Whether you’re looking for an authentic mid-century modern kitchen or a modern-inspired contemporary design, the modern style can transform your kitchen into a work of art.
The kitchen, often referred to as the heart of the home, has witnessed a paradigm shift in its design aesthetics over the decades. From the rustic charm of traditional setups to the sleek and clean lines of contemporary designs, kitchen aesthetics have been evolving. Today’s modern kitchen is not just about the latest appliances but also about integrating art into functionality.
Modern Vs. Contemporary: “Modern” traces back to early 20th-century minimalism, while “contemporary” reflects current trends. This distinction can guide design choices.
Modern Kitchen Design: Emphasizing minimalism, modern kitchens focus on form, using sleek cabinetry, straight lines, and often repurposed materials. Appliances merge beauty with function.
Color in Modern Kitchens: While traditional modern kitchens favored muted tones, today’s trends embrace diverse colors, from monochromes to bright accents, without overshadowing minimalism.
Warming Modern Kitchens: Despite their perceived coldness, modern kitchens can be made inviting with warm tones, varied textures, and elements like kitchen islands.
In essence, modern kitchen design offers a flexible framework, allowing for a blend of history, art, and personal resonance.
Here’s a look at the history and design fundamentals of the modern kitchen.
MODERN, MODERNIST, OR MODERN-ISH?
In day-to-day life, “modern” and “contemporary” mean the same thing. In the design world, however, these words each have specific meanings.
The difference between modern and contemporary is subtle. If you say “modern” when you mean “contemporary,” you won’t end up with the wrong kitchen. But knowing the difference can help you have a better idea of what you want from your design and help you find inspiration in unlikely places.
Modern Vs. Contemporary
“Modern” began with “modernism,” an early 20th-century movement in art and design that reimagined the way we look at the spaces around us. Think Picasso and Eames chairs. Modernism focused on minimalism, clean lines, and functionality. Ikea Furniture actually gets a lot of inspiration from this less-is-more philosophy.
Mid-century modernism gave us the iconic 1960s southern California home with its open floor plan, straight lines, and muted color palate.
Contemporary design is a bit easier to pin down: it’s whatever’s happening today. But that’s not the end of the story; contemporary design trends are heavily influenced by mid-century modern styles. It’s difficult to talk about one without exploring the other.
But We’re In The 21st Century…
If contemporary is what’s happening today, aren’t all today’s kitchens contemporary? Not really. A Tuscan or country kitchen might have modern appliances, but its basic setup would be familiar to someone who traveled in time from the 1800s.
Contemporary kitchens draw from the past, too, but their focus is the more recent past, the 2nd half of the 20th century.
Modern Is Trending…Again
Styles have a way of coming back around. Contemporary kitchen design has more in common with the midcentury modern kitchen than it does with the more recent kitchens of the 80s or 90s.
The advantage of designing a modern kitchen today is that you have all of history to work with. You can take what you like from modern design and mix and match it with other styles, from contemporary to industrial or even rustic.
Unless you’re faithfully restoring a home or trying to design a totally authentic mid-century modern kitchen, you’ll probably have the best results using modern design as a starting point and not a rule book for your kitchen remodel.
MODERN KITCHEN DESIGN
The modern design invites you to appreciate the form of the space around you. There are a few vital elements that create that effect.
Modern design does away with decoration and anything unnecessary. In a kitchen, this means no ornate wall cabinetry—or just shelves instead of cabinets.
Minimalism draws your eyes to the details because there are no other distractions. For example, many modern kitchen cabinets have done away with handles. Your eyes are drawn to the color and shape of the cabinets, not to the little metal doodads you use to open them.
Clean Lines And Curves
Modern kitchens are all about clean, straight lines and angles. “Sleek” is a word that comes up again and again when you read about this style.
A contemporary kitchen can keep the same minimal, sleek aesthetic but soften things with more curves.
All In The Details
The more minimalist your design, the more the little details will stand out.
Blogger Aimee Song told House Beautiful about not wanting her kitchen to be “too this or too that.” By focusing on the details, she designed a completely personalized kitchen. Song saved on cabinetry by going with a simple off-the-shelf model and putting that money towards unique 3” marble countertops. By keeping the cabinets simple, she made the countertops stand out.
Found, Vintage, And Repurposed Materials
Authenticity can be an ongoing hunt for found items that fit in nicely alongside state-of-the-art appliances.
You probably don’t want a fridge from the 1960s, not after you get the electric bill anyway… but reclaimed wood or antique hanging lamps can give your kitchen an accent you can’t replicate with something new.
Beauty Meets Function
Some appliances just get the job done. Others look gorgeous while they do it. A modern kitchen is a perfect place for objects like a KitchenAid mixer or a Bialetti Moka Pot espresso maker that do their job spectacularly and look stunning when they’re not in use.
COLOR FOR MODERN KITCHENS
Traditionally, the modern kitchen has a muted, natural color palate. Lots of wood. Lots of grey and beige. Nowadays, the trend is towards more diverse color options that either throw out the modern palate or remix it in a warmer or more playful way.
Many modern kitchens are black and white. Others are black or white. A monochrome color scheme is visual minimalism.
An all-black kitchen might sound a bit intense, but you can soften the look with other modern touches like wood accents. House Beautiful recommends wood with black for warmth and a more comfortable everyday feel.
Accents And Highlights
In a kitchen with a monochrome or muted color scheme, any bright colors are going to pop and have more presence in the room. This is especially true in an all-white kitchen.
You can add color with a backsplash, bright tiles, or colorful appliances.
Natural Tones Revisited
The mid-century modern kitchen features a lot of wood and earth tones. By including these in your updated modern design, you can nod to mid-century inspiration without looking dated.
The kitchen became a place to hang out around the time mid-century modernism took off. Ever since then, kitchen islands have been a sought-after feature in modern and contemporary kitchens.
All the style and color features we’ve mentioned apply to the modern island. The island can be a contrast or a complement to the style of the rest of the room.
WARMING IT UP
Modern and contemporary kitchens can be a bit cold and severe, but they don’t have to be. With the right materials, textures, and use of light and color, you can add some warmth and brightness and make the room feel more livable and less like an abstract design statement.
The modern style is a way of looking at kitchen design, not a firm set of rules. Don’t let definitions trip you up. Use a modern style as a starting point, and do what inspires you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between “modern” and “contemporary” in the context of kitchen design?
In kitchen design, “modern” refers to a style that began with “modernism” in the early 20th century, characterized by minimalism, clean lines, and functionality. “Contemporary” design refers to whatever is current or happening today, but it is often influenced by mid-century modern styles.
What are some characteristics of the modern kitchen design?
Modern kitchen design emphasizes minimalism, clean lines, and functionality. It often lacks ornate decoration, has straight lines and angles, focuses on small but impactful details, and might incorporate found vintage or repurposed materials. Appliances in a modern kitchen are both functional and aesthetically pleasing.
How does the color palette for modern kitchens typically look?
Traditionally, modern kitchens have a muted, natural color palette with lots of wood, grey, and beige. However, current trends also include diverse color options, monochrome schemes, and bright accents or highlights.
What role do kitchen islands play in modern and contemporary kitchen design?
Kitchen islands became popular around the time mid-century modernism took off and have since been a sought-after feature in both modern and contemporary kitchens. The island’s style and color can either contrast or complement the overall room design.
How can one make a modern kitchen feel warmer and more inviting?
While modern and contemporary kitchens can sometimes feel cold or severe, adding the right materials, textures, light, and color can introduce warmth and brightness, making the space feel more comfortable and less like a mere design statement.
Kimberly Villa is a recognized expert in the Home Design and Remodeling industry. Her passion for the industry is matched only by her love for sharing insights, new trends, and design ideas. Kimberly’s expertise and enthusiasm shine through in her contributions to the Kaminskiy Design and Remodeling website blog, where she regularly shares valuable information with readers.