In the world of home design, the word "modern" is a loaded term. Yes, it means contemporary and innovative, but so much of what's "in" right now has been done before. The most gorgeous modern houses of today took their inspiration from yesterday: the Art Deco designs of the 1910s, the straight, minimalist angles of the 1950s, and the wall-to-wall paneling of the 1970s. In fact, very little of what you see in an interior design magazine is actually new — instead, it's been reinvented and combined with other unexpected features to create the aesthetic that we call modern. As a result, contemporary designs can't be narrowed down to one specific style. You can have modern farmhouse, modern traditional, mid-century modern, modern industrial... the list goes on. What you can do, however, is pinpoint the specific elements that make a house look contemporary and work to incorporate them into your preferred style. Some of those elements include:
Natural elements: Nature has (obviously) always been around, but modern designers are taking extra steps to incorporate it into their designs. This could be mean lush landscapes outside and tons of plants inside — but it could also mean ample use of stone, wood, and plant materials.
Mid-century modern: This was the go-to decorating style of the '50s, '60s, and '70s (think Mad Men), but it has since made a full return. Its characteristics include minimalist pieces, squat designs, 90-degree angles, unique materials, and bold colors and patterns.
Scandinavian: This design style often overlaps with mid-century modern due to its simple functionality. Scandinavian style (named for the Nordic countries from which it emerged) prioritizes bright, monochromatic color schemes and natural elements.
Bauhaus: A German word and concept, this building style was created by architect Walter Gropius in the early 1900s. Its aim was to combine mass production with artistic vision, and it prompted the boxy shapes and sprawling windows that we often see in today's modern homes.
Minimalism: In short, minimalism believes that less is more. This movement skips the unnecessary clutter and opts for elements that are functional, simple, and sleek.
Light: You'll notice that modern designs incorporate plenty of light — both of the natural and synthetic variety. Ample windows and doors allow sunlight to flood in, bold fixtures act as statement pieces, and subtle built-in lighting helps open the space up.
Monochromatic color schemes: If you see any colors mixed together on a modern building, odds are they're bold and complementary. Otherwise, modern designs prioritize monochromatic color schemes, which means all of the shades are derived from a single hue.
Now that you know exactly which elements to look for, here are some of the most gorgeous modern homes that make expert use of them.
1. This Boxy Black House
No matter the style, a dark exterior can immediately bring a house into the 21st century. Why? It's chic, unexpected, and makes all other colors pop. This home was modern to begin with due to its big windows and boxy build — but thanks to a little black paint, it's now a contemporary designer's dream.
2. A Stark Color Scheme
There's something so refreshing about an all-black-and-white palette. If painted another color, this tiny house could've easily been lost among its neighbors — but because the lights and trim pop against a stark-white background, it's hard to miss. We also love the welcoming mid-century yard furniture and all of those natural elements.
3. Built Up Rather Than Out
Small lot? No problem. Build straight up and the rectangular result will contribute to the home's modern aesthetic. This particular build used industrial picture windows and unique slatted shutters which act as both practical features and an eye-catching statements.
4. A Nod To Nature
Modern homes bring the outdoors in and vice versa. This one has an outdoor fireplace as its main centerpiece, while the rest of the home co-exists with the forest around it; natural wood, sharp angles, and stone additions are nods to nature that still contribute to the home's functionality.
5. Bright, Bold, And Unexpected
Green and red are opposite each other on the color wheel, which is why, though the combination is sometimes unexpected, they go together. In fact, complementary colors offer an easy way to intrigue and comfort the eye all at the same time. This modern building (in all its bright, abstract glory) just works.
6. Floor-To-Ceiling Windows
Vineyard homes can feel stuffy and traditional, but we're getting modern treehouse vibes from this one. The airy, all-white construction and light wood table feel particularly Scandinavian, while the floor-to-ceiling windows let in plenty of natural light.
7. A Fresh Take On The Townhouse
Though it's a townhouse, this attached home looks anything but outdated. That's due to its sleek black-and-white touches, like the simple garage, the front door, and the effortless railings — and it doesn't hurt that the grout is bold, clean, and new.
8. Mid-Century Modern Exterior
In the '50s and '60s, American homes were often squat, square, and single-story. These features became the tell-tale signs of a mid-century modern exterior, like the one featured above. Notice the wooden slats, the multiple outdoor light fixtures, and the living space that's half inside and half outside; all of these work to optimize the square footage, which is a must for smaller homes.
9. Built Into The Landscape
It's hard to tell where the landscape ends and the foundation begins. This stunning modern home is built into the hills of its lush environment. Huge windows break up the white exterior and provide a view all at the same time.
10. A Slanted Roof In The Desert
A slanted roof is another nod to the mid-century modern aesthetic. Combine it with slats and bright white paint, and this home has roots in 1950 and limbs in 2020. While the arid surroundings don't have much greenery, this savvy designer tied in nature with stones, wood, and desert plants.
11. A Mix Of Modern And Traditional
A craftsman bungalow is a pretty traditional choice when it comes to home builds, and this one definitely has some cozy, classic elements. The symmetry is modern, as is the wooden paneling on the exterior ceiling, the stark color choices, and the clean, sharp lines.
12. Modern Industrial
An industrial style typically combines fuss-free functionality with design elements from factories or warehouses. As a result, you end up with a lot of brick, metal, wood, and recycled materials — and this chic home has it all. While it's small, it makes the best of the space with big windows and two separate outdoor areas.
13. This Contemporary Cabin
Believe it or not, cabins don't have to look old and cold. You can keep the cozy feel while updating the aesthetic, which is exactly what the architect did here. Black paint and wide-reaching glass windows instantly give this home a contemporary look, while the elongated open-gable roof draws the eye back down to nature. The most luxurious camping experience ever? We think so.
14. Muted Colors And Rectangular Elements
This designer opted for dark horizontal wood on the first story and bright white stucco on the second, which almost makes the house look like it's floating. The muted palette expands to the front garden, where you can see pale green and dark red. The most modern element, however, is the choice of shapes; notice that just about everything is rectangular, from the roof to the driveway stones.
15. A Continuation Of The Inside
The inside and outside meld together in this luxury modern home. The wooden floors are virtually the same throughout, and the only thing separating the kitchen from the yard is a wall of glass. Even the pool is flush against the ground, which creates the impression that the house goes on and on. Despite the massive footprint, however, all its spaces are minimally decorated.
16. Design Throughout The Decades
This time-traveling home takes a little something from all of the most design-influential decades. The front door is inspired by the Art Deco movement, the overall shape is pretty mid-century modern, and those bricks feel particularly '80s. The awnings feel like yesterday, but the black paint is chic today.
17. Experimenting With Shape
When you experiment with shapes, a perfectly traditional home instantly looks more modern. There's nothing out of the ordinary when it comes to that siding and stonework, but a triangular roof, a few bold pillars, and some arch artwork? We're going to assume this house is the most interesting one on its block.
18. An Innovative Work Space
This homeowner turned their garage into an art space so they can get that indoor-outdoor feel while they work. The house itself is pretty modern, too, with its flat, continuous lines and contrasting colors. While the yard is all concrete, designers brought in some greenery with a few potted plants.
19. Bauhaus Home
A functional living space or an abstract work of art? Whoever designed this house must've taken some Bauhaus classes. The roof doesn't need to wind into the second-story floor and the windows don't need all those eye-catching panels, but they make this house all the more interesting to look at. The designer even created an opening in the home so the trees could keep growing.
20. Charming Structure, Contemporary Furniture
While "charming" and "contemporary" might seem like opposites, they're easy enough to combine. The structure itself is pretty traditional (especially with that plant-covered pergola), but the house gets an instant face-lift with some new bright windows and a red mid-century dining set.
21. Clean And Simple
Here's another gorgeous example of black and white together: The roof and fence offer a stark contrast to this house's all-white exterior, which offset any elements that might otherwise be seen as traditional. Though there isn't a blade of grass in sight, the tree and potted plant break up the monotony and pull in some natural color.
22. This Modern Take On Old-World Charm
At first glance, this Tuscan home looks anything but contemporary. Then you notice the symmetry, the boxy doors and windows, and the Art Deco-inspired brickwork above the entrance. Pair all of that with the monochromatic color scheme, and it's quite the modern take on old-world charm.
23. Pattern And Texture
If you don't feel comfortable experimenting with color, experiment with texture and pattern instead. There are only three main colors in the above picture (black, white, and green), but the house still catches your attention with its striped chairs and matching awnings. Then there's the ivy, which breaks up all that smooth, white exterior with a little texture.
24. A Red-Hot Living Space
Nothing makes a statement quite like a primary color. This outdoor living space has all the features of a simple modern home — mid-century modern furniture, some plants, wooden structures, and big windows — but it sets itself apart from the rest thanks to the presence of one unexpected color: red.
25. Repetitive Shapes, Eye-Catching Angles
Repetition is another trademark element of modern design. Notice how the window shapes in the above photo repeat throughout, even though a wide variety of shapes and angles are used. The designer also featured a juxtaposition of light and dark on the exterior and wove natural accents throughout the home — literally.