Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What Is "Modern," Really?

Earlier this week, I wrote a story on eclectic design (I'll post a link here when it runs, which should be tomorrow), and in talking to designers, one topic that came up was the difference between "modern" and "contemporary" design. A lot of times, I've noticed, the words are used interchangeably. And they do kind of give off the same vibe.... Like, when somebody says a room's "modern," that puts a certain type of picture in your head. Clean lines. Minimal. (Or, at least, not fussy.)

And sometimes a room like that is modern. And sometimes it's not.

One of the designers I interviewed, Lee Pruitt, summed up the difference in a really nice, succinct way. He said, "Modern is a period in art, and contemporary is now." I'll spare you the entire history lesson, but the word "modern" refers to Modernism, which is a specific era in design history - basically the early to mid-20th century. The Modern movement rebelled against the fussiness of the periods that preceded it and, in architecture and design at least, was popularized by a small group of architects and designers that included Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius.

Modern design is not only still popular, but in recent years, it's seen a total resurgence. So many things I see in catalogs of contemporary retailers like CB2, West Elm, etc. are takeoffs of modern designs. And Design Within Reach offers an amazing lineup of products created from authentic modern classic designs. Like the molded plastic armchair by Ray and Charles Eames pictured above. Sleek, gorgeous, interesting ... and so right now (in other words, contemporary).

And also modern.

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