The builders of the early 20th century’s factories and warehouses would be amazed.
Elements used back then to create sparse, utilitarian workspaces – things like rough-hewn wooden tables, rolling carts, metal filing cabinets and industrial lighting – are now hot items in home decorating.
These pieces, along with exposed brick walls and cement floors, first became popular when urban industrial spaces were being transformed into chic loft apartments.
But the trend has made its way from downtown lofts to suburban living rooms. Homeowners are adding industrial flair to even the most traditionally decorated houses.
Emily Henderson, host and designer for HGTV’s upcoming series “Secrets from a Stylist,” is giving an industrial makeover to a Spanish-style house for an episode due to air in April.
Decorating with industrial elements “is so much fun,” she says. Edison-style light bulbs are back. And offerings from retailer Restoration Hardware include chairs and tables meant to look as though they were built from old airplane parts.
It may sound challenging to mix items that evoke century-old manufacturing into your modern-day house. But designers say it’s less complicated than you’d think; industrial style blends easily into houses that already have a clean-lined, modern look.
And in more traditional houses, the “blend of history and hipness” found in old industrial style is a perfect fit, says designer and decordemon.com founder Brian Patrick Flynn.
Flynn, Henderson and Los Angeles-based designer Betsy Burnham offer their favorite advice on bringing the cool style of a downtown loft into any home.
Go for contrast
“If I already have a carved-wood, French-traditional, damask sofa, I probably would mix in more of the wooden industrial pieces than metal,” says Henderson.
The wood tones of different pieces don’t need to match – in fact, it’s best if they don’t.
“The huge contrast between industrial and traditional is what makes it work,” Henderson says. “Trying to make everything match color-wise or wood tone-wise can actually do you a disservice.”
Feel free to experiment, putting a vintage piece of machinery on a sleek coffee table, or a tall, industrial lamp next to an overstuffed chair.
The contrast will be easier to pull off if it’s peppered throughout your home rather than concentrated only in one room.
“The last thing you want to do is walk into a Colonial house and have one room look like an East Village loft and the others looking like Colonial Williamsburg,” Burnham says.
“It’s all about the right mix of things. Any one style done too literally is a mistake anyway, especially in 2011. We want to mix.”
Perfect for kitchens
Kitchens are an easy and practical place to begin injecting industrial design. Stainless steel appliances and professional-grade stoves have already brought an industrial feel to many residential kitchens.
To take it further, says Flynn, “add two gigantic industrial lights over a kitchen island or over a big wooden table and you immediately have that look.”
Painted plank wood floors are another popular industrial element.
“The more wear and tear,” Flynn says, “the more authentic the look.”
Swap out accent pieces
Throughout your home, consider replacing a side table or coffee table with an old industrial trunk, cart or card catalog. Look for pieces with aged or distressed metal, rather than polished chrome.
Troll flea markets for old industrial items that are “fun, playful and unexpected,” Flynn suggests. Even if you don’t have a large, loft-like space, most homes can handle one or two oversize conversation pieces.
Henderson recently decorated a loft that she says had “these insane orange industrial rolling carts.” Items like that definitely add some downtown, edgy style, but they’re probably not for everybody.
“If you have a pretty neutral house, it could start looking a little junky,” Henderson says, especially if the finish is very scuffed. “But if you have a really poppy house with lots of color, go for it!”
Another easy accent: Add some wrought-iron letters and numbers in fonts that evoke the late 19th or early 20th centuries. Many styles are available online.
Consider the ceiling
In a basement with a drop ceiling, Flynn notes, you can easily remove the fake ceiling and expose the beams above to add height and industrial style.
If you’re building an addition, consider having exposed ductwork and beams rather than covering the ceiling with drywall. You can hang lights from the beams instead of investing in recessed ceiling lighting, and will save money on installation.
Keep it comfortable
To balance out the coldness of industrial decor, Burnham likes to include a few “more organic” items to convey warmth. In decorating a house in San Francisco recently, she mixed industrial metals with natural-fiber fabrics and wood furniture.
“We did a hybrid of a few more traditional pieces, like comfy chairs,” she says, “but also a steel coffee table with wood.”
She and Flynn both like using rich, soft fabrics to warm up or add color to an industrial-style space. In a kitchen, Burnham says, try adding a Turkish rug or Roman shades made from a woven fabric.
Remember, she says, that factories and warehouses were designed for work, not comfort. If you’re going to live with industrial style at home, keep comfort in mind.
Where to get it
A huge array of vintage stuff is available online and at flea markets. These real industrial items reclaimed from old buildings usually cost less than reproductions.
“Vintage is always a cheaper go-to,” says Henderson, unless you’re buying actual antiques.
If you prefer new items, many retailers are offering industrial-inspired pieces, from pharmacy-style medicine cabinets to factory-style metal shelving meant for living rooms.