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Modern Kitchen Design – What makes it different from Contemporary?

(This article has been Australianised from and Article on the website)

Modern kitchens

Definitions of “modern” vary widely, but when we think of modern kitchen designs, we often think of frameless cabinets, sleek and simple hardware, strong horizontal lines and a lack of ornamentation, with the natural beauty of the materials shining through. Sometimes in the past we have referred to these as ‘Minimalistic” but use of that term has gone out of style a bit.


It can be difficult to distinguish between modern and contemporary, and for good reason. Many spaces are both modern and contemporary, and people often use the terms interchangeably, but there are differences in look and terminology. “Contemporary” typically means of the moment or current, the design of right now. “Modern” refers to a specific design style from the early to mid 20th century that broke with the traditional styles of the days before the Industrial Revolution.

“Modern” can be a tricky term because sometimes it’s used to describe something that’s the opposite of traditional, which varies depending on the time period. The decision of women in the 1920s to swap corsets for flapper dresses was modern at the time, but today those clothes are antiques.

Currently, when we speak of modern kitchen designs, think of frameless cabinets, sleek and simple hardware, strong horizontal lines and a lack of ornamentation, with the natural beauty of the materials shining through.

1. Flat-panel door style. This is sometimes referred to as a slab-door style and is a signature element of modern kitchen design. You might see a modern kitchen using a Shaker door style, but that often falls into transitional rather than modern — which is not to say it can’t be used; it’s just not a purist’s perspective.

2. Frameless, full-overlay cabinet construction. A bunch of terms are thrown around to describe this type of cabinet construction: frameless, Euro frameless, overlay, full overlay. They all mean the same thing, that the door overlays the cabinet box. This style is the most often used in modern kitchens because it’s sleeker than a flush-inset cabinet, which is often associated with more traditional kitchen, cabinet and furniture design.


In a true frameless cabinet you won’t see a face frame at all, and you’ll get consistent spacing between all the doors and drawers, even between two cabinets. In what’s called a framed overlay, you will still have a face frame and varying space between doors and cabinets.

Diagram courtesy of Kitchens Made New

 3. Sleek and simple hardware. In modern kitchens you’ll most often see C-channel hardware that’s integrated into the cabinet, as well as tubular pulls or flat linear pulls. Lots of times the horizontal lines of the cabinets will be accentuated by cabinet hardware running the full length of the drawers and doors. You can see this integrated C pull in the turquoise kitchen above.


4. Lack of ornamentation. Always a signature of modern, this is often where contemporary and modern stop being similar. Whereas you might see patterned tile shapes or multiple materials with texture, color and patina in a contemporary kitchen, you won’t see much of that in a modern kitchen. Flat-panel door styles and sleek hardware are joined here by a simple full-height glass backsplash and countertops without any pattern or veining.


5. Reliance on the beauty of natural materials. It’s not to say that modern kitchens can’t have a little bit of ornamentation, but when they do, they get it from the natural characteristics in a material, such as the horizontal grain of oak when it’s rift cut or the natural beauty and veining of marble.


The grain of the walnut on this island is all this modern kitchen needs in terms of ornamentation. Note the rest of the kitchen is white and stainless.


6. Emphasis on horizontal lines. You might not notice at first, but many modern kitchens share a tendency toward the horizontal: long, wide lines, stacks of drawer cabinets lined in a row, hardware set long and horizontal to accentuate the lines of the drawers. In this kitchen the floating panel of the back wall and the cutout accentuate the horizontal theme.


These cabinets have horizontal grooves in addition to the grain being horizontal on all the cabinet fronts. In a traditional kitchen the grain might be run vertically on doors or centre panels with a vertical orientation. The dual colour element minimises visual clutter.


In this kitchen, the island itself makes a strong horizontal statement. We love Mal Corboy and his effortless kiwi style.


7. Consistency in style of accent pieces. Accents like lighting, tables, chairs and bar stools all have to be considered when designing a kitchen. In a modern kitchen these elements will stay consistent rather than deviate like you’d see in an eclectic kitchen. The pieces here show simple, clean lines and lack of ornamentation. Check also the light shade and the coffee machine. The two box feature elements of the overhead and the island bench.


So often when we see clients they are connected about incorporating a modern kitchen design into their period style home. I always think that we don’t cook, eat or purchase food like Edwardians or Victorians, so why have a kitchen like a Victorian?

In this example, sleek bar stools and pendant lights are consistent with modern style, but this mdoern kitchen is in a Victorian home complete with leaded glass windows and arches with columns. There’s no rule that says the architecture and the kitchen have to both be modern — hundreds of century-old apartments and farmhouses with modern kitchens in Italy, France, and Spain can attest to that.


Cre8tive Interior Designs
Check out the incorporation of mid century and seventies colours in this kitchen design. There’s nothing to say that colour can’t be introduced into a modern kitchen, whether it’s in the accents or the cabinets.

Want a Modern Kitchen? Call us on 1300 662 838 to speak with one of our award winning designers or arrange free in-home consultation today. You can also get our inspiration guide for more kitchen renovation ideas and advices.

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