Why the industrial look is hot and how you can implement it

The word “industrial” may conjure up cold and hard imagery, such as cement, metal and machinery. But when talked about as a design aesthetic, many experts get warm and fuzzy about the industrial look.

That's because, when applied to a home, the industrial style doesn't have to be bland, impersonal or off-putting like a factory floor might be. Instead, it can create an inviting and open space with an attractive modernity and simplicity.

“At its core, industrial design involves creating a space that feels like it was once used for industrial purposes. Industrially designed spaces often share common elements like concrete floors, high ceilings, steel and timber architectural elements, and expansive windows, among others,” says Mackenzie Collier, owner and principal designer with Phoenix-based Mackenzie Collier Interiors.

Laura Mineff, designer and contractor with Array Design Studio in Cleveland, defines the industrial look as “bringing in the old with the new by simplifying and appreciating natural elements such as concrete, brick and steel with an open floor plan concept. It often incorporates exposed ceilings and conveys a feeling of unlimited defined spaces as opposed to compartmentalized or defined cubed spaces. The atmosphere produced feels more open, vast and free-flowing.”

In its 2019 Design Forecast, Zillow predicted that the industrial style will prove increasingly popular this year in residences. The pros can tell you why.

“Increasingly, home and business owners are adopting an eco-friendly mindset, choosing to move to more urban environments and downtown dwellings where they can forgo commuting in favor of walking or biking. The industrial style works really well in lofts, condos, townhouses and commercial spaces,” Collier says.

Additionally, the industrial look “has evolved to become homier and more comfortable, which is why it's spreading to smaller cities and multifamily housing,” notes Rachel Hyslop, director of channel marketing for Graber, a window treatment manufacturer in Middleton, Wisconsin.

But make no mistake: industrial aesthetics aren't ideal for every home.

“It's very specific and doesn't appeal to everyone. It works best in urban settings as opposed to more traditional looking homes in suburban neighborhoods,” Hyslop cautions.

Amanda Leigh Carlson, lead interior designer at Nashville-headquartered Southern Athena LLC, echoes that thought.

“A midcentury modern ranch will look ridiculous if the interior design is industrial,” says Carlson.

Also, if you're not careful, the completed effect can be cold, sterile and costly, according to Mineff.

To pull of the industrial look in a given room or area effectively with panache, it's best if those interiors have high ceilings and open space, although you can create the illusion of more space with special techniques.

“You can release the limitations of a space, even without high ceilings, by painting the walls, ceiling and trim the same color, removing all woodwork and trim to create clean lines, and using dry wall wrap versus casing and molding in doorways and openings,” suggests Mineff.

Most agree that the colors you choose should be neutral — like white, black or gray.

“Distressed finishes, aged metal and repurposed hardware can also go a long way toward achieving this look,” says Hyslop.

In addition, “vintage reproduction filament lighting, leather furniture and primitive commercial objects repurposed as decor are also common elements utilized in industrial spaces,” adds Collier.

Aim, too, for streamlined furniture that you shouldn't try to match.

“Bring different fabric textures into play. A metal frame with a leather-wrapped seat and back cushion is a great piece, for example,” says Carlson.

An area rug can top off your industrial-themed space nicely, as well.

“Look to natural fibers, like sisal,” Hyslop says.

While it won't resonate forever, many concur that the industrial design approach has legs.

“It should last a long time, considering that historic buildings and vintage architecture continue to hold a spell on anyone interested in aesthetics. It's an absolute classic when executed well,” says Carlson. “I don't think it will die out as a trend until seven to 10 years from now.”

Open floor plans with high ceilings allow for the introduction of industrial style furnishings. Courtesy of Graber
Industrial lighting, such as this pendant fixture with Edison bulbs, can add a hint of the industrial style to any space. CTW Features
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