Minimalist vs Modern vs Contemporary Design | My Modern Home
Aug. 30, 2021
Aug. 30, 2021

Minimalist vs Modern vs Contemporary Design and Architecture: What's the Difference?

In this blog we explain the design terms “modern”, “contemporary” and “minimalist” - so you can get your Pinterest boards “just right”.

In this blog we explain the design terms “modern”, “contemporary” and “minimalist” - so you can get your Pinterest boards “just right”.

With so many different design styles, it’s forgivable to get your minimalist house designs and your modernist house designs in a muddle.

We use so many different terms in design that it can be difficult to know exactly what everyone is talking about. To help you out, we’ve highlighted the difference between modern, contemporary, and minimalist house design.

Is it all Semantics?

We use language to describe home design (and interior design) all the time. Perhaps you’re sitting at your computer entering search terms for inspiration; maybe you’re talking with a friend about what your dream home looks like; or you might be further along, ready to build your dream home, and interviewing architects or home builders to find the right team to build your new home.

In each of these instances, the words we use to describe our visions conjure mental images and can shape a common understanding about design in general, and home design in particular.

In this blog we are going to explain the design terms “modern”, “contemporary” and “minimalist”. We are also going to describe the general design aesthetic for each, and give a bit of history around these “newer” styles of design. We hope to unravel the mystery so you can 'pin' like a pro.

Are all styles of design easy to distinguish?

A majority of well-known design styles, such as Tudor, Victorian, colonial, and craftsman, have distinct stylistic characteristics that set each apart from the other. Whether it is a specific style of roof gable, window, roof pitch or decoration, the terms generally used to describe each of these styles is well known, clear and undisputed.

But for many house design styles it’s not so cut and dry.

Styles evolve over time, and are influenced by factors like popular culture, technology, and economics. Some styles become amalgamated with other styles, and as a result have more fluid or varied characteristics (think “rustic” or “farmhouse”).

These taxonomy challenges are likewise true for the terms “modern”, “minimalist”, and “contemporary”. The challenge to understanding with clarity how to distinguish between these terms is made more complicated by the fact that these design styles are also closely related.

Contemporary vs. Modern vs. Minimalist – The Spectrum

For most people, the terms “modern” and “contemporary” are used interchangeably -we often do so ourselves, using the word ‘modern’ as a blanket term to describe design elements that are clean, simple, or streamlined. In many cases, we would be more descriptive if we used the word minimalist, but to be completely honest, we’re not all that fussed about it – and you shouldn’t be either.

These terms are interchangeable because they live on a spectrum.

On one side of this spectrum lives ‘contemporary’ which leans towards traditional aesthetics. Contemporary design is often a simplification or reduction to the more ornate qualities of traditional design elements while often maintaining the elements themselves.

Graphic Showing the Spectrum of Different House Designs | My Modern Home

For example, a home with a large front porch with simple wooden beams rather than ornately carved wooden beams and balustrade. The term ‘transitional’ certainly resides on this side of the spectrum.

On the other side of the spectrum is minimalist house design, characterized by an utter reduction and simplification of form and visual clutter – stripping design down to an expression of its most essential elements.

Residing between contemporary and minimalism we would find a design aesthetic that most of us would call a modernist house design. It could be argued that the term modern could be used as an overarching term that encompasses contemporary, minimalist, and everything in between – but again, design is supposed to be fun so why fuss about it?

There’s often a discussion about minimalism vs modernism, but the distinction between the two is quite fluid.


Our Modern... I mean Minimalist... I mean Contemporary...

What is the difference between contemporary, modern and minimalist design?

We have touched on some of the basic differences between contemporary, modern and minimalist house design. In this section, we’ll provide more explanation regarding the aesthetic (ie : the characteristic “look”) for each of the styles, and touch on some of the history and influences of contemporary, modern and minimalist design.

Characteristics of Contemporary Design

The contemporary design style was originally a blend of modern and more traditional styles, until it became more prevalent and recognizable on its own in the 1970s. Compared to modernism and minimalism, contemporary design is more likely to change with current trends (take courtyard house plans for example).

“What is referred to as contemporary style became popular in the 1970s, about the same time as postmodernism's rise in popularity. It was originally a blend of styles before it became recognizable on its own. Contemporary design borrowed elements from modernism and postmodernism. It also gathered ideas from many other styles such as art deco, deconstructivism, futurism, and more.

And yet, "contemporary" style is always changing. As each decade passes, the decor trends of the day will always be considered contemporary. It is not necessarily tied to a specific period of time in the same way that the modern style is. Instead, it is an ever-evolving style that reflects what is happening today.” – Tonya Lee, The Spruce

Characteristics of Minimalist Design

“Minimalism was a rejection of the extremely subjective designs and works of abstract expressionism. By distilling a product, painting or subject down to its bare essentials, minimalists wanted to showcase its true form.

Abstract expressionism is an approach to design that combines self-denial and emotional intensity, which produces designs that some see as chaotic, rebellious, and even nihilistic. Unsurprisingly, spontaneity (or at least the impression thereof) is the main feature of abstract expressionism.

Minimalism, in stark contrast, takes form, color, and space and reduces them to such simplicity to attain their essential nature. At this point, the philosophy goes, one can’t remove anything else from the design to improve it further in any way, shape or form.” – ANVIXA Marketing Agency

For those who love minimalist house architecture, the result is a power and quality that comes out of the primal essence of form, space, and light. It is a powerful backdrop for life.

Characteristics of Modern Design

The phrase “modern design” is really a high-level, wide reaching, blanket term used to describe the spectrum of styles we have outlined above, and the less well-known styles of design that fit on the same spectrum. It has evolved from the word “modernist” and the modernist movement, which came about in the late 1800s - early 1900s.

Modernist house design was a breakaway from historical architectural styles and was largely inspired (and made possible) by new construction technologies of the time (glass, steel, and reinforced concrete).

The design emphasis in modern house architecture is on function, simplicity, and reduction of ornamentation.

“The modern style is the design and decor of the modernism movement, which began in the very late 1800s. Birthed by the German Bauhaus schools of design and the Scandinavian design emphasis on simplicity and function, the modern decor style is very old. In general terms, modern decor is linked to the beginning through the middle of the 20th century—the 1900s through the 1950s.

The modern style eventually morphed into mid-century modern (the 1950s and '60s) and postmodernism (1970s and '80s). - Tonya Lee, The Spruce

Find your Style!

At My Modern Home, we love great design – but we aren’t design snobs!

Categorizing styles of design like we have in this blog doesn’t really matter (who wants to be tied to a category, anyway?) What does matter is that you find inspiration for your home design and interior goals, and understanding different styles such as minimalist house design can help you achieve this.

Now, we invite you to explore our spectrum of architect designed modern homes.

We hope you find them inspiring, and we would love to help you build the home of your dreams. As we’ve said, we love great design, no matter where it sits on the spectrum, so My Modern Home can work with you to tailor any of our designs to suit you (and your design aesthetic) perfectly.

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