Modern Decor Ideas


The early modern decor mantra, "Form follows function," meant that design should be driven exclusively by what the item or space would be used for. Today, we're less uptight about what "function" means. Even in small city spaces, we make room for a few decorative frills, because we know delight is a legitimate part of function.

The following pages offer a variety of modern decor ideas to guide and inspire your decorating plans. As you plan your home, you'll want to ruthlessly eliminate clutter and pare down to quality basics, but not for some chilly theory. Your goal is a clean setting that saves precious space for living and makes room for those rare decorative finds that delight your heart and express your personal flair.

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Some of these treasures may have right-now appeal, reflecting your contemporary sense of style. (Architectural salvage -- using sections of elaborately carved old columns, grilles, and the like as artwork -- started this way.) Others may be true treasures with heirloom value. Either way, your chic modern approach will give them a fresh, fun setting.

People live in the city for many different reasons. You may be there because you're young and you crave the excitement of city life. Or perhaps you want the city's culturally rich, lively, and less homogenized living environment now that your children are grown. Or maybe you feel that a diverse environment is exactly the one in which your child will thrive.

You may be in the city because you're just starting out or you're finally coming back. Or you've been in town a while, but your lifestyle has changed, and you need to redesign your living space to reflect your circumstances. Maybe you're not even living in the city at the moment, but your heart is there. You want to create the sophisticated ambience of city life in your own home, wherever it may be.

Whatever your situation and whatever your motives, you want to bring the best of city living home. To do that, you need to pull together a chic, comfortable home that's city-savvy.

You'll have different challenges and questions to address depending on the type of residence you occupy. If you've got a bland white box of an apartment, how can you make it extraordinary? What can you do to make an old-fashioned townhouse fresh? If you're living in a big industrial loft, how can you make it comfortable?

If you're still shopping for your own special place, look at all your options before you choose a type of housing. Different residential spaces have different advantages and disadvantages. Here are a few of the options out there:

Rental apartments, large or small, are great when you are starting out, are starting over, or want to live in a neighborhood for a while before buying that castle in the sky. But you'll have landlord-imposed limits on what you can do with, and to, your space. No red-painted walls, for example, because the color is difficult to paint over.

You'll typically be required to restore the space to its original condition but leave any improvements you've installed. That may include anything from custom window shades and chandeliers to kitchen cabinets.

When you're renting, you'll want to create a personal look in ways that are easy to paint over or take with you when the lease expires. If you want to do more, negotiate with the landlord and make sure all exceptions are indicated in your lease.

Small condos can be great first homes or a smart way to downsize in retirement, but even if mortgage interest rates are low, condo assessments may not be. To get your money's worth, choose a building with the amenities you need.

Then, be kind to your budget, and don't be in a rush to fill up your space. Go for a pared-down style that looks sophisticated but not skimpy, thanks to a few rich color accents and intriguing focal points. Finally, indulge in unusual treatments that express your personal style. Want a red lacquered wall in the kitchen? Go ahead!

Large condos and co-ops can range from the size of a two-bedroom ranch house to that of a lavish multistory mansion. Design and furnishing choices here may be the same as in a single-family house, but the installation challenges are much tougher. Measure everything twice -- especially the dimensions of the service elevator.

True industrial lofts have lots of relatively affordable square footage but few amenities. The same is true of other avant-garde but adaptable buildings that range from retail storefronts to converted garages. You'll have lots of space, but you'll have to carve it into living zones and install kitchen and bath facilities.

If you crave wide open spaces but don't want the reconstruction hassle, consider an industrial building that's already been rehabbed by a smart developer. These converted lofts are available in many cities.

Townhouses and row-houses are multistory homes with a small footprint. Some have individual garages on the lower level. Town-houses share one or two walls with a few neighboring units; rowhouses are a series of houses sharing common walls. Whether they're the wood frame "painted ladies" found in San Francisco or stalwart brownstones and graystones as in New York City and Chicago, these vintage homes look fresh and dramatic with eclectic and modern decorating.

If you're downsizing from a house, edit your furnishings to keep only the highly functional or the truly beautiful. If you've always had a traditional house, why not buy contemporary pieces to fill in any missing functions in your new place? The eclectic mix will give your traditional heirlooms a fresh look.

If this is your new retirement spot and the kitchen and bath need work, consider upgrading with universally accessible elements, such as lower countertops and shower grab bars, so you can stay comfortable in your space through the years.

If you're just starting out, purchase savvy, dual-purpose furnishings that make the best use of minimal space, especially if you're in a studio apartment. Be sure to buy the highest quality upholstered pieces you can afford; they will reward you with years of comfort and cool style.

Then fill in with a few funky accents that also serve a function, such as a small end table or a nightstand. Create distinctly personal background treatments that are as colorful or imaginative as you wish, but keep any new installed products and fixtures neutral in color to protect resale value when you move up or out.

Continue to the next page to learn about the different types of modern decor.

For even more decorating ideas, see:

Types of Modern Decor

©2007 William Lesch Find creative storage solutions to complement your modern decor.

Creating a zone of privacy is an essential part of modern decor. Some privacy measures, such as window coverings, have an important safety role as well. Visual privacy is vital in city homes, so choose window treatments that do the job in style.

Bottom-up pleated shades let you see a bit of sky without letting outsiders see you, and their soft, tailored look has a hint of Asian subtlety. Wood or bamboo blinds lend texture and warmth, while Roman shades are elegant without being fussy.

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All of these window treatments work well with modern, eclectic, and transitional rooms. Floor-length draperies make rooms seem taller, but if you have radiators or air-conditioning units set beneath windows, be sure your draperies are pulled back or are the appropriate length.

If you're a confirmed modernist and your space is a loft, you may want to skip window treatments altogether in favor of glass block that lets in light while obscuring shape. This wonderful material evokes 1950s modern style and is right at home in buildings with an industrial past. You can also use glass block as a room divider that lets precious natural light into interior spaces.

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Audio privacy is also important for sane survival in a stressful urban environment. Noise pollution can cause real health problems, especially when it interrupts sleep patterns, so take it seriously, whether you're the one who loves loud late-night parties or the one who's trying to avoid them.

If you're the midnight music lover, use thick carpeting on floors, acoustical ceiling tiles, and cork panels or other proven baffle material on walls adjoining neighboring units for sound insulation. If you're the quiet type, these same solutions will work from your side. In fact, any place you can use soft surfaces over hard, do so.

Most important, pick a building that meets your needs. If you're shopping for a new place, check with any prospective condo board or landlord and the local police station to make sure rules and local laws enforce quiet, especially at night. Ambient noise such as car traffic may be unavoidable, but there should be a remedy if your neighbor insists on singing opera or playing the stereo at top volume next to your toddler's bedroom.

Try to avoid situations where the landlord or condo board won't enforce quiet rules but the noise doesn't affect those outside your building, where police can act. Ask a few "what if" questions before you sign on the dotted line!

Storage problems may not rank up there with safety and privacy, but where to put all your stuff can be a challenge. The best solution to inadequate storage space is simple: Bring less stuff to store!

If you're just starting out, start lean. Take only furniture pieces that meet your basic needs, not whatever hand-me-downs are available. Add quality furnishings you'll enjoy or ones that can be folded to save space. For example, "campaign" furniture includes folding chairs and tables that come in styles from Swedish modern to French Empire. Storage ottomans, under-bed storage boxes, and other dual-purpose pieces provide more places to stash things in style.

If you're downsizing, give away or sell any big furnishings that don't fit your new space or lifestyle. Keep only what meets basic functional needs, what you really love, or what you know has heirloom value. Fill in any gaps with functional pieces that give you a thrill.

Built-in storage space is ideal in a modern-decor setting.
Built-in storage space is ideal in a modern-decor setting.

When you're satisfied you've got just the furniture you need and no more, look at how to stash all your linens, books, electronics, toys, and other items. European armoires have been popular in the United States for decades, with good reason. Explore armoires outfitted to hold clothing, home entertainment equipment, or even a home office. Make up for skimpy closets with classic wardrobes -- tall wood cabinets in a variety of sizes. They're good solutions if you rent or when built-ins aren't feasible.

If built-ins are possible, put them everywhere you can. For example, a tiny dining room with bookcases built on several walls gives an impressive look and lots of storage. You only need 8 to 12 inches in depth to create ample storage; put shelves at 12- to 18-inch intervals or hang hooks at eye level. Turn shelves into cubbyholes -- those practical school favorites -- by adding vertical supports at 12- or 18-inch intervals.

If your space is huge, you can do whatever you want with color. But if every inch counts, use color to your advantage, especially on large areas such as walls.

Warm colors like red, orange, and yellow advance -- they seem closer to you and visually shorten a room. If you like warm hues, choose tints of these colors, such as pink, peach, or beige. Cut the colors with lots of white paint for a more spacious feeling. Cool colors like blue, green, and violet recede -- they seem farther away and visually lengthen a room.

Bright versions of cool colors, however, make a room feel smaller, especially if they have a lot of red or yellow in them. Again, cut the color with white paint to make a tint, and you can enjoy the hue without closing yourself in.

If pastel tints seem too sweet, ground them with black or brown accents. Black and ice pink or periwinkle; chocolate and aqua; or tan, peach, and olive are contemporary favorites, but you can create your own color combinations. Dark shades in a glossy finish reflect light for a lively, rich feeling.

©2007 William Lesch Embrace jewel tones or any color scheme you like in your modern decor.

What if you really want walls in jewel tones, primary colors, or hot pastels? Make a statement by using the color full-strength on one focal wall and painting the other walls (and the ceiling) a pale tint or white. You'll have a dramatic look and some psychological breathing room, too.

Against a background of mostly pale walls and ceiling, ground the space with medium tones on big upholstered pieces and darker tones on the floor. These tones may be chic neutrals like black, brown, gray, tan, or beige, or subdued shades of colors you love. (When in doubt, consider green; it acts as a neutral with almost any color.)

Accent colors in draperies, pillows, and accessories can be as bright as you please. Your goal is to create an environment that delights today without feeling suffocating after a week or tiresome after a month. The smaller your space and budget, the more you'll appreciate it!

Patterns work with color to help improve the visual size or shape of rooms. Lay floor tiles in a diagonal pattern to make the floor look bigger; the eye naturally follows the longest line. Vertical stripes in draperies lend height and a sense of dignity to a room; horizontal lines, more often used in modern spaces, make the room look lower but longer and create a sense of ease.

In general, solid colors don't engage the eye, so they usually make a room appear larger and more peaceful, while busy patterns create excitement -- but also a sense of visual activity that can feel like clutter. Tone-on-tone patterns can create interest without overwhelming the space; solid colors in heavy textures do the same. Remember, the patterns you plan into your design will be amplified by the clutter of everyday life.

While a purely traditional style may suit classic city homes, your own taste may dictate a bit more flexibility. Here are a few options that work:

Mix modern and traditional pieces for a sophisticated eclectic look. To avoid a jarring mishmash, choose pieces from various eras that share a look that's delicate or massive, formal or casual.

Want a hearty look? Mix the earliest modern look, rustic Arts & Crafts/Mission (circa 1900), with other straight, hearty styles, such as contemporary pieces in oak. Wall units and trestle tables are especially popular in these styles. Finish with the strong lines and earthy colors of Arts & Crafts, American folk art, or African art and textiles.

Want a lighter look? Sleek, shapely Art Deco pieces from the 1920s to 1940s look great with today's soft modern and postmodern curves, especially in cocktail tables and upholstered seating. French 18th-century pieces are more ornate than modern styles, but their curves are in harmony with Art Deco styles. Mid-century modern pieces in sleek leather and chrome are a sharp alternative. Finish with vintage Art Deco accents in glass and silver.

Use transitional pieces throughout, or use them as a bridge between modern and traditional elements. Transitional style describes designs that are simpler and sleeker than traditional designs but are also less stark and angular than modern designs. Major furniture manufacturers have produced transitional furniture pieces and groups since the 1960s, so finding king-size beds, home electronics wall units, computer desks, and other pieces should be easy.

For accent furniture, don't overlook the transitional qualities of 18th-century Shaker or late 19th-century Art Nouveau. For accessories, choose colorful Depression glass, geometric folk art, or other treasures that bridge yesterday and today.

Use a purely modern design. This is an approach that's not only easy but admired by many architects. You can buy top-of-the-line French and Italian modern pieces through an interior designer, affordable Swedish modern pieces at home stores, and many levels in between.

Chrome and leather are one way to go modern, but so are naturally pale wood and nubby linen. For accent pieces, look to Africa and Asia for simple, sophisticated art and artifacts.

Whatever take on contemporary you like, keep things simple:

  • Banish clutter with handsome baskets and boxes or behind cabinet doors.
  • Skip the cute collections; in fact, don't strew any kind of collection all over the room. Instead, group pieces, whether you have three or thirty, in one display area for maximum impact (and easier care).
  • Help clean your indoor air and give yourself the calming benefit of nature with a houseplant or two -- but only if they're big and healthy specimens. Consult with a florist or greenhouse about plants that will thrive in your home. Is your space large and sunny, or do you have low light? If you travel, you'll need something that can survive with minimal water. When plants pass their prime, toss them or give them away unless you really enjoy tending them.
  • Use mirrors to capture pretty views and visually expand, even double, the size of your space.

Color can make a huge difference in the effect of your home's decor. On the next page, learn about adding inviting color to your home through modern decor.

For even more decorating ideas, see:

Inviting Color

Bold colors can enhance a modern setting.

Crisp, clean styles common to modern decor can be eye-catching, but it's nice when their colors are inspiring, too. These living rooms are a case in point: Neutral floors and furniture create a simple, modern starting point.

But instead of leaving these settings in neutral, the designers reached for color. Two rooms feature the sherbet hues pistachio and raspberry, while the third uses the paint-box primaries -- red, yellow, and blue. Cut with creamy white, each looks chic and cheerful. The natural earth tones of wood floors and the tawny shades in the area rugs also lend warmth to these contemporary settings.

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In this room, bold color is added to a neutral foundation.

To keep the look in bounds, add neutral accents; to rev up the excitement, use a few well-chosen works of art and decorative accessories in hues you love. Clutter-free contemporary style gives color a high-impact punch.

Accent pieces without clutter give extra oomph to this room's color scheme.

If your living space has a stunning view, don't hide it. On the next page, find ways to embrace and show off your room with a view.

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Room With a View

Low furniture won't block your beautiful view.

For many, the ideal modern decor includes spectacular views of sparkling city lights by night.

To maximize such a view, keep any furniture beneath the window (around knee height if possible). An upholstered ottoman or a chaise lounge fits the bill nicely.

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Keep tall furniture to one side so it won't block the windows.

If you need to use a taller chair, set it well to one side of the window, and keep any side tables low and small. Depending on your desire for privacy, you may opt for no window covering at all or one that stacks unobtrusively -- Roman shades are chic with any decorating style, and pleated shades work with soft contemporary or Asian-inspired settings.

If you really want to embrace your stunning view, skip window coverings.

Modern decor takes many forms. On the next page, see how a monochromatic look can bring you design success.

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Success-Minded

©2007 Jim Baylor The cool blue in this room exudes serenity.
©2007 Jim Baylor The cool blue in this room exudes serenity.

Blue is a classic color that never goes out of style, and it's perfect for use in your modern decor. It functions as a cool neutral, but with much more personality. Consider the chic monochromatic look used in this room.

Shades and tints of indigo, from the palest ice-blue to the darkest navy, are used with strategic infusions of black and white. Japanese art and furniture work beautifully with modern elements to enhance the sense of sleekness and serenity.

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Shades of blue work together with black and white to showcase this room's Japanese theme.

The lively graphic on the rug injects a youthful note without breaking discipline. In a space like this, you could entertain guests in blue jeans or black-and-white formal wear with equal comfort.

Modern design doesn't have to mean all hard edges and sleek spaces. On the next page, get a look at some downright comfy modern decor.

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Cutting-Edge Comfort

This room's stunning design makes it memorable.

With walls of windows overlooking the city panorama, the outside view from this modern-decor dwelling is clearly spectacular. But what makes the living area special is that indoors and out, day or night, this space is eye-catching.

Imagine the windows gone and the walls glazed in cinnabar red, for example, and the space is still a knockout. Here, the design is sleek, contemporary, and comfortable. The coffee table is big enough for drinks, games, and more, but it's topped with smoked glass for a light visual effect.

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Make yourself comfortable in this plush but modern seating.

Plush seating is ultramodern but made for relaxing and includes an unexpected chaise lounge. Dining chairs are office executive seating with caster feet. Who says you can't be sharp and homey at the same time?

Whether you're looking inside or out, the view is lovely.

Personal style shines through in a successful design. On the next page, see how to put your creative expression front and center.

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Creative Expression

©2007 David Duncan Livingston A white backdrop highlights the artwork and cherished items that complete this room.

A modern white shell might intimidate some condominium dwellers. But to the architect who lives in this modern-decor setting, this unit offers an irresistible opportunity to express her colorful personal style. She blends her love of all things Japanese with family pieces and objects collected on her travels.

Because carpeting is required by the building to muffle sound, the owner chose plain khaki carpet that mimics Japanese tatami mats. Over this neutral carpeting, dramatic jewel-tone rugs from Tibet put art underfoot.

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©2007 Dramatic rugs are an essential piece of this room's design.

The white walls set off the owner's colorful Japanese prints. Illustrating successful eclectic style, modern furniture in white and black combines with traditional pieces in warm hues.

Industrial spaces are perfect candidates for modern decor. On the next page, learn how to dress up an industrial space and call it home.

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Industrial Strength

Even though windows are few, this industrial loft space has an airy feel.

This residential interior is part of a large modern-decor project in California that converted industrial buildings into ground-level art galleries with loft spaces for artists on the upper floors. A separate entrance leads to the three lofts in the building, and each unit has a sense of airiness despite having few exterior windows.

Polished concrete floors, plain painted drywall, and an exposed steel truss and metal deck roof system are faithful to the stripped-down approach of modern style. Sleeping areas are tucked on top of the kitchen and bath, while the rest of the loft is left open for a sense of spaciousness. There's plenty of room for high-energy parties of any size.

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This loft space is wide open, with sleeping areas tucked away for privacy.

Don't forget to accessorize your modern home. On the next page, take a look at a few pieces that might work in with your decor.

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Entertaining Elements

Urban style doesn't have to be uncomfortable.

Making an impression and keeping it real in your modern decor do not have to be conflicting goals. Just reach for furnishings that express your urbane style while offering home-style comforts.

If you're stuck for a color scheme, bank on pale neutrals plus snappy black, or use the hues in a dramatic graphic rug as inspiration.

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Look for fresh colors and comfortable upholstery when choosing big furniture pieces.

Then, pick your big furniture pieces: Reach for comfortable leather upholstery in fresh colors that express the tough-and-tender style of the city.

Storage pieces are a must for any home.

Stock up on inventive storage pieces that let you keep everyday clutter under control. Fill one prescription for gracious entertaining -- a table within reach of every seat -- with artful cocktail and end tables like the ones shown here.

For successful entertaining, have a table within reach of every chair.

When it comes to lamps and other accessories, choose designs that reinforce your modern sense of style. Whether you live in a huge loft or a tiny condo, the living space is the one where you want to pull out all the stops.

The kitchen is the heart of every home, while the dining room brings everyone together. Find decor ideas for your cooking and dining spaces on the next page.

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Cooking and Dining

Kitchens bring the family together, so space for dining is a must.

In the last few decades, the kitchen has reemerged as the heart of the home and the hub of household activity in modern decor. Depending on whom you talk to, dining rooms are going, gone, popular again, or popular only with those who entertain formally.

One thing's certain: Large eat-in kitchens, dining rooms adjacent to kitchens, and open-plan rooms with an area devoted to food preparation and enjoyment are big draws.

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Industrial loft conversions need kitchens installed from scratch, but their open layout is a step ahead of the game. If your older city apartment or house hasn't been updated yet, the kitchen is key. A kitchen renovation isn't simple, especially in elevator and walk-up buildings, but it's almost always worthwhile.

Keep appealing architectural elements if they work (skimpy doorways, no; tiny hexagonal tiles, yes), but upgrade appliances for performance and energy savings.

Define a new dining area with a fabulous table, or update your old dining room by widening or removing doorways. Whatever your style, consider painting or glazing a wall in cardinal orange-red: This glowing hue has been a dining room favorite since the Renaissance.

A big kitchen is a perfect spot to showcase your modern decor. On the next page, get design ideas for large and luxurious kitchen spaces.

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Luxury With a Twist

©2007 William Lesch
©2007 William Lesch
Give large kitchens special treatment when planning your decor.

A kitchen with generous square footage that's open to other living areas demands special treatment, such as this modern decor kitchen. In this space, the design goes beyond special to the realm of spectacular thanks to luxurious materials and artful accents.

A massive work island, topped in variegated granite, is already a focal point. With the addition of a slim tier made of glass, the island becomes a handsome snack bar that lets guests visit comfortably with the cook.

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Cabinets and shelving rounded against the walls recall the sleek style of Art Deco, but there's nothing retro about the overall effect. Artfully arranged lights, some recessed, some on a curved track, add even more glamorous sparkle.

©2007 William Lesch Touches of Art Deco give some depth to this kitchen's overall design.

While many contemporary kitchens use soffits or have cabinets that reach to the ceiling, this one takes a page from traditional style and leaves room for display. Accessories are large and dramatic, in keeping with the space itself.

Color can add some spice to kitchens of all sizes. On the next page, get some ideas for adding bold colors to your kitchen.

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Appetizing Color

Bold colors, like this cobalt blue, can make the most modern kitchen warm and inviting.

Fearless use of color makes even the most minimal modern-decor kitchen feel lively and inviting. That's because color is an emotionally compelling element in any visual arena.

In each of these kitchens, cobalt blue is used to great effect to bring the room alive.

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Bold color can add whimsy to an otherwise stark space.

Choose any bold hue you like. Whether you want a room that's light, airy, and spacious or one that's cozy and intimate, color is a quick and effective way to get the look and feel you want.

Don't shy away from mixing bold colors in your modern kitchen.

European style can contribute to a stunningly sleek and modern kitchen. Find some ideas for a world-class kitchen on the next page.

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World-Class Glamour

Ultramodern European styling creates a look that's sleek and Continental.

High-style modern decor takes to high gloss in a big way, creating a sparkling ultramodern kitchen that's out of this world. European cabinets and furniture redefine modern style with fearless, often startlingly beautiful designs.

One of the most attractive elements in this space is the use of wood and wood veneers in a high-gloss lacquered finish that shows off the naturally lovely grain of the wood. The sleek finish is often combined with other highly polished surfaces, such as granite, glass, and stainless steel.

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You can enjoy a similar effect with glossy black ceramic tiles, glass mosaic tiles, glass serving pieces, and, of course, all the shiny stainless-steel appliances and cookware you can use. It's all about function, strength, and sparkle.

Combine textures such as wood, ceramic, and glass for a modern European look.

Small spaces need special treatment when it comes to design. Continue to the next page to see how modern decor can help make an ultra-small apartment a home.

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Open Minded

The space was opened up -- literally -- by cutting holes in the interior walls. Space-saving appliances, including a drawer-style dishwasher, pack efficiency into the tiny area.

This tiny (800 square feet) apartment in San Francisco was remodeled in a modern-decor style to serve as a second home. The owners wanted to make the most of their small city space and bring more light into the interior rooms.

As with many city apartments, the rooms were small and the views were not spectacular, so the designer focused on making the interior as vibrant and energetic as possible with bright colors and innovative structural adjustments. Brilliant cobalt, yellow, violet, red, and other paint box hues vibrate throughout the space, but there's just enough white to keep the look under control.

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The living room proves that the fun of crayon-bright colors isn't limited to the kindergarten set. Big seating pieces match the wall to appear less obtrusive; a dazzling rug ties all the colors together.

State-of-the-art styling doesn't have to be cold. On the next page, see how to make a modern kitchen that's both sleek and inviting.

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Sophisticated Warmth

Stainless-steel cabinet drawers punch up the shine of the appliances and contrast nicely with wood cabinetry.

It's easy to have a state-of-the-art modern-decor kitchen that's filled with stainless steel. It takes a little more vision to create a kitchen that's definitively modern but also warm and inviting -- a kitchen that can take center stage while entertaining.

This savvy space achieves it with ease by taking a few well-considered chances. A mix of wood and metal drawers evokes cutting-edge style. Exposed beams with an airy, lively zigzag pattern give the space a playful attitude. Mosaic glass tiles are set in a variety of patterns to give the range backsplash extra drama, while a mosaic tile "rug" set into the concrete floor is a modern take on a classic feature.

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Crisp lines, smooth maple surfaces, and gleaming stainless steel give this kitchen an elegant contemporary look that's also warm and welcoming.

Contemporary cooking demands accessories. On the next page, find out how to fix up your kitchen with all the trimmings.

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Cooking Up an Urban Look

Find form and function in this beautiful storage drawer.

Contemporary cooking is done right in the thick of things, so you'll want your kitchen's modern-decor design to reflect your sense of style. Luckily, you won't have any problem combining high performance with good looks. That's because the modernist credo is "form follows function."

Italian and Scandinavian manufacturers have the concept down perfectly, but you can find modern marvels just about everywhere. Start with sleek frameless Eurostyle cabinets and stainless-steel appliances (or have your old ones refinished in kicky colors). Replace that old sink with a stainless steel one that will still look great decades from now.

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Stainless steel sinks have a timeless look.

Then, add some fun performance-boosters: clever stacking storage units, a gleaming pot rack, and retro chrome barstools. Even little touches like drawer inserts make your modern kitchen work better. Now you're cooking!

Don't forget the essentials when outfitting your kitchen.

Storage space is essential for every home. On the next page, learn tricks to incorporating storage solutions into your modern decor.

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Extraordinary Order

Wooden cabinetry provides storage space without intruding on the room's design.

Most of us have more stuff to stash than we have storage solutions. The secret is to outfit your modern-decor space with all the cabinetry you need to keep everyday clutter out of sight but not out of reach.

In this high-rise home, handsome wood cabinetry combines the warmth of paneling with extensive practical storage. Horizontal bars are modern and direct the eye to the dazzling city scene beyond the windows. A mix of open and closed storage gives the room variety.

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Colorful book bindings can add to your overall look.

Even if you don't have a great view, you can create an arresting focal point by hanging a large-scale piece of art against a contrasting wall niche. Bright fabrics and the colorful bindings of books come together for a vibrant, uncontrived look. Dramatic lighting is key: If you can't install ceiling spotlights, hang can lights that blend into your ceiling.

Squares are both modern and classic decor elements. Keep reading to see ideas for using squares in your modern decor.

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Hip and Square

Orange silk pillows make a striking accent in a minimalist room.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh, a Scottish designer and architect, was one of the bright lights of the early modern age, which began in the late 19th century. A precise row of squares, interpreted in a variety of formats, is a hallmark of Mackintosh style and fits in perfectly with modern decor.

This austere bedroom plays with the square motif as a repeating element throughout the space. It's a virtue of modern style that such a simple device can pull the look together.

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The air conditioning and heating unit is cleverly disguised by a Mackintosh-inspired grid.

To soften the many right angles in the space, warm and inviting colors lend a feeling of welcome. A room like this is proof you can have both a minimalist design and a comfortable living space.

You can use modern decor to turn your rooms into a modern fairy tale. Keep reading to learn about designing rooms with a touch of poetry.

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Modern Romance

©2007 Tim Street-Porter Satin swirls and Art Deco touches meet in this modern, romantic space.

Everything in this deceptively simple modern-decor room reads like a hip fairy tale. Swaths of white sheeting embellished with white-on-white satiny swirls are offhandedly romantic on the bed and window. The French Art Deco-inspired nightstand made of small mirrors is a whimsical touch; an ornamental golden chair gets a kick out of circus-stripe fabric.

Adding to the fearless mix, a window seat goes pop-poetic with shimmering green pillows and matching alcove paint. Pink, green, and white is a perennial favorite palette with girls of all ages, but the unexpected elements and sharp black touches make this an adult's room without a doubt.

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©2007 Spots of color pop out in this whimsical bedroom.

Whatever your sleeping arrangements, you'll need a few essential accessories. On the next page, get some ideas for bedroom accessories you can't do without.

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Dreamy Essentials

The bed is the focal point of any sleeping area.

Even in an open-plan modern-decor residence, most people prefer a sleep space that's relatively private. Bookcases are a popular way to attractively divide space, but you might also consider a row of handsome folding floor screens.

However you partition your space, the bed is always the focal point, so make sure it's an eye-catching one with lots of architectural presence. Fit in extra storage wherever you can, especially dual-purpose pieces: for example, a storage ottoman that lets you stash your stuff and then put your feet up.

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Add colorful accents to your bedroom decor.

Add pampering comfort and style with a colorful, velvety rug to soothe bare feet, and don't forget a lamp that's easy on the eyes. Finally, indulge in that most romantic piece of furniture, a chaise lounge. After all, who couldn't use a little more romance?

A bathroom needs privacy first and foremost, but you don't have to sacrifice style. Continue to the next page to find ideas for customizing your modern bathroom.

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Bathing

If you have a large space, take advantage of it with a luxurious bathroom floor plan.

Even in the most open of living plans, you'll want to build in real privacy when designing your modern-decor bathroom. If a conventional bath isn't already in the space, have the required plumbing enclosed by partitions of hard-wall construction at least eight feet in height.

In a loft, you may have the luxury of creating a bath as big as the supersize ones found in grand suburban houses, so why not set things up to suit yourself? A whirlpool tub, steam sauna, walk-in shower (great for lifelong accessibility), and separately enclosed toilet compartment are some of today's luxurious options that fit loft floor plans.

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If you're confined by the relatively skimpy footprint of an apartment or a townhouse, you can still improve your comfort level. If you're a homeowner, consider gutting the room and borrowing inches from less-used, adjacent space.

If that's not feasible, install space-saving storage units from floor to ceiling. Paint the room in cool, pale tints, and use mirrors to further open the view. Add urban punch with black and chrome or classic glamour with brushed nickel or brass.

Embrace hydrotherapy in your bathroom. Keep reading to learn how to turn your modern bathroom into a home spa.

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Hydrotherapy Comes Home

With a pristine delivery of water from a ceiling-mount faucet, this overflowing tub takes bathing to a new level of relaxing comfort.

Today's modern-decor home spas rival the best commercial and club spas for hydrotherapy and all-around pampering. Even if your budget is less impressive, you can create a hip, restful environment in your bath.

Use pale neutral colors to visually expand the space and create a soothing feeling. Replace unattractive wall tiles, or paint them with special epoxy paint. Use a good quality low luster (not flat) paint on walled areas.

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A large walk-in shower is a luxury you'll appreciate for years to come.

If you don't have a great shower, clean the stall and hang a clear curtain to let in more light. Replacing faucets and other fittings is fairly easy; even easier is replacing dated cabinet hardware.

A frosted window with horizontal panes is inspired by the Shoji screens of Japan.

Cover the floor with a neutral throw rug. Add a piece of furniture, such as a small chair or chest, and finish the look with candles and a humidity-loving plant or two.

On the next page, find ideas for turning your modern bathroom into a contemporary work of art.

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Artful Impression

In ­most modern-decor settings, you can use a variety of patterned fabrics to create an exciting custom design. In a kitchen or bath, you can achieve the same kind of interest with colorful patterned tiles.

This bath uses beautiful large-scale stone tiles in a range of hues for the floor and walk-in shower. A run of nine smaller decorative tiles adds pattern and punch to the vanity area.

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While a traditional setting might use tiles decorated with representational images, modern style tends toward the organic flowing design that appears in tiles such as these.

©2007 William Lesch Cabinetry with plain and mottled wood veneers has a comfortable lived-in look

You can achieve artistic effects with natural stone tiles, patterned porcelain and ceramic tiles, or even glass tiles.

Victorian styling can easily be updated for more modern sensibilities. On the next page, learn how to turn your bathroom into a modern Victorian refuge.

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Victorian With a Twist

Warm off-white tones work better than stark white for a vintage look.

This unusual modern-decor bath encompasses the decorative drama of the Victorian era without the sentimental clutter.

The room is inspired by the products of industrial-age factories and foundries, which gave the European and American middle class access to the elaborate furnishings of the aristocracy.

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A dramatic mirror with a distressed image of the Eiffel Tower recalls early 20th-century chic.

Used with a bit of tongue-in-cheek edginess, reproductions of these pieces are romantic but not too serious. Frosted acid-wash glass panes simulate old factory windows, giving a loftlike ambiance to the space and partitioning off the commode and shower areas.

The bathtub niche features a belt-driven dual-blade ceiling fan inspired by early industrial equipment.

A white beadboard ceiling and classic hexagonal tiles on the floor add subtle texture and reinforce the vintage urban mood.

Using metals in your bathroom can make it look industrial and modern, but still inviting. On the next page, find some ideas for adding metallics to your bathroom.

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Magical Metallics

©2007 Forged iron and layered steel make a dramatic contemporary frame for a bathroom mirror.

Contemporary modern decor often evokes a spare, strict style, but it doesn't have to, as these spectacular bath elements show.

Exuberantly shaped and swirled metallic pieces evoke a drama that's one-of-a-kind, especially when used with equally fearless backgrounds. The effect is both otherworldly and romantically primitive, as if these modern pieces were unearthed from an ancient culture.

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©2007 William Lesch Wide metallic borders, embellished with flowing scrolls, frame the mirror for a look that's both contemporary and timeless.

Treatments such as these make a remarkable impression in a powder room and would be pure indulgence in a master bath. Everywhere you look, there's something to beguile the eye, but everything is also functional.

©2007 Sinks in heavy glass or metal make stylish alternatives to porcelain.

You may have to hunt for such extraordinary pieces or commission a custom design from a local artisan, but for effects this special, you'll be tempted.

©2007 Breaking out of the box, a bath with a rounded wall gains extra interest with beautiful petrified sandstone tile and a jagged edge top.

Accessories are everything to give your modern bathroom just the right look. On the next page, take a look at some modern pieces that could be right at home in your bathroom.

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Bathing Beauties

A sleek, modern column of brushed and polished metal upholds a glassy pool of color.

The bath may be the smallest room in your place, but it can still make a big style statement with modern decor. Each element, from the tub to the towel rack, can be an attractive asset to your design scheme -- without sacrificing a bit of practical function.

The sink is usually the focal point, so make the most of it with an extraordinary design.

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A handsomely austere design gets the surprising lift of crystal inserts from the fabled French firm Lalique, one of the world's premiere brands of fine crystal.

You can choose a serene Zen-inspired sink or one that dazzles like colorful jewelry and still be true to clean-cut modern style.

This updated freestanding tub is both traditional and modern.

When it comes to the tub, skip the usual built-in for the timeless appeal of a freestanding tub, reinterpreted for today.

Neutral tones and cool colors create a peaceful bathroom space.

Or just treat yourself to fresh paint in a cool hue plus some new fittings and accents. An eye-catching faucet set or wall shelf can go a long way to create a dramatic, cool, or colorfully witty mood.

Choose your bathroom accessories carefully -- every piece adds to the effect.

In a small space, everything shows, so make it count.

The modern workspace needs to be functional, but it can look good at the same time. On the next page, learn about designing office spaces with a modern twist.

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Working

©2007 Philip Ennis Photography Handsome wood cabinetry with a mix of closed and open storage helps transform any space into a high-performance home office.

Working at home is a way of life for millions of telecommuters, freelancers, small business owners, and consultants. Modern decor in the home-office can result in a sophisticated, soothing, and functional workspace.

Ironically, industrial lofts were originally workrooms that were later adapted for residential use by artists. Now, these residential spaces are returning to their roots as working spaces. The difference? Comfort and style.

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If you're working at home, today's office furniture can be a sleek, dramatic asset to your performance -- and your decorating. If you prefer a traditional look and a smaller footprint, a computer armoire is a handsome alternative. In a loft, the size and location of your work area will be up to you (just keep in mind electrical sources and natural light).

If you're in a conventional apartment, a den or second bedroom is ideal. If you're in a one-bedroom, you may prefer to keep the bedroom for relaxing and situate your office in the living area. A handsome, tall screen lets you spread work out and not have to straighten it when company's expected.

Squares are all the rage, filling out the design scheme of any room in your house. On the next page, learn how embrace squares for storage and show in your home office.

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Hip to be Square

©2007 These grown-up cubbyholes are perfect for both storing and displaying your books and art.

If you've left the cubicle for a modern-decor home office with a bit more floor space, consider employing a different sort of cube -- one that recalls the friendly cubbyhole compartments of your kindergarten days but with grown-up style.

Cubes make great display storage for personal treasures, decorative accents, and office supplies or files that don't need to be kept behind closed doors. Here, the handsome wood construction and open design of the cube unit give it an airier look than conventional closed storage.

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©2007 Philip Ennis Photography Cube storage should be in a color similar to the walls to make the work area feel more spacious.

Finishing the walls in a color similar to your cube storage further blends these workhorses into the background, so your work area feels even more spacious.

A large home office can serve more than one purpose, combining a workspace and a media room into one modern space. On the next page, learn about designing multitasking modern office spaces.

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Business Class

©2007 Tim Street-Porter Small nesting tables, comfortable upholstered seating, and a media wall that stashes everything in style are perfect for a relaxing retreat.

In keeping with its dual functions as home office and media room, this masterfully orchestrated modern-decor space in black, white, and camel manages to be dynamic and soothing at the same time. The simple yet luxurious home office has everything it needs but not a thing it doesn't.

Excellent lighting is key, as is comfortable task seating. To achieve an airy effect, about two-thirds of the room is swathed in tones of white. Evocative African art adds an engaging natural note to an otherwise cool space. The result is simple but utterly sophisticated.

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©2007 A credenza engineered to fit into a corner niche takes advantage of every square inch of available space.

Don't forget the necessary accessories you'll need to make your workspace functional. Keep reading to take a look at some modern essentials for your contemporary office.

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Design at Work

Modern workspaces call for modern storage solutions.

Working at home is more prevalent than ever, both for telecommuting employees and self-employed entrepreneurs. If you're one of these, make an investment in your productivity with a functional modern-decor office.

Even if you're not a home-base worker, you need some of the same elements to make it easy to pay bills, manage a busy personal schedule, and more. An ergonomically designed chair is a must, so try out as many as you need to find the best fit.

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Find a table that's big enough to meet your home-office needs.

If you like to spread out your work or need a roomy table to work with clients (or to help with homework), a big conference desk is a great idea. If you're seriously wired, make a state-of-the-art computer desk your focal point.

Guests in your office will appreciate comfortable seating.

Beyond these basics, welcome guests (or take an inspirational catnap) on a handsome sofa, and take a whole new approach to filing storage. You'll profit every day when you put the "fun" in "functional" for your hardworking home office!

As we've learned throughout this article, modern decor can fit in every room in the house, and it can be adapted to work in all kinds of spaces, homes, and personal tastes. We hope you'll use these ideas to give your own home a touch of modern decor.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mary Wynn Ryan is the author of numerous interior design books including The Ultimate Kitchen, The Ultimate Bath, Cottage Style, Fresh Country Style and Garden Style. She has written about home furnishings and interior design for various magazines and served as Midwest editor of Design Times magazine. She was also the director of consumer and trade marketing for the Chicago Merchandise Mart's residential design center. She is president of Winning Ways Marketing, an editorial and marketing consulting firm that specializes in home design and decorating.

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