Contemporary design is very often confused with modern design. Yet there’s a big difference between the two, as the former merely means current. It is a type of modern furniture. The term modern in furniture design, focuses on design traits from the mid-1900's era, which is stuck in history, never to change. Examples of mid-century modern traits include geometric shapes, simple minimalism, clean straight lines, and the merging of white and neutral colors enhanced with a solitary bold color.
Contemporary design on the other hand, while often using these also adds current design traits and are ever changing. The confusion comes from the fact that the style of modern furniture happens to be the most popular style at the moment; therefore, most contemporary furniture would be considered modern.
Mid-century modern, which the term modern is actually derived from, has a colorful history. The historical period of mid century modern design lasted from the 1930's to the 1960's. It began with the German Bauhaus movement. Then it gained popularity in France primarily with le Corbusier.
Types of materials popular during this era included plastic, glass, chrome, steel and wood. Mid-century modern style then received it’s largest and most influential addition from the Scandinavians, primarily from the Danes and Finns. Renowned icons such as Saarinen, Aarnio, Aalto and Jacobsen quickly became well-known names, as did their furniture... the Tulip, Wishbone, Ball, Egg, Womb, Bubble, Spider, etc.
Later, inspired by the Europeans, American modernist designers such as the Eames (a husband and wife), Nelson and Noguchi began creating their own pieces of furniture.
So whether your a fan of the current contemporary styles, or prefer the classic modern styles classic icons of yesterday, it needs to be noted, that while these two styles can be very similar, they can also be vastly different.