I often mention contemporary design to homeowners and am met with resistance, "We don't away to go really modern". It's a common misunderstanding that contemporary is the same as modern design. So, let's clear that up right now.
Modern design became popular in the 1920's with amazing designers like my personal fave, Eileen Grey. Modern interior design relies heavily on geometric shapes and a clean continuous line. It is often extremely Minimalistic and can be viewed as "sterile". This design style peaked in the 1950's with Midcentury Modern design.
When I hear modern, my immediate thought is E1027 or The Jetsons!
Contemporary design is referring to the design of today; popular design. I tend to think of Northwest Contemporary due to our location. While the clean, continuous line is also present, nature softens the aesthetic. Rustic and traditional features may come into play. Now, to confuse things further... modern designs may be contemporary, but contemporary designs are not always modern!
Every person has their own idea of what one style is, and the best way to convey the design aesthetic you are looking for to your designer is to show images. Because one designer may say that modern and contemporary are the same, where I see a line, albeit a fuzzy line between the two.