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What exactly is “Modern Design” anyway?

30. April 2018 10:54

By: Shelley Wehner, Cabinet Concepts by Design

Your prospective customer says they prefer a modern look, but you’re not quite sure what they mean. To put it simply, modern design focuses on minimalism, neutral colors, clean lines and environmentally-friendly materials. Modernism, at its core, rejects ornate flourishes of other design styles. Now that you understand the general meaning, specifically how would you implement modern design elements in the kitchen décor and other areas of the home?

Clean Straight Lines

Modern design is the antithesis of the previous design styles which used heavy textures, carvings and wood tones throughout the home. Because of this, most components of modern design from the furniture to the shape of the rooms include clean, straight lines with no additional detail. There are several different design types that fall into this category, particularly for furnishings, such as:

  • Mission style
  • Art Deco
  • Shaker

Any of these or other clean, spare furnishings are an integral part of modern interior design. Paired with the furnishings are things like:

  • Oversized tiles with rectified edges
  • Sanded wood floors that minimize the grain
  • Bookcases and shelves inset into walls, rather than protruding into the space
  • Open floor plans with few walls
  • Lack of moldings trimming windows, doors and walls

Use of Metal

Chrome and stainless steel make up a big part of modern design. Doing away with traditional metal details, like wrought iron for example, opens up the door for clean, polished metals to be used instead.

It's not uncommon to see chrome or stainless steel as part of the furniture, such as table legs or exposed portions of a chair's frame. Chrome is used extensively throughout the home seen in faucets, doorknobs, cabinet handles, lamps and railings. Polished chrome has a very high shine and a slightly blue undertone that makes it appear very cold, which helped it fit in well with modern design's mission for moving away with older, more "lived in" styles.


Minimalism plays an integral part in modern design, as well as contemporary modern design and contemporary design. The basics of minimalism include a "less is more" approach to designing a space. This means there are no superfluous details such as columns, moldings, cabinet trim, excessive use of color or excessive use of textiles.

Minimalist design can be thought of as sparse, but in reality it takes a lot of planning to ensure that what's included in the home is absolutely necessary. Minimalist homes are often far more comfortable than they appear, due to the way they are streamlined for efficiency.

Lack of Clutter

A lack of clutter ties into the minimalist approach to modern design. While clutter can mean many things to different people, in regards to modern design it refers primarily to accessories. This means no knick-knacks, vases, pottery, collections or excessive use of throw pillows, rugs or blankets. Any necessary items, including books, electronics and keepsakes are kept either out of sight inside a cabinet or closet, or are built into the home with built in shelves or hidden storage beneath benches or window seats.

Bold Accent Colors

The majority of homes decorated in modern styles use neutral colors and shades of black and white throughout the home. Bold, often primary, colors are only used as accents to help break up the neutrals and provide focal points. These colors are often introduced sparingly, and rarely used as an all-over wall color. Examples of how to use bold colors in modern design may include:

  • Abstract wall art
  • A single piece of furniture in a bold color like a red leather sofa or an orange plastic chair
  • A few bold-colored throw pillows
  • A single bold-colored throw rug

Learn more about modern design during a lively panel discussion during IWF called “Acing that modern job”. The panel features myself and two others who do modern work. We will explain our methods and tricks for executing award-winning modern cabinetry and millwork.


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