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May 3, 2020 – Published in Design & Decor Spring 2014 issue

The industrial look

Words: Caroline Ciantar-Barbara

In recent years, the capacity to restore and give a new life to old, run-down buildings had taken the world of design by storm.

Coarse and angular, the industrial style started gaining popularity in the 1960s when young artists restructured big empty spaces like abandoned factories in order to showcase their work. These spaces were given the term ‘loft’ and were later used as living spaces.

From rustic wall finishes and exposed structural elements to industrial inspired furnishings and fixtures, there is no doubt that this style will be staying for a while. A style that goes back to the basics, but with an aesthetic that is still cosy and warm.

Although it is mainly found in buildings that shared a historic past, within the walls of abandoned warehouses, it can also easily convert well into even the most upscale of modern interiors. This does not mean however, that you need to be upscale in order to acquire the essentials of industrial beauty.

The industrial style is exactly what it sounds like – nothing fancy or ornamental. It is the mechanical and utilitarian objects that are embraced. The functions of the features are left bare and accepted as things of aesthetic simply because of the purpose they fulfil.

If you are an enthusiast of the industrial rebirth in lighting, furniture and fixtures, you most probably already have your eye on a few unique pieces that you wish to have in your interiors. Now, homey, comfortable, plush furnishings can feel out of place in such an interior, but it does not mean that you must sit on metal chairs and stools.

Overstuffed wing chairs or tufted ottomans can give a nice break from the rigidity this style brings about – keeping it free of frills, solid upholstery in natural textures should be considered.

What is beautiful about adding industrial features into your home is the ability to mix and match your current contemporary styles with older inspired details. The easiest room to begin with is your kitchen. Modern, sleek stainless steel appliances or integrated cabinetry with simple metalware can reproduce hints of industrial elements. Pendant lighting such as Edison-style filament lighting can be used in kitchens and dining areas. Any choice of fixtures with urban metals can change your kitchen instantly.

When it comes to architecture, this style hides very little or nothing and the main idea is to show what your house is made from. The structure work is often on display, even down to the piping and vents. Simple, unadorned windows, bare walls and exposed beams show the mechanical skeleton that holds the space together. Covering such things behind a false ceiling or plastering the walls till only take out its natural, rustic charm.

Concrete is an ideal finish as it can contribute structurally and can also be highly polished or left unfinished and matte – which makes it suitable not only for walls, but also flooring, kitchen countertops, fireplaces, steps, bookshelves and much more. In keeping with our Maltese identity, it would also be great to integrate our traditional cement tiles in small quantities to introduce a splash of colour with their clean, colourful patterns.

Texture is an essential element, which is why aged fixtures and pieces of furniture integrate so well. The industrial style reveals the beauty of everyday junk by removing the difference between what is trash and what is treasure. The same way items were reused in warehouses to satisfy a purpose in the past, this style imitates exactly this. A trip to the flea market or thrift shops should introduce you to a few interesting pieces - all it takes is a little creativity in repurposing these salvaged, recycled pieces. For example, lockers can be used as storage, wooden crates can be turned into tables with the help of industrial caster wheels and old hooks and chains can be used to create pendant lights.

Exposed pendant light globes with wire cages, pulley inspired lighting, interesting shades and scissor accordion lighting are among popular choices for lighting fixtures and can also be found in flea markets. The mechanism behind these pieces is not left to the imagination, but again it is left exposed as part of their appeal.

Décor pieces, furnishings and finishes are allowed to reveal their usage and decay. However, the industrial style is also a modern look, and will allow fresher furnishings so long as they offer clean lines. A little bit of curve is fine, but should be kept to a minimum perhaps with a single accent chair or with rounded light fixtures.

All this mention of ageing and decay may get you envisioning the industrial colour scheme as grey and more tones of grey. And while it is true that the range of colours is slightly limited, there is still a little bit of room to play in the colour palette.

The palette is generally an offspring of the materials applied and most of the time this includes stone neutrals, greys, coppers, muted browns, metals with an old patina and aged chromes.

If you wish to add more colour than the industrial palette provides, consider going for colourful vintage items like rusty red metal pieces or vintage signage. Bold murals, graphics with bold symbols or abstract works, road signs and mixedmedia sculptures against exposed walls will make an instant feature in your space while still keeping with the style. Plants too inject life and colour into any environment, so a few large leaf plants and some significant pots to house them are also something to consider.

The best interiors are those that evolve over time, so if this is the style that you prefer, build on it and give it time to evolve – this way you create layers of interest to the people using the space.

So what makes this style work so well? Because it celebrates modest materials and is as affordable as you need it to be, giving you the opportunity to purchase affordable pieces with a story. It is a style which showcases a beautiful play between form and function. Or perhaps it’s because we’ve become so far detached from the day-to-day industry.

It certainly involves the fun part of interior design – keenly waiting around to find out how the looks of the past will morph into something fresh and exciting.

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