Modernist architecture began to change the idea of what a house could be beginning in the 1920s. Since that time, traditionally designed, built and decorated houses have continued to dominate, but alongside them have arisen all manner of alternative and experimental living spaces. There are also houses that combine the two styles, for example older, traditional homes that have been furnished with modern furniture.
The size, placement and use of windows is radically different in traditional and modern homes. Traditional homes tend to incorporate windows that are geometrically placed on the facade of the house and are of similar size. Modern design, due to the development of newer and stronger glass that could be manufactured in much larger sizes, can be used for very large windows. In fact, some modern houses have entire walls that are made only of glass.
Traditional houses, not surprisingly, are usually made of traditional materials. Brick, wood, plaster, stucco and stone are very common. Modern design takes advantage of new and more technologically advanced materials. Modern homes may be found made of concrete, reinforced steel or even plastic. Large beams and other wooden accents are often used as a contrast to things like raw concrete walls. Traditional textiles, such as curtains, tend to be entirely absent in modern design.
Many traditional homes emphasize decoration, both interior and exterior. Particularly in the Victorian era of the late nineteenth century, homes displayed ornate decorations ranging from gingerbread trim to carved moldings, complex rooflines often sheathed in slate and wallpaper with complex designs. Modernism stripped all of this away in an attempt to create a structure that would reveal its "underlying truth." Modernist designers believed that the purpose of decoration was to hide poor design and that an honest building could succeed with its underlying structure exposed.
In the 1960s Modernism reached its apex in many dwellings that were consciously designed as minimalist spaces. Furnishings were kept to a minimum, and interiors were characterized by large, empty spaces, bare white walls and artwork that stressed large color fields and nonrepresentational patterns. Exteriors were often flat-roofed, with heavy eaves, narrow, vertical windows and de-emphasized entries.
Modernist furnishings tend to echo the aesthetic priorities of Modernist architecture. Moving away from the decorative, overstuffed look of the late nineteenth century, Modernist furniture designers sought a look that was cool, detached and free of extraneous decoration. Whereas a traditional sideboard might incorporate a backsplash mirror, edge carving and decorative hardware, a Modernist version of the same piece would be low to the floor, elongated and feature minimal hardware, sometimes relying on undercut door and drawer fronts that could be opened by reaching around their edges so that there would be no door and drawer pulls at all.