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Is There A Difference Between Modern And Contemporary Stairs?

When building, extending or renovating, many people make the mistake of thinking that modern and contemporary stairs are exactly the same thing. This can lead to problems during the design phase, as you think you have asked for one style when you have, in fact, asked for another entirely. Whilst the terms contemporary and modern might be used interchangeably in everyday life, it is important to remember that they are very different and distinct styles.

Modern, stylish, contemporary image by Murisons


Understanding the history of both stair styles can often go a long way towards viewing them as completely different entities.

  • The modern style came into existence during the 1920s in Germany as a solution for simplifying the Victorian style. Even though it’s name has remained the same, it is not actually all that ‘modern’ anymore.
  • The contemporary style, on the other hand, didn’t come about until many years later and was primarily focused on variety and comfort. Since its inception, it has been the most up-to-date of all the styles.


As with many styles, there are a variety of sub-types that fall under the spectrum of either contemporary or modern stairs.

  • Some of the more popular modern stairs design sub-types include bohemian, mid century, and vintage. It will take a little more research to determine the differences between these sub-types.
  • Some of the more popular contemporary design sub-types include neutral, monochromatic and minimalistic colour schemes. These may not seem like sub-types in themselves, but they are.


One of the best (and easiest) ways to tell the difference between modern and contemporary stairs is by looking at their features.

  • Modern stairs are quite simple and sober with minimal accessories. They are often characterised by angular frames, low profiles, geometric and abstract patterns. Natural materials are commonly used (teak is a popular timber), whilst any lines are straight and unembellished. These stairs are often quite open in design, helping them to create an airy atmosphere, and neutrals are primarily used with occasional splashes of colour.
  • Contemporary stairs often deal with “the present moment” and reflect the style of the day. They are known to feature reflective surfaces, clean and sleek lines, innovative graphical patterns, unusual colours, rounded forms and asymmetrical designs. With this option, you are given the opportunity to play with colour and pattern. Polished marble, Lucite and stainless steel details are also quite common.


When trying to determine which style you should select for your home, it can help to take a closer look at the effect that each will have.

  • Modern stairs are known to convey a retro effect, as it often features vintage elements. In fact, vintage elements are often present in the other sub-types that we have outlined above.
  • Contemporary stairs, on the other hand, are known to convey a futuristic effect, as it often features similar elements. When we image stairs of the future, for example, this is what you get.

As you can see, there are, in fact, a multitude of differences between modern and contemporary stairs. Whilst they seem like similar designs (and are often referred to as such), it is important to remember their differences when it comes to these sorts of projects. Otherwise, you will be expecting modern-themed stairs and you will receive designs that are much more contemporary in nature. If you become confused (as often occurs), do not hesitate to speak with your designer.