Modern & Contemporary Style Lighting: A Tale of Two Styles

Modern & Contemporary Style Lighting: A Tale of Two Styles

It's not at all unusual to assume that the terms "contemporary" and "modern" are essentially interchangeable when it comes to lighting design. Actually, depending who you ask, they may be! However, most of the time, you will find that designers, artists, and other individuals have distinctions between the two styles based on certain elements or characteristics.

This guide will be very helpful when shopping for a modern or contemporary lighting on our site, but may not work when you are shopping for contemporary furniture, mid-century modern art, or a new contemporary kitchen sink. This is again due to the relativity of the two style descriptions. For your lighting needs however, we truly believe this guide will help you to learn some of the most basic agreed upon differences, some elements of history, and several of the characteristics of our modern and contemporary lighting products.

Based on our research, we can certainly understand where all of the confusion comes from! Luckily, we have created a guide which will help to give you our expert opinions on the difference between the lighting styles and where they overlap. Additionally, you will learn about the main characteristics of each style and some of our top products which truly represent the two different looks-- Afterall, this is the tale of two styles.

What is the Difference Between Modern and Contemporary Lighting?

The difference between modern and contemporary lighting is often relative to the individual or perspective. In this style guide, you will find that our distinction between the two styles is based on our line of lighting products, collections, and our universal Del Mar definition.

As shown in the Venn diagram below, modern design and contemporary design overlap to form modern-contemporary design. Modern and contemporary design both share minimalist design elements, a mixture of materials, as well as clean and simple lines. Modern design is differentiated by solid colors, sharp angles, and intentional symmetry, while contemporary design is distinguished by the use of shapes and patterns, unique forms, and curved lines.

Pictured is a venn diagram comparing the different elements of modern and contemporary lighting styles.

Below you will find a examples of modern, modern-contemporary, and contemporary lighting in each of the major product categories from left to right. We hope this helps you get a better visual understanding of the differences between the styles. On the left will be a modern lighting example, in the middle a modern-contemporary example, and, finally, an example of contemporary style on the right.

Jump to Product Examples!

What is Modern Lighting?

Modern design can be thought of as a branch on the tree of static design. Notable for simplicity and a clean look, modern designs are often also minimalistic and are era specific. This is where the first rule of thumb comes from that modern is more simple and united. The modern style was born in the early 20th century and hit its peak popularity between the 1950s and 1960s.

This specific type of modern style is often referred to as mid-century modern. The wooden elements of modern design often point to mid-century modern because of the popular and elegant furniture which was created in this time period. Most of the furniture from this time period had wooden legs, backs, or embellishments. Modern design should not be confused with retro design, as retro designs are often considered more artistic with pops of funky colors.

What are the Characteristics of Modern Lighting?

  • Solid colors.
  • Neutral colors.
  • Angled assemblage which often incorporates distinct right angles.
  • Intentional symmetry.
  • Natural materials such as wood and stone.
  • Era-specific designs which clearly pull from a single time period within the early to mid-1900s.

Lauren's Product Spotlight

Pictured is a white-walled and neutral-toned living room with two nine-light pendants hanging in the corner.

Modern Lighting Spotlight Product

The Fizz Mini Pendant by ET2 is the epitome of modern design when it comes to lighting. The Fizz brings forth straight, clean lines with a seamless flow. The Fizz also has LED lighting with bubble glass, and dimming capabilities for a superb lighting experience. This pendant is available in either a Polished Chrome or a Bronze finish. Additionally, the light is further customizable to your home as it can be purchased with five, seven, or nine pendants.

Modern Lighting Highlighted Collection

The Fizz is not only available as a pendant but is part of a larger collection, the Fizz Collection by ET2, brings other pendant designs, wall sconces, vanities, and ceiling lights of the same style and materials. The Fizz Collection is a beautiful and modern line to shop. So not only does the Fizz pendant deserve a spotlight, but the Fizz collection demands a highlight and round of applause!

Shop the Fizz Collection!

What is Contemporary Lighting?

If you think of modern style as more static, then you can think of "contemporary" as a branch growing from the a different tree- the tree of dynamic design. Simply put, dynamic design embraces change and is described as "adding new life" to its creations, which you will see is a major component of contemporary design.

Here, is where the rule of thumb applies that contemporary can also be thought of as architectural. Born in the 1970s and ever-changing, the term "contemporary" captures all designs being produced to match current trends. For this reason, light fixtures which feature a variety of style combinations for means of creating something unique and appealing, are labeled contemporary. So, this is where the adage has been made clear! While all contemporary designs pull from modern styles, modern is very era exclusive and is only considered to be modern--not contemporary.

What are the Characteristics of Contemporary Lighting?

  • Inclusion of shapes and patterns.
  • Glass and metal elements.
  • Reflections of past trends or current trends which have been combined into one design to be seen as "trendy."
  • Combinations of elements from different time periods.
  • Curved lines.
  • Unique forms.
  • An emphasis on comfort.
  • The inclusion of dynamic design.

Lauren's Product Spotlight

Pictured are two lustrous pendants in polished nickel with glass shades hanging over a kitchen island.

Contemporary Lighting Spotlight Product

Taking the spotlight for contemporary lighting is the Feiss Harrow Pendant. Pendants are versatile and this piece is an exceptionally great choice for any room in my opinion! Not only is this pendant available with either one or three bulbs, but it is available in two finishes which bring contemporary style: Polished Nickel and Oil Rubbed Bronze. The tapered shade and seedy glass combined with the square-linked chain and sleek frame bring an elevated and contemporary feel. The Harrow includes four visible bulbs for maximum light!

Contemporary Lighting Highlighted Collection

The Harrow Collection by Feiss additionally offers wall sconces, semi-flush and flush mount lighting, as well as other pendant styles. By pairing the Harrow pendant with wall sconces of the same collection, you can easily add an additional touch of comtemporary lighting style!

Shop the Harrow Collection!

What is Modern-Contemporary Lighting

Since there is such a controversy over the clear divide between modern and contemporary style, the combination of the two styles easily share some characteristics. These specific shared elements often seem to be the reason that many see modern design and contemporary design as indistinguishable.

It doesn't make it any easier when we tell you that, in addition to these shared elements, contemporary design often incorporates elements of mid-century modernism. However, the similar design elements can also be an advantage, as modern products can be used in combination with contemporary products when furnishing a room.

What are the Characteristics of Modern-Contemporary Lighting?

  • Minimalistic designs.
  • Clean and simple lines.
  • Open space within the design.
  • A fresh appearance.
  • Incorporation of many material types such as woods and metals.

Shop All Modern & Contemporary Lighting!

Lauren's Product Spotlight

Pictured is white-shaded light over a dining table with plates and wine.

Modern-Contemporary Lighting Spotlight Product

Combining elements of both modern and contemporary design, the Domus pendant by Justice Design brings gorgeous wood, curved design, and interesting assemblage. This lovely light fixture encapsulates both modern and contemporary style with such grace. It nods to the modern style with its wooden pieces and neutral colors, and yet still brings the best of contemporary style with its remarkable movement and new life. The Domus is UL listed for damp locations and would be a wonderful addition to any kitchen, dining area, or outdoor bar.

Modern-Contemporary Lighting Highlighted Collection

The Domus Collection by Justice Design brings floor lamps, wall sconces, and other fixtures as well that bring forth similar designs and beauty. This entired highlighted collection could easily be added around the home to tie your rooms together and keep a fluent style.

Shop the Domus Collection!

Why Buy from Del Mar Fans & Lighting?

Pictured are three icons to represent some of the reasons to shop with

There are many reasons to buy from Del Mar Fans and Lighting, however, here are just a few reasons we would like to bring attention to!

  • Returns for 90 days.
  • Free shipping on all orders of $40+.
  • A safe shopping experience.

To learn more about these Del Mar policies, please visit our full page Why Buy from Del Mar Fans & Lighting.

Ceiling Lighting

Ceiling lighting is not only a subtle way to bring style into your home but a wonderful way to save space. Ceiling lighting mounts flush to the ceiling or mounts in a semi-flush manner. With glass shades, curved metal work, or sandy colors, the style will be within the details of these smaller lighting fixtures. This means that while ceiling lighting may be more subtle and small, you can still easily bring modern or contemporary style to your home!

Shop All Modern-Contemporary Ceiling Lighting!

Wall Lighting

Wall lighting is an additional way to bring a subtle nod of modern-contemporary style to the room. With wall lighting, you can bring a rich and warm light to your hallways, bathrooms, and any other desirable areas. No more tiptoeing to the bathroom and trying to avoid a trip! Wall lighting's style will also be found in the small things. Some sconces may bring wooden cages with straight lines while others are designed of curved swirls and metallic finishes. The difference is in the design and you can bring the modern feel or contemporary vibe right down the hall with wall sconces!

Shop All Modern-Contemporary Wall Lighting!


One of the most popular ways to bring dramatic lighting and accentuate the style your home is to add a chandelier. Chandeliers range in size but certainly demand attention. Whether it's the way they seamlessly flow with the room, or the extravagant way in which they stand out, modern and contemporary chandeliers can help you to center your room, further your style, and provide a great amount of lighting to any room.

Shop All Modern-Contemporary Chandeliers!

Outdoor Wall Lighting

Who ever said that exterior style wasn't just as important as the style you are bringing on the inside? Not only can outdoor lighting extend your existing style, but it can help to heighten your curb appeal and provide safety after hours. One of the easiest ways to bring modern and contemporary style with outdoor lighting is through the use of wall lights. Outdoor wall lights are one of the most popular ways to add exterior lighting as well. Not only can they be placed in your entryway by the door, but they can also be added your outdoor patio or deck.

Shop All Modern-Contemporary Outdoor Lighting!

Pendant Lighting

If you are aiming to add elegance to your kitchen, entryway, or den, it is the perfect time to consider pendant lighting. Pendants lights can serve as a fabulous centerpiece and can really bring the drama when they have been grouped together. Many times, shopping for the same pendant in different colors and hanging them together above your kitchen island or dining room table is the perfect touch!

Shop All Modern-Contemporary Pendants!


When your room is certainly rocking the modern-contemporary style but you feel like it could you touch of light in a particular spot, lamps are the perfect addition to consider. Both table lamps and floor lamps bring a touch of style that can be easily moved about the room as you see fit. Not only are lamps a classic touch, but they can help provide light for reading, homework, or the cheese and crackers you'd like to dig into while relaxing on the sofa.

Shop All Modern-Contemporary Lamps!

Ceiling Fans with Lights

If you're wondering whether or not your ceiling fan can really bring that much style into your home, well then let me go ahead and say, of course! In fact, ceiling fans with lights are a wonderful option for the living room, bedroom, or any room you're looking to cool off and light simultaneously. Modern and contemporary ceiling fans with lights bring a beautiful array of different blade shapes, materials, and designs to best suit your needs. With these fans, you can add a centerpiece that not only brightens the room but helps to make it even more comfortable.

Shop All Modern-Contemporary Ceiling Fans with Lights!

In Conclusion

To reiterate, when you are on the search to define the two terms "modern" and "contemporary", you may find that the definitions are almost identical in some cases. Whether it's pendants or outdoor lighting, there are so many ways to bring modern, contemporary, or even mid-century modern style to your home. The only tricky part seems to be nailing down which style your room actually is. Is my home modern or contemporary? If you find yourself asking that question, or needing to decipher between the two, you can always refer back to this guide for a little help. If you would like more assistance tracking down the perfect product for your home, you can always reach our ceiling fan and lighting experts at 1-800-724-5501, or you can click to chat!

Shop All Modern-Contemporary Lighting!

Pictured is a sliver of the Terna ceiling fan and the text saying

Related Posts

Additional Resources

  • Modern vs. Contemporary Design: What’s the Difference?
  • Modern vs Contemporary Design Styles

  • How do you differentiate between modern and contemporary style? We would love your feedback! Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

    January 16, 2019
    295 view(s)