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Mid-Century Modern vs Contemporary vs Industrial: The Rundown on These 3 Influential Styles

Stressless Buckingham seating

From prehistoric cave paintings to interior design as a flourishing industry, human beings have a long and storied history of decorating our spaces. And with each passing decade, cultural exchange and technology make it easier to be inspired by a plethora of styles.

Copenhagen is a prime example of this – founded in 1970 with the aim of bringing Scandinavian furniture to the American Southwest, it has expanded through the years to carry a range of premium brands in modern and contemporary design.

Even so, it can be tricky to differentiate between some of the more closely related styles. A chair one person calls “modern,” another may deem “contemporary,” while a third sees no difference between the two. Read on for an overview of three of today’s most popular styles for furniture and interiors – mid-century modern, contemporary, and industrial.

Mid-Century Modern

This is a specific movement falling under the umbrella of the larger and more varied designation of “modern.” True to its name, mid-century modern began in the 1940’s and remained popular into the 1960’s. Multiple factors during this era of American history led to the rise of this style. For instance:

• Many consumers felt weary of the flashier styles of earlier decades, such as Art Deco, and wanted a return to simplicity.
• Many designers, especially those that immigrated from Germany, were feeling inspired by the functional and futuristic German Bauhaus style.
• The post-World War II baby boom was putting a renewed focus on the nuclear family and, by extension, on functional furniture tailored to family needs.
• New technologies were making it easier to mass-produce furniture in a variety of materials.

Mid-century modern design thus reflected a preference for practical interiors that still emanated warmth and character. Defining traits of furniture in this style include:

• Functional rather than fanciful or decorative
• Clean and simple lines, often rounded or geometric
• Use of wood, especially teak, though glass and metal were also popular
• Mixing natural and manmade materials, such wood with vinyl or plastic
• Warm colors, earth tones, and bold pops of color as accent

The Essex Dining Table displays mid-century modern influence in its rounded edges and walnut-finished wood surfaces that emanate a warm and retro feel. The vertical detailing on the legs evokes tambour doors, another callback to the mid-century era.

Designed in Denmark, the Gaia Lounge Chair has a touch of mid-century modern flair. The curved lines of its back and armrests are simple yet stylish, while the swivel base makes it functional too.

The Stressless® Buckingham Sofa has plenty of mid-century touches, from the wooden frame with curved armrests to the tufted stitching on its leather upholstery. Add in a bold orange hue and the ability to recline, and you have a piece that’s a great callback to mid-century style.

Finally, try the Lodi Sofa for a dramatic and thoroughly fashionable piece whose all-over tufting and rich brown leather will make you feel like you’re relaxing in a mid-century lounge.


This term refers to whatever is in vogue at the present time. Since tastes and trends are ever-changing, there’s no one set definition of contemporary. Modern will always refer to various art and design movements from the early and mid-20th century, while contemporary will refer to something different year-by-year and era-by-era. However, one can arguably trace today’s idea of “contemporary” to the post-modern movement beginning in the 1970’s. With all this said, furniture considered contemporary now, in the early 2020’s, will often have these traits:

• Clean and sleek lines
• Organic or unconventional silhouettes, with emphasis on the aesthetic as well as the functional
• Prominent use of metal, such as steel and chrome, though glass is also popular
• Neutral or monochrome shades and a “cooler” color temperature contrasted with mid-century modern’s “warmer” color temperature

Cattelan Italia’s Diamond Mirror creates a contemporary impression the instant one sees it. With its geometric mirrored panels evoking the facets of a gemstone, Diamond is functional for everyday use while also being a one-of-a-kind work of art.

The MyFlower Cocktail Table is another contemporary piece that melds functionality and beauty. Its mechanism lets three grouped tabletops expand outward or close inward according to the user’s preference, while the flower shapes add a quirky touch.

Finally, the Carla Sectional is a larger piece that isn’t afraid to play with shape and material, as seen by its organic, curved design and white leather upholstery. Recalling the lines of natural forms, Carla’s soft silhouette creates an effect that is both soothing and stylish.


The roots of this style go back to the factories of the Industrial Revolution, with their high ceilings, open floor plans, and exposed brick, concrete, and steel. While these elements were for practicality and safety at first – for instance, plastering over walls would create a fire hazard so building materials were left exposed – they resurfaced as aesthetic choices in the 21st century. The catalyst for this resurgence was the housing shortage of the 2000’s, when disused factories were repurposed as apartments and their industrial features became trendy. Features of furniture in this style include:

• Clean lines and stark silhouettes, perhaps mimicking elements of industrial structures on a smaller scale
• Use of architectural materials, such as steel, concrete, and brick
• Taking material or parts from older items and re-using them in new pieces
• Neutral or monochrome colors, especially gray, black, and white

The Sonic LED Arc Lamp is a prime example of a piece with industrial influence. Great for providing overhead illumination, this arc lamp has a slim, curved frame that evokes the look of a streetlight.

The Gordon Deep Wood Table combines a traditional wooden tabletop with an industrial-inspired base made of metal rods that have the texture of rebar. The rods crisscross to form geometric patterns, evoking the look of architectural struts or telephone wires.

Clearly, one can see commonalities between the styles above, such as their simple lines, functional orientation, or understated colors. Indeed, a lot of furniture labeled as modern and contemporary displays a mix of various style influences.

So, what does this mean for you if you’re trying to decide what your aesthetic is, or looking to revamp your space? It can be fun to dive deeper into various art or design movements, but don’t get too caught up in labels if they decrease your enjoyment of the process at hand. Feel free to take an eclectic approach, mixing and matching pieces that speak to your singular sense of style. And if you feel stuck, stop into your local Copenhagen for inspiration or to chat with one of our friendly sales associates who would be happy to help you refine your vision.

Information in this post was sourced from the articles below. Visit the links to learn more about interior design movements and their history:

What Is Mid-Century Modern Style?
4 Characteristics of Mid-Century Modern Design
Contemporary Vs Modern Interior Design
Contemporary and Modern Interior Design: Definition and Differences
7 Characteristics of Industrial Style