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Modern Design Explained, Plus Inspiration

By Ted Ryan

Modern Design Explained, Plus Inspiration

Modern design might not be modern by today’s standards, but that doesn’t mean this legendary design style is going anywhere anytime soon. Learn all you need to know about modern design as we unpack its origins and key characteristics.

Sample the Style

Our Modern Style favorites feature Ceramic color samples in Basalt, Daisy, French Linen, Tempest, Peabody, Dolomite, Calcite, and Feldspar:

Modern Tile Colors

What is Modern Design

Modern design is defined by clean lines, natural materials, neutral colors, and uncluttered spaces. Practicality rules Modern design, placing value on a space or piece's function and usefulness above all else.

Modern Kitchen with a Touch of Drama

Tile Shown: Tempest in 3 x 6 // Designer: Studio Claro

Natural colors and big windows letting in lots of natural light give Modern spaces a fresh and spacious feeling.

A great Modern designer is a skilled editor, understanding less is more and how to make the most impact with the least amount of objects or flourish.

Amanda Walker: Brick Bedroom Accent Wall

Brick Shown: Mojave Norman // Design + Image: Amanda Walker

When it comes to tile in Modern design, large format tiles with rectified edges create long, clean lines that are quintessentially Modern and make a space appear larger. Sparsely saturated shades of grey, beige, green, and charcoal hit all the right notes of Modern.

Camille Kurtz: Tri-Color Kitchen Transformation

Tile Shown: Basalt in 2 x 8, Blue Velvet 2 x 8, Dust Storm in 2 x 8 and 3 x 6 / / Design + Image: Camille Kurtz

A bold pop of color is welcomed in Modern design but remember to use shrewd judgment. Color should make a pointed statement, not encompass an entire motif.

Modern vs Contemporary Design

When we typically refer to something as modern, we mean relating to the present times, so it’s unsurprising that many often interchange Modern and contemporary styles. But while contemporary style indeed describes the design style relating to contemporary times, Modern refers to a period of the earth 20th century.

Today’s contemporary design owes much of its DNA to Modern design, making the distinction between the two even more confusing, but at the end of the day, Modern is something we can define while contemporary is something that is still (and always) evolving.

History of Modern Design

Modern design evolved with Modernism, a social movement reacting to the emerging shifts of the industrialized world. Similar to the ways in which the internet age has dramatically changed the way we live, think and interact with one another, industrialization during the turn of the 20th century sent shockwaves through culture and society, leading artists, educators, philosophers, and designers to embrace a turn away from traditional norms and set forth a new way of thinking and creating.

Zigzag Studio Design: Quick Ship French Linen Kitchen

Tile Shown: French Linen in 2 x 8 // Design + Image: Zigzag Studio Design

Modern design not only dismissed earlier aesthetics, but they also dismissed traditional manufacturing methods as well, taking advantage of new ways of producing goods. New industrial techniques were used as well as modern materials like steel, molded plywood, and plastics.

Hommeboys Sonoma Sauna Floor

Tile Shown: Eucalyptus in 4 x 4 // Design + Image: Hommeboys

Historically, Modern style sits roughly between Art Deco and Mid Century Modern. While both bookends owe credit to Modernism for their own styles, Modern was a departure from Art Deco’s extravagance, inspired by minimalism and Scandinavian design, and Mid Century was a bolder and brighter evolution of Modern interiors.

Frost Subway Tile Contemporary Kitchen Backsplash

Tile Shown: Frost in 3 x 6 // Design: reBuilt Workshop // Image: Pepe Molina

Modern Kitchen Design

BIG open space, airy neutral colors, a functional double island, and plenty of hardwood throughout, this kitchen makes use of use of plenty of natural light plus modern pendant fixtures to tie it all together.

Susan Hall Modern Kitchen backsplash blended ogee drop

Tile Shown: Ogee Drop in White Wash and Daisy, Jardin Fretwork in White Motif // Design: Susan Hall Studio // Image: Emily Minton Redfield

Clean, bright, and tastefully appointed, this hotel kitchenette is Modern not just in aesthetic, but as a practical space to get the job done when you’re on vacation and nothing more.

Joie Inn Sage Room Kitchen by Arrows and Bow

Tile Shown: Salton Sea in 3 x 3 and Star & Cross // Design + Image: Ashley Petrone

Pale neutrals, stainless steel appliances, hardwood countertops, and thoughtful decor make this Hollywood home distinctly Modern.

Lauren Lapkus star and Cross Kitchen

Tile Shown: Magnolia Mini Star & Cross, Antique in 8" Hexagon // Design: Lauren Lapkus // Image: Phil Chester + Sara Byrne

Modern Bathroom Design

With long straight lines, muted neutral colors, and a restrained design, this shower is a masterful example of minimalist Modern design.

Tile Shown: Overcast in 2 x 2, Calcite in 3 x 12 // Design: EM + KATE DESIGN // Image: Sen Creative

Light neutral color, a spacious uncluttered floor plan, notes of natural wood, and lots of natural light, this bathroom gets Modern exactly right.

Susan Hall Designs: Mist Bathroom

Tile Shown: Mist in 3 x 9 and Mist 2" in Hexagon // Design: Susan Hall Studio // Image: Emily Minton Redfield

Leaning on the less-is-more mantra, this bathroom shows how impactful an edited aesthetic can be. Moonrise tile with just a mild glow of color-matched with natural stone floors like the surface of the moon and frameless glass to show it all off makes a stunning impression without ever going bold.

Lyons Studio Moonshine Bathroom and shower

Tile Shown: Moonshine in 3 x 9, Moonshine in 2 x 2 // Design: Lyons Studio // Image: Kylie Fitts

With bold polka dot Fallow floor tiles and a pop of color on the shower pan, this Modern bathroom demonstrates Mid Century’s move toward maximalism while still retaining much of its original Modern characteristics.

Hygge House by Duett Interiors: Fallow Bathroom with Salton Sea

Tile Shown: Salton Sea 2 x 8, Fallow in Cool Motif // Design: Tiffany Thompson, Duett Interiors // Image: Tiffany Thompson, Duett Interiors Marni Mervis

More Modern Interior Design

The rise of the California bungalow coincided with the Modern movement and this Berkley restoration is an incredible example. The bold brick fireplace makes for a fantastic--and functional--centerpiece in this dining room.

Absaroka Dining Room Fireplace

Brick Shown: Absaroka // Design: Decorotation // Image: Sen Creative

Modern might be a century old but its aesthetic has never been more of the moment. Get in touch with one of our expert Design Consultants who can help you nail the Modern look in your home.

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