Exposed brick, concrete countertops, tile and stone floors are chic decor elements with a hardened past.
The first factories of the industrial revolution were built in the late 1700s. Forging steel, laundering fabrics, or glass-making involved very hot and often unwieldy fire. By the early 1900s the onset of unreliable electrical wiring added to the necessity for factories to be built with fire-prevention as the top priority. Open floor plans, exposed brick walls, cement floors, cement counters and exposed ductwork and visible steel beams made buildings as fire-preventative (and as inexpensive) as possible.
As technology advanced, factories became the more sleek, white-washed versions we know now. Manufacturing changed, too, which meant the shuttering of many facilities. Slowly, the sturdy buildings in many of the nation’s downtowns have been converted to loft living space. Industrial design became known not for its fire-prevention or affordability but for the post-modern chic decor it is today.
Modern industrial decor veers away from its utilitarian roots and becomes a wealth of textures, lines, colors and shapes. Brick, metal and stone play heavily into the aesthetic. “Upcycling” is the term du jour – taking old pieces and fashioning new, stylish uses for them. Pieces that were once farming or manufacturing equipment find new life as ornamental additions to rustic interiors. Signage recovered from factory settings is repurposed as wall art. Antique factory carts live again as coffee tables. Tractor seats become bar stools.
Natural surfaces and patinas are essential in industrial design. Drywall, plaster and paint are to be avoided, and plastic or formica are not welcome. Brick walls (easily installed with veneers), concrete counters, aged paver floors, subway tiles, and steel are the desired surfaces for this look. Light bulbs can hang exposed or with metal bowl shades. Area rugs are preferred to carpeting.
Many interior designers soften the sometimes harsh edges of a factory loft by using a few cozy tricks. Painting the ductwork and ceiling one color, like black, helps the ceiling recede from view and seem even higher. Adding fabrics that are pillowy and warm works in contrast to the stark surfaces and rough textures found in industrial design. Because many factories-turned-lofts were built before the wide adoption of electricity, floor-to-ceiling windows are common. Softening and incorporating this light is the first step designers do to warm up the interiors. Along with natural light, edison-style light bulbs, easily one of the most recognizable parts of industrial lighting, can either warm up or cool down a loft’s atmosphere.
Industrial design is as much a part of interior design today as it is our country’s history. Integrating some of its elements can bring depth and meaning to a once-forgotten space.