A blend of retro and futuristic, the popular new design aesthetic can add a fun and creative visual spark to a room or home.
Even if you don’t live in a city loft carved out of an old factory building, the industrial look can be equally at home in your suburban abode.
This edgy-yet-chic look includes substantial pieces featuring wood and metal that often have a distinctly masculine feel, but can be softened with upholstery and other fabric details. It can be used to set the tone for an entire room or as a singular focal point, and it mixes well with a variety of other decorating styles, from traditional to modern.
Maureen Smithe, buyer for Walter E. Smithe furniture, which has 11 locations in the Chicago area, says the look is extremely versatile in terms of how it is used. “You can make a statement with a cocktail table or entertainment console, or do the whole room. It’s so popular because you can go big or small with it.”
Blend of Old and New
Kevin Hanley, owner of State Street Salvage in Chicago, became aware of the industrial chic look about 10 years ago while working in his family’s business importing furniture and fabric from France, Belgium and England. While overseas, he noticed people were using industrial things in their homes, but he never saw such items for resale. Back in the States, he started seeking out sources for such items and began creating one-of-a-kind pieces by combining salvaged wood from torn-down buildings with old cast-iron machine bases to make tables, servers and buffets. Eventually, he started doing steelwork and pairing clean-lined bases with old wood. “The juxtaposition of modern and old appeals to me,” he explains.
Some believe the industrial chic look found its beginnings in the steampunk culture. Steampunk began as a literary genre with a Victorian-industrial feel (think “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” or “Hugo”). It merges romance with technology, blending the sensibility and fashion of the Victorian age with advanced machinery and gadgets. As the movement gained popularity, it began to evolve into a design aesthetic that has both a retro and futuristic feel, which makes it fit nicely with both contemporary and transitional décor.
Others believe the industrial look takes its cues from the environmental movement and the design community’s desire to refurbish old things or repurpose them for new uses. It might be finding a singular piece that once had a commercial or industrial use — such as a workbench or stool from a factory, a metal cabinet from a dental office, an old library card catalog or a counter from a general store — or using industrial parts to make a new piece.
Dana Filzone, design consultant at the Ethan Allen Lombard Design Center, says, “I feel that the trend has grown from people becoming more environmentally conscious and into recycling and refurbishing. It grew from this one-of-a-kind trend using things salvaged from tear-downs of old buildings to a more mass-market idea.”
Hanley feels the “eco-friendly” aspect is secondary and that the appeal of the look is the driving force behind the trend. “It is just a wonderful byproduct. It makes people feel better about it.”
In addition to the eye-catching nature of the pieces, and the feel-good repurposing aspect, many people like the fact that many items are made in the United States and speak to our history. “There has been such a tradition of manufacturing here in the Midwest, so a lot of pieces have a connection to our region,” says Hanley.
Bits and Pieces
Adding to its appeal, industrial chic is versatile and can work with many different styles of decorating. As Claudia Beebe, owner of BB Interiors in Geneva, points out, “Certain reclaimed furniture goes very well with period pieces; either as a conversation piece or form of art. For example, a simple console with a live-edge top of walnut or cherry wood is an elegant touch without being overwhelming and can be added to pretty much any décor,” says Beebe, who personally selects unique industrial chic items made by artists like Hanley to sell through her business.
Hanley may have a city showroom, but he lives in St. Charles and has a workshop in Sycamore, so he’s familiar with the suburban scene and has many clients throughout the suburbs. “You don’t have to live in a loft to have an industrial piece. What’s neat is that you can combine mid-century, antique, modern and industrial in the same room.”
Lisa Barsanti, owner of The Frenchman’s Wife, a shop located in LaGrange, has been in the antiques business for 20 years, and says she’s long been enamored of the trend. For those who like the look but find it difficult to picture in their homes, Barsanti recommends a “little bit of metal” as a good starting point. For example, add metal bins to a pine breakfront or use a rolling bin to store shoes in a mudroom. “Keep it in perspective,” she says. “You don’t need a factory table in the middle of your family room. With just a few things, you can have a traditional look but with that urban edge.”
Filzone says the look lends itself to a casual lifestyle as it is less formal than some styles and can freshen up a traditional or transitional interior. “People like to add it as an accent here or there for an eclectic feeling. These are pieces that are interesting and catch your eye.”
Mass-Market vs. One-of-a-Kind
Independent shops, flea markets, antiques markets and salvage stores were at the forefront of the trend, but larger retailers and catalog merchants are now putting it in the spotlight. “Now you are seeing it everywhere. It has touched so many different decorating realms,” says Barsanti.
Jennifer Tanner, project manager for Baxton Studio, which has showroom locations in Lombard and Bensenville, says that her company has been bringing the look in through wheeled coffee tables and pieces with dark gray finishes, iron legs and wood tops.
She considers it a trendy look that will ebb and flow like fashion, but she likes it so much that she has incorporated it into her own home décor. “It is very streamlined and minimalist. You don’t have to add a lot of accessories, and the pieces are very substantial. It has a nice, lived-in look that is very comfortable.”
While mass production might give the look more recognition and provide more people with the opportunity to try it, some insist you can’t beat the real thing.
Hanley, for one, believes reproductions seem to miss the mark because they can’t quite replicate the character and patina of the originals. “Authentic industrial pieces have been around the block and have a little bit of a soul to them, while (newer) pieces can leave you a little flat,” he says.
Striking a Balance
New or old, many industrial pieces feature a combination of wood and metal and have straight edges. For example, the pieces Ethan Allen has in this vein tend to have more metal and distressed finishes, such as a table with a plank top and metal base.
Because they can have a hard-edged look, they need to be balanced with something a bit softer. Each Walter E. Smithe store has an area dedicated to this look, showing it alongside pieces from the Belgian Luxe line, such as a comfortable sofa. “When you have something more industrial, it is definitely important to pair it with something softer or it looks like it should be in a factory, not a home,” says Smithe. “That makes it more livable and easier to relate to.”
Though some feel the industrial look can fit into any room, others say it works best in communal spaces, such as the great room, family room or kitchen, or highly functional areas, like an office or mudroom.
As for palette, it works best with neutrals and natural textures, like linen and leather. “People tend to hit the neutral palette on this one — beige, black, dark brown, cream, navy,” says Tanner.
Adding a pop of a rich jewel tone color or a lush fabric like velvet can add a more feminine, elegant touch. “Both warm and cool tones in paint and fabrics enhance industrial chic furniture, but it all depends on the client and what other pieces we are decorating around,” says Beebe.
Lighting the Way
Industrial chic is not limited to furniture pieces but includes lamps, sconces and accessories. In some cases, homeowners prefer to incorporate the style through design details like kitchen hardware or lighting. Sue McDowell, co-owner of McDowell Remodeling in St. Charles, says that she’s had several clients who have done this, particularly in kitchens. “We are seeing some industrial light fixtures and hardware as people gravitate toward cleaner lines and an urban look,” she says.
There are many unique light fixtures made from materials like iron or galvanized tin or that feature bare “Edison” style bulbs or bulbs encased in protective guards, all elements that can evoke an industrial look. Such fixtures look at home in a residence of today, but evoke factory or commercial settings of the past.
“Pendants and chandeliers are still a big trend in general, and there are a lot that fit perfectly into this category,” says Smithe.
Though some view industrial chic as a shorter-lived trend, many in the industry believe it is here to stay for a while. “As long as people are liking unique accent pieces and recycling, it will continue to reinvent itself,” says Filzone.
“This look is definitely not in the ninth inning,” says Smithe. “It will be changing, but it has staying power. It has a nostalgic quality that really resonates with people.”Edit Module