While so many American factories have closed, elements of those industrial spaces live on in today’s homes.
Metal and wood beams, exposed brick and concrete walls, mixed metal fixtures and steel staircases are all part of the industrial chic look permeating residences in cities, suburban and rural locations.
“Some of the elements of industrial design that people like, such as clean lines and simple, functional spaces without a lot of finishing, are similar to what we see in commercial design,” says Angela Nuessle, national interior design director for PulteGroup. “It works best in residential design when it’s mixed with softer elements, such as velvet cushions or a plush area rug.”
Why Industrial Design Intrigues Today’s Buyers
Interest in industrial design, which has been building for a few years, stems from three simultaneous trends impacting real estate, says Mary Cook, principal of Mary Cook Associates, a Chicago-based design firm.
“When the recession hit, people turned away from over-the-top, heavy decorating and turned toward simple materials and clean lines,” says Cook. “In part, this was because everything from materials to labor was expensive and people wanted to spend less.”
At the same time, an interest in urban living occurred, which meant consumers were interested in an urban vibe in their homes even if they lived in the suburbs, says Cook.
“The third trend was the increased adoption of technology, which left a lot of people looking for anything authentic to contrast the technology they were using,” she says. “People are looking for items with character, things that are not mass-produced.”
Elements of Industrial Design
Townhomes at Overture at Encore in Atlanta by John Wieland Homes feature open shelving in the kitchen, beamed ceilings, metal stair railings and industrial-style light fixtures. Photo courtesy of John Wieland Homes.Among the industrial features that designers are incorporating into single-family homes, as well as apartments and condos, are concrete floors, wide-plank hardwood floors, exposed brick walls and exposed ductwork, says Nuessle. Iron stairs, iron light fixtures and mixed metal hardware on cabinets and doors, particularly with a matte black or unpolished finish, can add industrial-style interest to a room.
Key features in industrial design are leaving materials unfinished and exposing structures. For example, exposing the crossbeams that support the roof, the natural grain in wood and the inner workings of light fixtures, says Cook. She says placing wood next to metal warms up the look, as does combining leather and textiles with hard surfaces.
“Location is everything when it comes to how subtle or harsh you can go with industrial design,” says Nuessle. “It’s more subtle in the South and the Midwest, but you can go a little harsher on the coasts, especially in cities.”
Overture at Encore, a luxury townhouse community in suburban Atlanta by John Wieland Homes, a subsidiary of Pulte Group, designers installed open shelving in the kitchen, beamed ceilings, metal stair railings and industrial-style light fixtures.
Authentic Industrial Design
While not every location has buildings formerly used for industrial purposes that can be reinvented for residential use, a factory in Washington, D.C., converted to a condo project called the Helicopter Factory, resulted in the most expensive condo sale in the city in 2017 at $2.3 million.
“The factory belonged to Emile Berliner, an inventor and producer of gyrocopters, which were the precursor to helicopters,” says the developer, Brook Rose, principal of Brook Rose Development in Washington, D.C.
Rose converted the factory into two large units and added new townhouse-style condos to the former factory’s parking lot.
“We tried to keep the character of the old building, which had cool framing, with wood beams and columns and high ceilings,” says Rose. “We made a concerted effort to use authentic industrial design in the new buildings and searched out old black bricks and divided light windows.”
In the new buildings, Rose used subway tile from the counters to the ceiling in the kitchen and added dramatic open shelving constructed of reclaimed wood, attached with old piping.
“It’s important to respect the history of industrial design and yet avoid a fabricated design look,” says Rose.
Mixing Styles for a Modern Look
Industrial design need not be so harsh, as shown in this kitchen that incorporates elements of industrial design for a chic and inviting kitchen. Photo courtesy of Mary Cook Associates.Unless you live in an actual factory, you may want to limit your industrial design features for subtlety.
In a custom-designed home near Detroit, Cook hired an artist to create a zinc range hood and used the same metal for the counter on the island and added strips of the metal along the sides of the island. Cook mixed those strong industrial elements, along with wood beams on the ceiling and industrial-style pendant lights, with contemporary seating and traditional white cabinets.
To avoid an overly decorated look, Rose says he added barn doors in a couple of locations at the Helicopter Factory, but not in every room. The wide-plank oak floors have a matte finish and the untreated steel railings on the stairs include some imperfections.
“You have to edit yourself a little when you do industrial design because part of its appeal is its timeless simplicity,” says Rose.
To tweak your own home with an industrial vibe, Cook suggests adding panels to walls in a few places, such as a product called Stikwood that you can peel off when you want a change.
“Add a barn door to a room to compartmentalize it or some open shelving and a cool light fixture to your kitchen,” suggests Cook.
An even simpler way to add industrial chic is to choose hardware such as oil-rubbed bronze, matte black or stainless-steel, rather than a polished metal.
Industrial features mix just as easily with rustic, modern, contemporary or transitional styles, which is one reason Nuessle thinks industrial glam is here to stay.
Michele Lerner is an award-winning freelance writer, editor and author who has been writing about real estate, personal finance and business topics for more than two decades.