The Difference Between Modern and Minimalist Designs

The Difference Between Modern and Minimalist Designs

Decoration and Design
Interior Design
By Dikran Seferian November 03, 2021

We are all familiar with the sleek and simple designs that have been dominating interiors for quite a while. Differentiating between the design styles that feature these trending elements, however, can be tricky to those who aren’t particularly immersed in the topic. It is also quite common for the terms modern and minimalist to be used interchangeably;  this is actually a misconception as the two are different styles, despite the many similarities they share amongst themselves. While modernism makes use of discipline in the design, minimalism disciplines the design to be made use of.

As a matter of fact, modernism is actually a precursor to not only minimalist design but also the contemporary style. Despite the difference between the former two — and because of the similarities — there is even a mashup of both styles. As for contemporary, it’s more of a passing breeze. 

Difference Between Modern and Minimalist Designs

You can think of the modern and minimalist styles as a master and student relationship. The latter is inspired by the former, picking up many elements from it. Moreover, the student (minimalism) even refines the elements it has picked up from its master (modernism). 

Modern Interior Design

Modernist interior design is all about creating simple elements out of basic geometry. This design style makes use of newer materials such as glass, concrete, and chrome to shape into well-structured and highly efficient features. You may also notice the absence of trinkets, instead of making way for a bolder look that revolves around art. Modern design is built on the foundations laid by mid-century interior designers such as Le Corbusier, Florence Knoll, and the Eames couple. If you’re familiar with the iconic Eames chair, you probably have an idea about mid-century modern furniture.

Adding to the Comfort of Your Room With an Eames Chair

Adding to the Comfort of Your Room With an Eames Chair

In modern design styles, you will see an emphasis on the unification of form and function. In other words, the design revolves around simplicity and comfort. The color palette is rather neutral and the patterns are subtle. Hardwood flooring and light-colored walls are most common in modern interiors, whereas furniture pieces are defined by sleek lines and bold-colored fabrics. A slight dimension finds its way to a modern setting through quietly patterned accents such as throw pillows and blankets. In the bathroom and kitchen, movement comes into play in geometrically patterned backsplashes.

Getting Familiar With the Modern Interior Design

Getting Familiar With the Modern Interior Design

Modern spaces favor straight lines over traditional shapes. Overstuffed sofas and cupboards with fancy handles make way for sleek settees and cabinets with invisible pulls. A sense of character is achieved through focal points, which are yet another essential element of modern interior design. You may find a large, modern art painting hanging behind the living room sectional while an eye-catching light fixture takes center stage in the bedroom. A bold choice would be the replacement of a wooden dining table with a glass one — but then again, what is modernism without the bold choices?

How to Achieve the Modern Look in Your Home

How to Achieve the Modern Look in Your Home

Minimalist Interior Design

Minimalism shifts the focus on trimming the design down to the bare essentials. Instead of featuring a decorative piece such as a painting, a minimalist interior will make use of natural light, shadows, texture, and patterns to turn the space itself into a piece of art. While modernism cuts down on detail, minimalism eliminates it completely. Space is the top priority in a minimalist design. This allows for maximal efficiency achieved through the introduction of minimal elements. These elements will only have a place in a minimalist interior if they serve a purpose in terms of functionality.

Key Elements of a Minimalist Interior Design

Key Elements of a Minimalist Interior Design

Outside the frame of interior design, minimalism is more of a mantra that says “less is more”. This concept beautifully translates to a minimalist living space and is achieved through elements that add value to the room. For instance, a large vase in an entryway can function as an umbrella holder — otherwise, it would have no place there. This vase essentially serves a purpose while adding personality to the interior. A wicker chest in the bedroom would provide storage space while adding texture.

Minimalist interior design gets its inspiration from modernism but takes the simplicity of the latter to another level. While modernist interiors allude to the modern age, the minimalist style alludes to itself. Minimalism is simply a more aggressive version of modernism.

Applying Minimalism in Your Living Space

Applying Minimalism in Your Living Space

Similarities of Modern and Minimalism

While the main contrast between modernism and minimalism can be established through their general description, you may find further differences within the similarities themselves. Nevertheless, these similarities pave the way for the birth of the modern minimalist fusion.

Absence of Clutter 

Both modern and minimalist interiors enjoy the absence of clutter. Anything that is out of order should be out of sight. While modernism simply reduces excessive decor, however, minimalism gets rid of it altogether. Of course, the purge doesn’t stop at decor; trivial items, whether decorative or not, are usually the first to be cast out of the picture. 

Emphasis on Form and Function 

The focus on functionality and form is another element that you will find in common between the two design styles. Any piece of interior design that enters the living space will have to bring something to the table — including the table itself.

Clean Lines

While modern design styles use clean lines to exalt modernist looks, minimalism uses them to maintain the notion of its own philosophy. Either way, you will find sleek geometric forms in both interiors. This applies to anything from furniture framing to upholstery and other surfaces.

Maximizing Natural Light 

Natural light plays a major role in both modernist and minimalist interior designs. The two design styles make clever use of spaces and surfaces to maximize any natural light that enters the room. You may find a lion's share of glass, mirrors, and other reflective surfaces in modern and minimalist settings alike. And while the former uses a lot of glass and mirrors, the former uses all of it. Besides the reflective surfaces, of course, natural light thrives in the open space created by the two design styles. 

Comparing Modernist and Minimalist Interiors

Comparing Modernist and Minimalist Interiors

Modern Minimalism Fusion

Since modernist designs and minimalism are somewhat intertwined, it is quite common to find interiors that feature a fusion of the two. To create this fusion, you essentially take the modernist principles of neutral color palettes and natural materials, and apply them to the minimalist mantra of “less is more”. The modern style’s purpose of comfort and simplicity is maintained through elements like a shag-pile rug with a subtle hue warming up a polished hardwood floor. The simple rug provides comfort while adding texture to the atmosphere, thereby fulfilling its purpose of form and function. The fusion will also mean geometric shapes and clean lines for furniture. When choosing patterns for the accents, keep in mind that simplicity is also in the details — quite the oxymoron, isn’t it?

Although minimalism doesn’t allow for adornments, you can’t go wrong with a triptych (a set of three corresponding paintings) of modern art to add a whisper of melody to an otherwise silent wall. Plants are another way to vitalize a modern minimalist setting without cluttering the place — and they improve the indoor air quality, so that’s a function right there.

Combining the Modern and Minimalist Design Styles

Combining the Modern and Minimalist Design Styles

What About Contemporary Design?

Besides minimalism, another style that is rooted in modernism is contemporary. However, it is more of a trend than a style. Contemporary design is especially mistaken for modern, more so than modern being mistaken for minimalism. This is most likely due to the close similarity of their definitions. A simple way to tell between the two is to remember that contemporary is temporary — a passing, current trend.

Even though the contemporary ‘style’ draws its inspiration from the modern ways, it typically relies on traditional rather than modern materials to create a fashionable look. It carries a cleaner aesthetic than that of traditional designs yet is not as sleek as its modern counterpart. For instance, copper has made a comeback in contemporary interiors, even replacing the colder — yet sleeker — stainless steel.

What is Contemporary Design and How Does it Differ From Modern Style?

What is Contemporary Design and How Does it Differ From Modern Style?

Written by
Dikran Seferian

Written by Dikran Seferian