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Modern, Transitional, Contemporary… What does Your Kitchen Style Mean?


Whether you live in a historic property or modern construction, the style of your home is highly personal, and that’s never truer than when you consider the kitchen.

As the heart of your family’s home, your kitchen sets the stage for interior ambiance, style, and comfort. You want to know that you are choosing a kitchen style that perfectly complements the rest of your home and results in the atmosphere that you’re looking for—the first step is understanding exactly what the different kitchen style terms mean.

When planning a kitchen remodel, you’ll see words like “transitional”, “modern”, and “contemporary” everywhere, but do you really know what each style entails? Get a jumpstart on designing your perfect kitchen remodel by digging deeper into how the various styles can bring your vision for a beautiful, functional space to life.

Modern Kitchens

“Modern” is one of the most common terms used to describe kitchen designs, but many people use this term interchangeably with other styles and lose the unique beauty that makes a modern kitchen, well, modern!

While the term “modern” may lead you to think of the latest and greatest in new, kitchen design trends, it actually refers to an early- to mid-20th century style—most popular in the 1950s and 60s. It also has its roots in Germany’s Bauhaus school of design which places form over function.

The open, airy feel of the floor plan allows for the natural beauty of the elements to shine through—without ornamentation—and it differs from a contemporary style with its lack of patterns, textures, and layered accents.


Flat-panel cabinets, also called slab-door cabinets are the signature touch in a modern kitchen. Typically seen with a frameless design, the doors of modern cabinets overlay the cabinet boxes for an ultra-streamlined aesthetic.

Wood cabinets are popular, as long as you avoid extra detail, raised panels, and added moldings. Many modern kitchens also limit wall cabinets or opt for lift-up doors to highlight the horizontal focus of the room.


The modern kitchen is a no-fuss, no-clutter space, and that is brought to life with a monochromatic, smooth countertop. Natural materials are still at the top of the list for a modern kitchen counter, with the most popular options being:

  • Wood Countertops
  • Paper Composite
  • Soapstone
  • Concrete
  • Stainless Steel


The key to any kitchen design is in the small details, even in a modern kitchen where there is a distinct lack of “extras” or eclectic décor. Above all, there is a consistency of accents in a modern kitchen, and industrial elements work beautifully with the overall vibe of the room.

When designing your new kitchen, consider:

  • Color: There are no hard-and-fast rules for the color that you should choose in your modern kitchen. Typically, muted tones and shiny metal are popular, but nobody said that you can’t add a pop of bolder color to the space to bring character to the room!
  • Texture: Strong horizontal lines reign supreme in modern spaces! Accented by the lack of other ornamental elements in the room, bold horizontal design features in your cabinets, hardware, island, and countertops make the space stand out.
  • Hardware: C-channel hardware is the most common style with this kitchen design, but any hardware that is sleek and simple will add to a modern space. For an ultra-modern look, consider upgrading to hardware that runs the full length of your cabinets!
  • Appliances: Bulky is out and sleek, slim lines are in! Stackable, built-in, and compartmental appliances are also at the top of the must-have list in a modern kitchen, and these allow you to have more appliances without sacrificing on functional space.

Transitional Kitchens

According to the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), transitional kitchens are the most popular style with homeowners—and it’s easy to see why! More flexible than a traditional or contemporary kitchen, transitional spaces blend the two styles. This makes them ideal for couples with differing opinions on style or for those homeowners who have eclectic design tastes.

By mixing the cozy, inviting atmosphere of a traditional kitchen with the clean lines and simplicity of the contemporary style, transitional kitchens have several key elements that make them a stand-out choice for a remodeling design:

  • Cabinets: Crisp. Simple. That’s the best way to describe transitional kitchen cabinets, which are generally panel-style wood with modest hardware. Dark cabinets can work in the space to highlight the neutral color tones, and you’ll want to go for a streamlined style that is just short of the starkness of modern cabinets.
  • Countertops: Natural materials carry over from modern design to also remain at the top for transitional kitchens. However, in this kitchen style, you can have a bit more freedom with color, pattern, and texture. Granite is the most popular option, with marble, limestone, and quartz also near the top of the list—just make sure to keep your counter edges simple to avoid overdoing the ornamentation in the space!
  • Color Tones: If you are dreaming about bold, stand-out colors in the kitchen, transitional styling may not be the right choice for you. If, on the other hand, you love the Zen beauty of neutral tones, you’ll be in heaven in a transitional kitchen! Beige, gray, and taupe are the most common colors in this type of space, but the key is to layer the neutrals and textures for a warm, clean, monochromatic look.
  • Accents: The theme of simple design elements carries through to the smallest details of a transitional kitchen. Avoid ornate lighting and overdone accents—instead, focus on eliminating clutter and highlighting texture. Stone or glass tile backsplashes are ideal for this style, and you can also bring texture in with upholstery, patterned rugs, and contrast of organic and man-made materials.

Contemporary Kitchens

Geometric forms and functions are the key element to a contemporary kitchen—accented by sleek, clean lines and a wide range of high-tech features. A contemporary kitchen is focused on the “design of right now”, and it is the most on-trend option for homeowners at the cutting-edge of interior style.


A seamless layout is the goal when choosing the cabinets for a contemporary space. Traditional cabinets and Victorian cabinets can both works well in this type of kitchen, and choosing a slab-front style can add to the cohesive, streamlined look of the room. Accent your new cabinets with simple hardware (stainless, brushed nickel, and chrome are all great choices) or throw in some under-cabinet lighting for the perfect finishing touch.

Design Elements

The defining feature of a contemporary kitchen is its focus on geometric patterns and elements. Linear congruence is important in this style of kitchen, and you’ll want to take a “big picture” approach when laying out your cabinets and counters, backsplash and tile, and other design elements of the space. Other important accents to consider include:

  • Standard materials used in a surprising way—like concrete or glass countertops!
  • Layered design elements with a heavy hand in pattern and texture
  • Natural, eco-friendly elements, including travertine, wood, glass, and granite
  • Backsplashes made of glass tile, stone, or ceramic
  • Features designed to highlight your own personality and style


An industrial look goes well with a contemporary aesthetic, and stainless steel appliances are a smart choice to bring your vision to life. Whatever finish you choose for your appliances, if you truly want a contemporary kitchen, you need technology.

Futuristic appliances that feature lighted control panels, built-in installation, and high-performance functions add the perfect technological touch to any state-of-the-art space.

Every home deserves a great kitchen, and finding the perfect style for you depends on your personal taste. What do you hope to get out of the room? What is the style of the rest of your home? Whether you want a warm place for hosting family or a hi-tech kitchen with the latest and greatest appliances, there is a kitchen style out there for everyone—you can even mix and match to create your own unique vision!

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