Your Guide to Modern Interior Design: What You Need To Know

Modern Living Room Design

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Modern interior design is probably all over your Instagram and Pinterest feeds. It's a super-popular style. But what is modern interior design, and how do you capture this look in your own home?

"Modern Interior Design represents a period of style in the mid-twentieth century," explained Sheva Knopfler. "This was heavily influenced by Scandinavian and German Designers. Specific focus was put on form and function, where both of these disciplines were viewed as equals."

This guide will examine modern interior design and the six key elements of a modern home interior. From there, we've highlighted some design inspiration before answering a couple of common questions.

Meet the Experts

At Living Cozy, we work with expert interior designers and leading brands to bring you practical, accurate information on everything home design. To write this article, we interviewed knowledgeable professionals, including:

What Is Modern Interior Design?

Understanding different interior design styles can be confusing, especially when we see so many in social media and magazines.

Not to be confused with contemporary styling, which evolves as times change, modern interior design originated at the beginning of the 20th century. What we know today as modern style comes from the 1920s to the 1950s, with roots in German and Scandinavian design.

Modern Interior Design

"Modern is a static term used to describe a specific time period, and it marks the beginning of the 20th century. It follows the rules of this specific period and can be referred to as 'Modernist.' Some common characteristics of this style include large windows, high gloss finish with chrome accents," explained Karen Rohr. "It also incorporates simple decor with contrast such as white or black; whereas, adding white brings expansiveness and adding black provides a feeling of elegance."

But, how do you use this decorating style to capture the eye-catching looks you see in home decor magazines and articles? By using inspiring design ideas and the essential elements of the style, of course.

"Modern interior design is all about creating functional and inviting spaces through the use of clean lines, neutral palettes with pops of color, geometric shapes, and a mix of natural and industrial materials," Renee Eurodolian told Living Cozy.

6 Key Elements of Modern Interior Design

What are the elements of modern interior design? Let's explore the six essentials that make up the foundation of almost every modern space.

1. Simplistic

Modern Design

"Modern interior design focuses on simplicity and minimalism lifestyle," said Karen Rohr. "It's about making things clean, uncluttered, and easy to use. This aesthetic has become increasingly popular in recent years as we move away from the ornate and complicated designs of the past. Many people see minimalism as a breath of fresh air, and it's easy to see why."

Modern interior design ideas can be pretty easy to replicate if you know what you want, especially if you focus on simple elements. Modern style doesn't chase interior design trends — instead, it relies on tried and true fashion to create its signature aesthetic.

"​​Modern interior design is simple, straightforward, uncluttered, and uncomplicated," explained Kevin Seitz and Rob van Wyen. "It allows products to speak for themselves."

2. Natural Materials

"Natural materials are a foundational element of modern design," Renee Eurodolian explained. "These organic materials make spaces feel calm and welcoming."

Modern interior design has Scandinavian roots, and you can see the influence in the focus on natural materials. Linen, rattan, stone, wood, and wool are some examples of popular materials in modern living spaces, as these materials are commonly used to add warmth to Scandinavian interiors. Both styles favor simple, natural looks over excessive decoration.

3. Use Clean Lines

Modern Interior Design Clean Lines

"Clean lines in modern design are simple and continuous — they are easy for the eye to follow and are visually simple in appearance," explained Renee Eurodolian. "Clean lines can be vertical, horizontal, or even curved."

Modern interior design has roots in early 20th-century architecture, so it should come as no surprise that it features plenty of clean, straight lines. Form follows function is a design principle essential to Bauhaus style, a German arts and crafts movement that helped inspire modern interior design. It means that the form of furniture pieces and buildings should relate to the intended function, and it's critical when creating a modern space.

"Modern design features clean lines, fewer ornaments, and pure forms standing out," said Karen Rohr.

4. Neutral Tones With Pops of Color

Like Scandinavian decor, modern design uses neutral tones to draw in and reflect natural light, making your space feel brighter, larger, and more welcoming. Adding pops of color allows you to create a focal point, express your unique style, and make the space feel more inviting. Natural materials also help balance the bright design with a grounded aesthetic.

"Modern design typically features tons of neutral tones such as gray, beige, brown, and white to make spaces feel light and open. Pops of color such as fire engine red, orange, mustard, and turquoise add visual interest and are hallmark to many styles within modern design," said Renee Eurodolian.

5. Geometric Shapes

Modern Interior Design Geometric Shapes

"We are taking a trip back to grade school with geometric shapes! Modern design incorporates clean lines and clear, perfect edges, which is exactly what creates geometric shapes such as squares, octagons, and circles. In modern design, geometric shapes are often used in a pattern to give the space a sophisticated feel," Renee Eurodolian told Living Cozy.

Geometric shapes can help add character to any space, from the dining room to the living room, with everywhere in between. For example, you might hang a piece of geometric-style modern art above a beautiful sofa to complete your living room design or choose an area rug with a geometric pattern to place under your dining table.

You'll also find a range of modern living room furniture incorporating geometric shapes into the craftsmanship.

6. Multifunctional

"Modern design focuses on making life easier to adapt to the many changes," Karen Rohr told Living Cozy. "From dual functionality furniture to the use of the space, this is a particular feature of designing a modern interior."

When adding multifunctional elements to your home, consider how you use each space. For example, if you have an open plan home and a kitchen design with an island, you could use it as a dining table instead of creating a dedicated dining room. Or, if your floor plan doesn't offer the potential you're looking for, you might add a sofa or coffee table with hidden storage to your living room.

What Are The Advantages Of Modern Interior Design?

Modern interior design is timeless — it never goes out of style, and it's the foundation for many of today's most popular looks. We asked our expert interior designers to explain some of the advantages that this versatile style offers, and here's what they had to say:

Blending Form and Function

"Modern Design brings a sense of style and design into your home whilst making sure the products are functional and provide practical daily uses," said Sheva Knopfler. "This is especially true in lighting fixtures and lamps, as the products make a design statement, but they also provide functional lighting for normal daily tasks and activities."

Bright, Open Spaces

"Modern interior design's primary function is to maximize the space and provide an open layout that allows natural light in," explained Karen Rohr. "The aim for the living room, for example, would be to feel like you're sitting on your front porch with nothing else around — it should feel welcoming but not cluttered."

"The open layout gives more space to show off your personality while also welcoming you into the home. Its wide-open spaces paired with plenty of accentuating details like art or furniture help add a very characteristic and personal touch," continued Karen.

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7 Inspiring Modern Interior Design Styles

What are some modern interior design styles? Because modern interior design is quite broad, with multiple influences over several decades, it has inspired many other types. You can use the six key elements to add modern details to any style, from Victorian to transitional, with everything in between.

The styles below work well as part of modern interior design. Ready to get inspired?

1. Minimalism

Minimalist interior design

"Minimalist design is exactly as it sounds — minimal or simple in nature. It's all about streamlining style and creating open, inviting spaces," explained Renee Eurodolian.

Minimalism focuses on stripping things down to their most basic form, and when used in homes, it's very similar to modern interior design. Minimalist spaces are simple, uncluttered, and monochromatic, with pops of color to add life. In addition, you'll see clean lines, neutral tones, natural materials, and other critical elements of modern design reflected in minimalist interiors.

"A minimalist interior design is one that seeks to reduce the amount of clutter and decor in a room," said Karen Rohr. "This type of design is often characterized by simplicity and a focus on function over form."

2. Industrial

Industrial interior design

"Industrial interior design is characterized by raw materials, unfinished surfaces, and large open spaces," Karen Rohr explained. "This type of design is often used in commercial and industrial settings. However, it can also be used in residential settings to create a modern and edgy look. Industrial interior design is all about contrast, so you need to use strong colors and textures to impact."

An industrial room proudly displays the building materials other spaces attempt to hide. Raw wood, stainless steel, and iron are more common than upholstery and textural finishes. Yet, you'll see industrial interior design used in a range of upscale homes by famous interior designers.

3. Scandinavian

Scandinavian design

"Scandinavian design is centered around creating functional spaces that are open and filled with light, often featuring neutral color palettes and natural elements such as solid wood," explained Renee Eurodolian.

Scandi style is all about making your space feel cozy and welcoming while exercising minimalist-style restraint in your decor and furniture choices. It invites you to wrap yourself in a warm blanket while you sip hot cocoa, but it's also tidy, uncluttered, and oh-so-functional. Scandinavian style is the perfect fit if you love soft textures and hues, but you're also a fan of modern art and styling.

4. Japandi

Japandi interior design

"Japandi is the perfect fusion of two modern styles — it takes the functionality of Scandinavian design and combines it with the neutral minimalism of Japanese style to create soothing, decluttered spaces," Renee Eurodolian told Living Cozy.

Japanese and Scandinavian design styles are more similar than you might imagine, with modern aesthetics that focus on comfort, simplicity, and natural elements. Japandi style is a relatively new trend, but it's quickly growing in popularity, and you'll likely see more of it in your feeds over the next several years. So if you've always loved zen living room ideas, but you're looking for some pops of color and cozy textures, it might be a perfect fit.

5. Mid-Century Modern

Mid-century modern

"Mid-century modern interior design is a timeless style that can be used in any home," commented Karen Rohr. "This type of design is known for its simplicity and clean lines. Mid-century modern furniture is often made of natural materials such as wood and leather, which gives it a warm and inviting feel."

If you love the modern look but want to add more character to your space, consider adding some mid-century modern furniture or decor. While modern styling minimizes ornamentation, there's nothing wrong with adding a starburst wall hanging or an Eames lounge chair to your space.

"Mid-century modern is defined by simple, timeless, and functional silhouettes," Renee Eurodolian said. "It mixes organic shapes, straight lines, finished edges, and is not overly ornate, allowing it to pair well with and compliment so many other styles."

6. Modern Farmhouse

Modern Farmhouse Interior

"Modern farmhouse design removes the rustic-ness from traditional farmhouse style," said Renee Eurodolian. "It brings in neutral colors and cleaner, smoother lines creating a more polished and finished feel."

If you love the look of farmhouse interiors but crave a slightly more minimalist space, a modern farmhouse style could be a perfect fit. These two styles share many elements, such as exposed wood surfaces, Scandi-style furniture, and neutral colors. And together, they create spaces that are overflowing with character and personal style.

7. Art Deco

Art Deco interior design

"Art Deco interior design is a style that originated in the 1920s and 1930s. It is characterized by geometric shapes and bold colors, and it often includes materials such as glass, metal, and stone," said Karen Rohr. "Art Deco interiors are known for their luxurious and sophisticated look."

Art Deco brings glamour and panache into the home, and it works beautifully with the clean lines and geometric shapes of modern interior design. You'll likely see more pops of primary colors throughout each space, and you can opt for either a neutral or bold-toned background.

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Modern vs. Contemporary Interior Design: What's the Difference?

It's common to see modern and contemporary interior design mixed up or used interchangeably in media, but they're different styles. Understanding the elements that define each style can help you keep them straight.

"Modern and contemporary are both minimalist in nature, have clean architectural lines, and tend toward bright and open spaces. But they do differ," commented Kevin Seitz and Rob Van Wyen. "Modern design refers to a period whereas contemporary is simply what is popular in the now."

Modern Design

  • Aesthetic: Distinguishable aesthetic with roots in the early and mid 20th century
  • Color Palette: Palettes use warmer, earthier hues
  • Furniture: Often features tapered furniture legs
  • Lines: Favors strong, clean lines
  • Materials: Uses more wood and stone
  • Vibe: Usually feels cozy and warm

"Modern design refers to a specific period of time, around the mid-twentieth century. So modern design is in the past and really came before Contemporary Design," explained Sheva Knopfler.

Contemporary Design

  • Aesthetic: Fluid aesthetic that evolves to reflect what's on-trend in design at the present moment
  • Color Palette: Palettes are more black, gray, and white
  • Furniture: Currently features furniture that's lower to the ground
  • Lines: Uses a blend of straight and curvy lines
  • Materials: Uses more glass and metal
  • Vibe: Often has a more sterile and streamlined appeal

"Contemporary design focuses exclusively on the now, which means the design style cannot be defined. It constantly changes and evolves depending on the current time and trends," said Sheva.

Written by
Shelby Golding
Shelby Golding is a Colorado-based writer/editor with over a decade of experience. She has a college education in interior design and enjoys woodworking in her free time.

About Living Cozy

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On Living Cozy, you'll find advice and insights from furniture and interior design experts to help make your house a home.
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