Contemporary or modern Architecture? The Interiors Edition

A while ago I took a crack at defining the differences between contemporary and modern architecture by looking at the exteriors of all 10 homes. In my view modern architecture is suspended in the ancient – and mid-20th-century architecture that broke with traditional architecture by”embodying the ideals of the machine age: an absence of decoration, structures of concrete or steel, large expanses of glass, and a whitewash (usually stucco over brick) or another minimal exterior expression, and spacious floor plans,” as I wrote in that ideabook. To me modern architecture is what is being produced today, but that which does not follow a distinct stylistic strain — even the strain of modernism. Therefore modern is pluralistic but normally forward-looking.

But how can this distinction hold with insides? And how can one make a difference between modern and modern when the stylistic cues of outside form are not present? This ideabook will handle those questions concerning interior design instead of interior design. This means I will focus on the spaces, surfaces and assemblies that are essential to the insides, rather than the furnishings, colors and other elements that are added by homeowners or designers. This consider is based on my expertise as an architect but also the fact that a house’s interior design may work with or against the architecture, depending on the client’s wishes, therefore complicating matters.

One thing you may notice is that my categorization of every space is occasionally at odds with the architect. This points to the subjectivity of those definitions and how some photos may disclose modern traits while the general project is modern, and vice versa. Any mismatch between my definition and the architect’s also makes it very clear that a discussion on the topic is required; at the minimum, this ideabook is a start.

Jose Garcia Design

Modern. One outcome of modernism is the glass box, which can be used now in office buildings, apartment buildings and even houses. Certainly the full-height glazing for this house makes it match the modern bill, but one detail left me somewhat doubtful: the wood columns are absolutely different than the steel mainly used with glass-box houses. Nevertheless, the wood is exposed structure, exactly like in modern houses by Mies van der Rohe and others with exposed steel, so I am keeping it at the modern category.

Kevin Daly Architects

Contemporary. Here is a house that also has full-height glazing and a few wood construction (beams, joist and decking), but I define it as modern due to the hybrid character of this construction and the cement hearth. (The firebox is on the other side, facing the living room) If construction is exposed in a modernist house, it has a clarity and order to it, but the white steel beams below the wood joists are a disjunction that points to another way of thinking. This passing from order is also found in how the concrete hearth punctures the ceilingits form does not follow the construction, so the wood joists possess some odd intersections to accommodate it.

Jose Garcia Design

Modern. In contrast, the order in the steel construction of this house is clear. The steel beams and columns are accompanied by steel joists and decking at the roof, in which the skylights also match between the construction’s grid.

Lencioni Construction

Modern. This is an additional check out how construction helps determine if a house is modern or modern. I would call this project modern, considering how the steel structure and wood beams of the skylight work together on a standard grid, something that extends to the outside glass walls.

CONTENT Architecture

Modern. But distinctions between contemporary and modern are not almost construction. Surface and solid versus emptiness are also very significant. This living room has a simple-looking however hard-to-build detail at the baseboard, such a little reveal divides the wall and base, which can be both on precisely the exact same plane. This minimalism extends to the rest of the area: the ceiling, the floor, the windows.

Kevin Daly Architects

Contemporary. A similarly straightforward but complex baseboard detail is found in this house (the wall extends out farther than the baseboard), but the angled and overlapping ceiling airplanes are far too lively to be modern, how I believe the expression. Their surfaces may be flat and white, but the general effect is sculptural; the ceiling seems to give way from the insertion of this curved column and rectangular skylight.

Studio 512

Contemporary. Straightforward surfaces are again found within this kitchen area, but the swoop of this ceiling is a modern flourish that overrides the modern finishes. I am also intrigued by the island, which can be sculptural in an angular way, and the method by which the table expansion is propped upon a steel”column,” a piece unlike anything else in the area.

The Ley Group

Modern. This kitchen, on the other hand, is superslick and made in a means in which every piece is dependent on the rest. To put it another way, there’s an order to it all — the means by which the uppers sit between columns, in which the peninsulas are located; the method by which the opening in the wood wall on the ideal aligns with the window opposite; and how the handleless cabinets match perfectly together with their locations (peninsula, uppers and notch).


Contemporary. I am choosing modern here because of two details: the wine storage and, to a lesser level, the glass inset floors facing it. The glass-walled wine storage aligns with the wood cabinets, but it is so much unlike the rest of the kitchen it is clearly a modern touch.

The Interior Place (S) Pte Ltd

Contemporary. What resembles a glass floor may also be found within this flat in Hong Kong. Minimalist finishes are found throughout, but the variant in surfaces (illuminated floor, crimson glow in portal, lots of shiny materials) makes it modern, although sometimes that is somewhat confusing in the photos.

Imbue Design

Modern. The last two projects show how modern and modern can overlap in one project. The minimalist surfaces and pitched ceiling of this living room exude a midcentury modern vibe, certainly aided by the Nelsoni bench from the fireplace.

Imbue Design

Contemporary. But proceed to the kitchen at precisely the exact same house, and the lighting fixture confuses a modern reading. (I see this as built in, or designed especially for the distance, much less a furnishing.) This fixture certainly departs from the easy finishes of the rest of the house, pointing to this area being modern.

Dick Clark + Associates

Modern. This condo renovation is very modern in its own raw ceiling and its own floors finish; these are about the only things occurring besides some built-in millwork. The emphasis is clearly on the view through the full-height glazing.

Dick Clark + Associates

Contemporary. Elsewhere in the unit, something different happens. A curved soffit defines a study distance that may be separated from the adjacent space by drapes. Buildings by modern architects like Le Corbusier and Richard Meier possess the occasional buckle curve, but this one adds a playful touch that blatantly departs from the modern simplicity found near the outside wall.

These last two illustrations reinforce the distinction between modern and modern often comes down to order. Modernism utilizes the grid to locate and align matters, but modern buildings depart from it to be more playful and freer with expression.

Tell us How do you define modern versus contemporary insides? Or should we bother with those distinctions at all?

More: 10 Must-Know Modern Homes

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