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Urban vs Mid-Century Modern: What You Need to Know

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Urban vs Mid-Century Modern: What You Need to Know
4 min. read

Whether it’s mid-century modern or its close cousin, urban modern, the love for modern interior design continues to have a hold on the masses. While these two similar design styles have a lot in common, they also have unique features that set them apart.

If you’re not sure where mid-century ends and urban modern begins, or what the difference is between modern and contemporary, read on. We’ve broken down six key differences to help you decide whether you’re a little more mid-century or urban when it comes to your interior design.

How Modern is Modern?

The term modern is sometimes confused with contemporary in interior design. While contemporary refers to current popular styles, modern actually refers to a specific era from around the mid-1940s to the late 1950s.

Mid-century modern design 2

Image: David Papazian / Shutterstock.com

Mid-century modern style was born of the need for furnishings that fit smaller, post-war homes and were also lightweight and easy to move. Because these continue to be important factors in our current lifestyles, the style has seen a resurgence in recent years. But today’s homeowners also favor a bit more contemporary look – and that’s how urban modern came to be.

What is Urban Modern?

Urban modern interior design is a combination of mid-century, industrial and contemporary design styles. It’s the current-day solution for those who love the sleek lines and interesting shapes of mid-century modern but prefer a home that doesn’t feel like it’s straight out of the 50s.

Urban modern design 1

Image: 2M media / Shutterstock.com

Additionally, urban modern borrows many features from industrial design while also embracing the softer side of contemporary luxury. It’s edgier than mid-century modern with raw materials, yet still highlights the architectural drama of the era. The style arose from the urban dweller’s need for a comfortable and relaxing refuge from hectic city life.

Color Palette

Your preferred choice of colors may help you decide which of the modern design styles suits you best. Mid-century modern favors saturated, earthy hues – such as orange, gold and green. But, those vintage colors can date a room if they’re not used properly. However, because the style has been popular for so long, there are now a lot of newer versions of mid-century pieces on the market; you can often find the look in more current hues to create balance in your color scheme.

Mid-century modern design 1

Image: David Papazian / Shutterstock.com

Conversely, urban modern focuses on softer shades and leans toward a more contemporary, neutral color palette. Aim for a soothing backdrop of warm creams and beiges that complement an earthy, industrial color scheme. You can stick to neutral colors or add in touches of pale blue, green or yellow, but avoid bright, rich hues to maintain the calming aesthetic.

Urban modern design 2

Image: Svet_Feo / Shutterstock.com

Mix Up Your Materials

Mid-century modern tends to use a lot of natural materials like wood, leather, and stone. Furnishings feature wood frames and sturdy, low-pile materials. Teak, walnut and rosewood are popular for everything from chairs and tables to credenzas and hutches.

Mid-century modern design 3

Image: David Papazian / Shutterstock.com

Similarly, urban modern is both rugged and soft with a combination of rough wood, iron, and steel mixed with plush, luxurious materials. Think soft, cushy seating paired with wood and metal side tables.

Urban modern design 3

Image: Photographee.eu / Shutterstock.com

Keep it Minimal

Both styles prefer a clutter-free, minimalist aesthetic. Instead of filling your home with knick-knacks and decor, let the clean lines and interesting shapes be the center of attention. Keep accessories to a minimum and highlight a few pieces of great artwork. Or, bring in plants to add color and texture.

Look at Lighting

In styles that lean toward a minimalist design, lighting can play a huge role. When you don’t have a lot of decor, lighting can act as decoration or even art.  Mid-century and urban modern styles are no exception.

Urban modern lighting has an industrial edge with metal and wood fixtures and exposed filament lightbulbs. Consider a rectangular, metal-frame chandelier or a minimalist, deconstructed chandelier for statement lighting.

Conversely, mid-century lighting commonly features geometric shapes with brass accents and long arms. Statement chandeliers that make a big impression are a must-have for a mid-century space. Choose an oversized paper lantern or a bold sputnik chandelier for lighting that doubles as a focal point.

Now that you’ve got a handle on the differences between mid-century and urban modern, you can determine which style is best for you!

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