The latest buzzword in the interior design world is industrial—a concept that started as more of a necessity than a style. As warehouses and factories were turned into residential properties, building owners embraced the raw materials to save money. Visible brick, weathered wood, cast iron and steel became the norm. As residents began to appreciate the simplicity and raw beauty of the materials, the industrial style was born.
Today, exposing the infrastructure of a house is just as prevalent in a newly built townhouse or multimillion-dollar mansion as it is in a city loft or repurposed warehouse. However, the industrial style doesn’t just apply to structures. It’s also seen in furniture, lighting and decorative objects. Large retailers like Dot & Bo, Pottery Barn, Restoration Hardware and Crate and Barrel carry reclaimed wood tables, steel sconces and galvanized metal signs. Even Target offers a collection of industrial décor that includes utility bookcases, lighting and ironclad knick-knacks.
Industrial pieces are also highly sought after in vintage and antique stores. In addition to their beauty and functionality, they’re designed to withstand heavy-duty wear—meaning there is plenty of life left in them.
“An old piece of steel can bring surprising warmth to a room,” says Tara Dugan, owner of Scout and Annie in Kennett Square. “It appeals to so many people because each vintage industrial piece has a cool backstory. In addition, you’ll be hard-pressed to find tougher pieces—which makes industrial a fun and funky choice for families.”
So, where did this sudden industrial resurgence come from? Chester County interior designer Stephanie Pia has a few ideas. “I think the uptick in the trend is a reaction to the overly styled and garish décor of the ’80s and ’90s. Millennials who are now starting to furnish their own spaces are looking for something different than what they grew up in,” she says. “A lot of elements in industrial décor are reclaimed and/or raw materials like wood, metal and concrete. This appeals to a lot of people who are following a ‘greener’ type of living.”
There are many different ways to incorporate the industrial look into a home, from concrete floors and unfinished walls to reclaimed wood coffee tables with metal wheels to Edison-style filament lightbulbs in exposed wire shades. To start, use the architecture of your space to your advantage by putting the “bones” on display. If that component is lacking, Dugan suggests starting small. “My favorite way to incorporate industrial into almost any home is with smaller pieces. Go poke around Provenance in Philadelphia for metal shade lighting, industrial carts for your dining room, hardware for cabinets, or wonderful glass medical cabinets.”
Integrating an industrial look doesn’t mean changing everything in your home. Pia suggests adding factory lights over the dining table or kitchen island and switching coffee and side tables for metal pieces with cleaner lines. She also reiterates Dugan’s suggestion of scouring vintage stores. “If you need more storage, look for a set of old lockers and put them to use. After all, industrial décor is all about simplicity, and being rough around the edges in the chicest way possible.”
Is industrial just another design trend? Pia doesn’t think so. “Even though it’s come and gone over the years, it’s all about form and function—and that’s the main reason it won’t fade.”
If you’re worried, just remember to choose pieces carefully. “A barn wood table doesn’t date itself as much as a railroad-cart coffee table does,” says Dugan.
You also don’t have to spend a lot of money to give your home an industrial vibe. Buy wire baskets to hold blankets, update your kitchen cabinets or living room credenza with zinc drawer pulls, hang a gallery wall with thick black frames and metal wall signs, decorate bookshelves with glass apothecary jars, place metal bistro chairs around the dining room table, install iron wall hooks to hold coats in the entryway, use a galvanized metal trunk as a coffee table, cover your throw pillows in vintage feed sacks from Etsy.com. All of these quick décor updates are reasonably priced and easy to reuse if you find yourself tired of the industrial look.