Bright ideas to inspire you

In interior design the terms Modern, Contemporary, Traditional, Olde World, Cottage, Charming, Mediterranean, Vintage, Art Deco, Farmhouse, Country and so on, usually mean something quite different from their meaning just about anywhere else.

Have you ever been confused by the jargon kitchen designers, architects, fabricators, contractors or suppliers use? Lucky you if you understand all of them!
Part of the confusion can be found because different people use terms interchangeably, when in fact they mean very different things. For instance, there is great confusion between modern and contemporary.

Here are some guidelines to help you pick exactly what you really want, without the confusion of industry jargon or trying to figure out what your kitchen designer means when talking about modern or contemporary kitchen designs. Separate articles which further elaborate on other styles, can be found on

Modern kitchen design

Contrary to what one might believe, modern design refers mostly to an era that has already passed up to the present. It was popularised in the 1940’s and 1950’s when sleek lines and bright colours started replacing the embellishments and dark colours of grandma’s kitchen. Those concepts have been carried forward into the 21st century, with the benefit of many additional modern materials and technology.

Modern in this context refers to a style in which clean lines, minimal embellishments, functionality and efficiency are the priority.

  • A modern kitchen design emphasises a streamlined look and feel, with functional use of space and accessories.
  • To keep the space from feeling clinical, modern kitchen design styles tend to use a substantial mix of natural materials, often using wooden or earth-friendly materials such as natural stone, solid surface or quartz worktops.
  • Decorative pieces tend to be functional and are not merely ornamental; or conversely, functional pieces are designed with an appealing aesthetic appearance, and sometimes these even become the central focus of the design. Examples would be integrated basins and sinks of the same material, turning a functional item into a feature, or decorative faucets and taps, metallic or brightly coloured appliances, or integrated lighting, backsplashes and downturns and end designs on worktops, etc.
  • Although modern kitchen design focuses on sleek, clean lines and often minimalism, they are not meant to be cold or stark. In fact, they are usually filled with warm, natural materials and colours, either harmonising or contrasting cabinets and worktops. Solid surface, natural stone and quartz worktops are perfect for any modern kitchen.
  • Earthy, natural colour palettes are one of the most distinct elements in modern design, typically focusing on natural hues and shades of brown, rust, turquoise and greens, although some modern materials such as quartz and solid surface have expanded these choices considerably with more vibrant colours and even the three dimensional sparkle of quartz.
  • A typical element of modern design is the frequent use of geometric shapes and elements, from cabinets, to worktops, appliances and lighting fixtures.


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Contemporary kitchen design

Contemporary design is not only about being modern, it is about “living at the moment” and, to some extent, even what is projected into the future. It borrows freely from other design styles and uses materials, products and finishes that have often only recently been developed and which are in vogue right now. To illustrate the point, if you bought a house that was built in the past fifty years or so, and which has not been recently remodelled or renovated, you might very well have a modern kitchen, but it won’t necessarily be contemporary.

Contemporary style is more fluid than any of the others and is constantly evolving. It tends to take inspiration and styling cues from different eras, often combining them in either harmony or contrast.

Styles embrace similar concepts to modern design, by using natural materials, but they would often be paired with the latest concrete, steel, glass, solid surface, quartz or other industrial-inspired elements.

Decorative pieces usually focus more on form and aesthetic charm, than on function. Example could be a sculpture or furniture formed from the same solid surface material as the worktops, fashioned faucets and taps, or curved/shaped/formed worktops.

As a variation, contemporary kitchen might have a bold starkness in them in terms of monochromatic black and white combinations, although it may also swing from one extreme to the other on the colour palette. Worktops in natural stone, solid surface in a large variety of colours and textures, quartz, highly polished solid wood, or glass lend themselves perfectly to a contemporary design.

The style blends comfort and sophistication with a fresh look and feel. Designs are usually curvier and more organic, particularly in silhouette, to offset the starkness of colour, than those in a modern design. Integrated basins, arches, curvier backsplashes and downturns and end design on worktops can create endless possibilities.

Metals, such as nickel, stainless steel, gold, silver, and chrome are also popular, often combined with quartz, glass or crystal.

It tends to stick to a stricter monochromatic combination of black & white and grey, but other brighter colours can be brought in, although they are usually pure and saturated tones like indigo, red, and orange. Modern worktops materials such as solid surface and quartz, have developed vivacious colours perfectly suited to a contemporary kitchen.

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