Modern design is part of the larger movement of modernism. Modernism is usually dated back to around the end of the 19th century, although there are examples of modernist thought before that time.
Modernism was a rejection of the ornate flourishes of other design styles, such as Gothic, Renaissance and Victorian styles of design. Therefore, many of the different modern designs have several common components of which the design themes have become associated with modern design.
Clean Straight Lines
Modern design was meant to be the antithesis of the previous design styles which used heavy textures, carvings and wood tones throughout the home. Therefore, most components of modern design, from the furniture to the shape of the rooms, includes clean, straight lines with no additional detail. This differs slightly from contemporary design, which uses curves and sweeping lines; modern design's lines are crisper, sharper and very spare.
Use of Metal
Chrome and stainless steel make up a big part of modern design. Doing away with traditional metal details (like wrought iron) opens up the door for clean, polished metals to be used in their place.
It's not uncommon to see chrome or stainless steel as part of the furniture, such as table legs or exposed portions of a chair's frame. Chrome is used extensively throughout the home seen in faucets, doorknobs, cabinet handles, lamps and railings. Polished chrome has a very high shine and a slightly blue undertone that makes it appear very cold, which helped it fit in well with modern design's mission for moving away with older, more "lived in" styles.
Minimalism plays an integral part in modern design, contemporary modern design and contemporary design. The basics of minimalism include a "less is more" approach to designing a space. This means there are no superfluous details such as columns, moldings, cabinet trim, excessive use of color or excessive use of textiles.
Minimalist design can be thought of as spare, but in reality it takes a lot of planning to ensure that what's included in the home is absolutely necessary. Minimalist homes are often far more comfortable than they appear, due to the way they are streamlined for efficiency.
Lack of Clutter
A lack of clutter ties into the minimalist approach to modern design. While clutter can mean many things to different people, in regards to modern design it refers primarily to accessories. This means no knick-knacks, vases, pottery, collections or excessive use of throw pillows, rugs or blankets. Any necessary items, including books, electronics and keepsakes are kept either out of sight inside a cabinet or closet, or are built into the home with built in shelves or hidden storage beneath benches or window seats.
Bold Accent Colors
The majority of homes decorated in modern styles use neutral colors and shades of black and white exclusively throughout the home. Bold, often primary colors are used as accents to help break up the neutrals and provide focal points. These colors are often introduced sparingly, and rarely used as an all-over wall color. Examples of how to use bold colors in modern design may include: