such as the owner’s relationship to technology and today’s busy lifestyles that demand flexibility.

BDIs designs, such as the Centro Office collection, incorporate modern technologies with contemporary styling.

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

Tell us about, or share some photos, of your favorite modern or contemporary pieces in your home in the comments below.