True modern style stems from an arts school in Germany. The school, Bauhaus, was in operation between 1919 and 1933. Founded by architect Walter Gropius, the school had a major impact on interior design, art, and architecture. “Mid-century modern” is a spinoff of modern style that developed during the 1930s through the mid-1960s and is a distinctly American version of the Bauhaus school of design. Mid-century modern tends to be less formal and more organic than its European counterpart.
Modern style shouldn’t be confused with contemporary style. While they do share some similarities, there are some major differences: Despite its name, modern style is quite old – it developed during the late 1800s. Contemporary design didn’t develop until the 1970s. Contemporary style borrows elements from art deco and takes a very futuristic approach to design. Contemporary style is minimalistic and curvy with very bold, often stark, color choices. In contrast, modern design is straight lines and natural or neutral colors, and it is much warmer than contemporary design.
Both styles rely heavily on glass, metals, and reflective surfaces. Modern design doesn’t include ornate, decorative items (contemporary does allow some of these elements). Furniture for both styles will include sofas and chairs that have exposed legs.
If you want to decorate your home in modern style, the key is simplicity – a modern room is uncluttered and somewhat sparse, but not empty or cold. Colors will be very neutral – for example, white, taupe, and cream. You’ll also want to include natural materials whenever possible –exposed beams, unpainted wood, concrete, stone, natural fibers, and metals. Windows should be left bare.
Get rid of excess throw pillows, fussy arrangements, excessive artwork, and unnecessary accessories. Think in lines, both horizontal and vertical. Items should be useful and accessible – function is important in modern design. Spaces should be open – think high ceilings and free-flowing spaces.
When selecting lighting, look for fixtures that have an industrial feel – chrome, glass, and steel. Consider using pendant lighting, track lighting, and lamps with simple, linear shapes. Use plenty of natural light, if possible. If you can't leave windows unadorned, look for light, airy coverings or just use simple blinds.
Modern design is quite easy to do on a limited budget because it epitomizes the notion, "less is more." Don't combine too many colors and keep them very muted. You can add a pop of color; just not too much – a red lamp, for example, in an otherwise gray and white room. Next, take out more than you'll bring in – get rid of the stacks of books and magazines, the tchotchkes, and the artwork you may currently have in the space. Instead, choose one element for the wall, such as a framed industrial label or an oversized clock made from chrome and wood. Add a planter with some bamboo or ornamental grass to the corner. Line up three tall, elegant vases on the fireplace mantel – and that's it.
When you go shopping, try looking in second-hand shops for very simple furniture – nothing overstuffed, fluffy, or bulky. The ideal would be modular furniture that sits low to the ground. Reupholster, if necessary, in a natural fabric. A Lucite coffee table or one made from glass and metal is a great addition to a modern living room. Keep your tabletops empty. If the blank space is too stark, go ahead and add a decorative element or two – just remember to limit the items and try to find things that are as useful as they are decorative.