Decorating 101: Industrial

Author: Alecia Pirulis  

Industrial Style Decor

Picture an old, dinged-up, battered and rusted utility cart – one that was probably used in a mail room in some office building about 50 years ago. The robin’s-egg blue paint is chipped off or bubbled beneath the pockets of rust, and the handle is so dented and worn it looks as though it could snap off at any second. Do you look at this cart and think, “junk,” or do you think it is beautiful?

If you would consider a rusted, vintage industrial object beautiful, then industrial decorating is perfect for you! (On the other hand, if your first instinct would be to throw it out or pass it by – perhaps traditional decorating would be more suited to your taste.)

Industrial décor is especially popular with loft dwellers – the style just blends so perfectly with the exposed pipes, brick, and cement floors often found in loft spaces. But you don’t have to live in a loft to decorate in the industrial style! Even in a traditional apartment, a touch of industrial style will look great – and you’ll be giving a new life to items that may otherwise be forgotten.

The first thing to know about industrial style is where to find these items (and what to look for). You can find big-name stores that sell industrial-style objects – but you’ll pay a hefty price for them because the industrial look is so trendy right now. Same goes for antique stores and specialty stores – you can find actual vintage pieces (rather than new items with an industrial look), but you’ll pay top dollar for them. If you are up to the challenge, you can get terrific industrial pieces extremely cheap (and even free) – but you’ll have to do a little digging (consider it a treasure hunt) and some creative repurposing. CraigsList has a free section you might want to check out, and freecycle.org is a great resource as well. Flea markets, thrift stores, garage sales, and salvage yards are other great places to start looking.

Now you know where to start – so what are you supposed to look for? Basically, anything that looks as though it could have been used in a warehouse during the Industrial Revolution (not literally, but that’s the general idea). You want iron cogs (to use as the base for your glass-top coffee table), oversized gears, pipes, farm equipment, crates, saw horses, vintage file cabinets, antique metal signs, industrial lamps, and so on.

You may stumble across items that you love but have no idea how to use. For example, perhaps you find a metal lunchbox from the 1930s or three antique steel funnels. The lunchbox could be converted into a planter for your kitchen window – fill it with mint, rosemary, and basil. Or place it on a table in the entryway and use it to hold keys and other small items. Place it on your coffee table and use it as television remote storage. The steel funnels can be converted into pendant lamps to hang over your dining room table or your kitchen island.

In addition to the steel, aluminum, and iron pieces you’ll be searching for, you also want to find items made from weathered wood (even better if the item combines weathered wood and iron or steel!) and stone or concrete. Keep the accessories to a minimum – you’re going for a look that is uncluttered and utilitarian.

A great thing about industrial style for apartment renters is the color scheme – cool, with a heavy emphasis on white, gray, and black. If your walls are white, then choose furniture and fabrics in dark shades of gray and black, adding minimal pops of vibrant color such as fuchsia or tangerine.

Industrial is all about upcycling – giving a new purpose or use to an old item. As long as you look for items that appeal to you, it will work in your space. Don’t be afraid to combine industrial with other styles – it works well with French country, modern, and shabby chic.