Contemporary, Midcentury Modern and Minimalist Bedroom Design

Learn the difference between these three commonly used terms.

Three words you’ll frequently hear when it comes to decorating are “modern,” “contemporary” and "minimalist.” All three themes are quite popular in bedroom décor – as well as throughout the rest of the home – and all three words are often used interchangeably.  Although there is considerable overlap between these decorating styles, they are actually not synonymous. Learn the difference between these three decorating concepts. 

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    Midcentury Modern Style

    Midcentury Modern Decorating Style
    Midcentury modern actually refers to the mid-1900s. Photo courtesy of Decoist

    One of the confusing aspects of the modern (often referred to as midcentury modern) decorating style is that it does not refer to futuristic, new-age décor as the name seems to imply, but is actually a decorating movement from the mid-1900s -- particularly the 1920s through the 1950s.  Breaking away from earlier decorating styles, which tended to be ornate and often handcrafted, the modern movement embraced mass production and simple lines.

    A midcentury modern color scheme is mostly neutral: white walls, bare wood floors, furnishings in cream, gray, brown and white. Touches of color come mostly from artwork or small accent furniture – pops of orange, blue, red and yellow are particularly favored.

    Modern furniture typically has a long and low shape. Rather than boxy furniture that sits directly on the floor, the modern style raises furniture up on legs, typically made from chrome or other metal. This gives the room an open, airy feel.

    Although wood-frame furniture with leather or linen upholstery is typical of midcentury modern style, the new look stretched to include molded plastic, plywood, and chrome. Picture a plastic, orange, molded chair with chrome legs – that’s modern design.

    While the modern style is not bleak or lifeless, it’s also not excessively cluttered or adorned. Decorative accessories are kept to a minimum, often just a few pieces of large artwork or unique collectibles. 

    This bedroom is decorated in Scandinavian midcentury modern style. Note the soft palette, the airy feel feel and the clean lines. 

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    Contemporary Decorating

    contemporary bedroom with dark brown walls
    Dark walls are a very popular contemporary look. Photo courtesy of Glubdub

    Contemporary style is a relative term – it is not tied to a specific time period, but rather, refers to the styles, materials, and ideas that are popular in the current day, whenever that day may be. Because of that, it is a fluid concept that changes with trends, new technology, and lifestyle changes. At one time, Victorian décor was contemporary, and given a few decades, today’s “contemporary” will become vintage.

    Currently, contemporary design embraces a great deal of midcentury modern style, thus the overlap in these two terms. But contemporary style adds an eclectic, personalized twist to the modern look, making it far more adaptable, livable, and comfortable. In the contemporary take on modern décor, simple lines, unfussy design, and neutral colors are still predominant-- however, you are also likely to find far more colorful accents, rounded or soft lines, and  luxurious touches like overstuffed upholstery, layered fabrics, and quirky artwork. 

    This contemporary bedroom shows a lot of modern influence in the clean lines and chrome legs of the furniture. But the retro shaggy rug; the global-inspired throw pillows, mirror and bedside accessories; and the strong brown walls add today's flavor to the mix. 

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    Minimalist Decor

    minimalist bedroom decor
    Interesting or beautiful light fixtures are a common way to add style to a minimalist room. Photo courtesy of Heim Decor

    The minimalist movement is far more than a decorating theme – it’s a way of life best summed up by the motto, “Less is more.” Living simply, owning just what you need, generating as little waste as possible, and keeping life uncluttered are hallmarks of minimalism. When it comes to decorating in this contemporary fashion, many people make the mistake of thinking minimalism has to mean stark and without any accessories. While the look is very uncluttered, clean, and devoid of excessive pattern or color, it is not without personality. The key is to keep the palette limited to just one or two soft colors – white, black, and gray are common – leave as much open space in the room as possible, and keep the surfaces of furniture mostly bare. Add character with touches of subdued color, a few well-chosen accessories, and a bit of contrasting texture throughout the room.

    This bedroom shows off true minimalist style with a palette limited to black and white, pattern and a bit of color added with a striped rug, clean lines without clutter, and simple yet striking accessories. A platform bedwith a very simple headboard -- or no headboard at all -- is a minimalist bedroom must.