What is “Industrial” Really?

Flipping through the latest issue of Elle Decor I came across the new Restoration Hardware ad campaign. They’ve taken a new direction and that’s good, however, I think someone drank too much of the Kool-Aid with respect to the “industrial” bent of the room styling. The interesting thing is that they’re calling it “Belgian”, which it only slightly is. Belgain style is more spare and less over-sized. The giant train station clock between the two rustic bookcases, the metal-wheeled table with “carefully” placed gears, and the heavy fireplace mantel…It’s just too much. It’s like everything “hip” crammed into one space. Sigh.

I’m definitely a defender of the industrial look. I have always gravitated toward metal, cement, glass and architectural finds of the “boiler room” variety. I’ve seen this style evolve over the past couple of years from an edgy NY loft-lover’s M.O. to a hybrid that the PTA and play-date suburban denizens have seemed to embrace. It perplexes me. This is my ideal industrial-chic style home:

Industrial chic, to me, is about using found and foundational objects (such as raw steel beams) to determine the identity of a space. It’s taking the idea of moving into an abandoned factory and updating it. You don’t actually have to live in a factory – although I’d definitely love to! Industrial elements, again, in my opinion, are found things like pulleys and gears and dentist’s metal cabinets. I’m left feeling confused by things like this $695 side table.

Restoration Hardware's Wine Barrel table

It’s pretty.  I like it. But I would never want my clients to spend that much on a side table, let alone one that is supposed to be “industrial”. My take on this would be to go to the salvage yard, find a cool barrel or an old iron sewing machine trestle and have glass cut for it. You can also find barrel bands on Craigs List and probably even people that make tables from them.

This home is 100% industrial, and there is so much I love about it, but it’s a bit too sterile for me. You have to find the balance between “raw” and “Saw 5”:
When considering adding industrial elements to your space, you have to think outside the box. Medical equipment and restaurant supply stores are a great place to score amazing pieces for a fraction of the cost of what you’d find at West Elm or Pottery Barn. Take for instance this great three-tiered cart:

Luxor utility cart

It’s only $169 at a restaurant supply store but at a place like Anthropologie it’d be $500. Apartment Therapy, found a stainless steel table for $400 and felt it was a “score”. I still think that’s high, for true industrial. However, it’s all relevant when you’re a client with a lot of money and a lot of blind trust.  I’m too frugal to want to blow a big chunk of my designer’s budget on such an item.

I’m super attracted to the use of gears and other strange found items to design a space, but I’m really averse to the strategically placed-trying to look not planned. It’s like a beacon of “coolishness” which is my new word I just made up right now for trendy design addicts! I love the heft and weirdness of gears, but I have no place for them in my home so they aren’t there. I guess I could cast a few around here and there but that would be terrible.

I love industrial mixed with comfortable, colorful, ethnic and Bohemian. I have a collection of vintage fishing weights that sit in a modern glass dish on a mid-century table. Love that. Makes me smile. I love the idea of a polished cement floor with a steel coffee table and a luxuriously soft and squishy sofa piled high with blankets and pillows. Comfort- plus-odd equals oh-so-sexy to me.

If you find you have an affinity for industrial objects but just aren’t sure how to incorporate them into your existing space, you know I’m here to save the day!

Much Love,


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