One of the unique and interesting home fashion trends of the past few years is the use and repurposing of items traditionally not found in the typical American home. Often these pieces have their origin as functional items from business and industry and, if one has an open mind and some creative thinking, they can quickly become beautiful items for home furnishing and accent.
Industrial décor is fashionable, functional and perfectly suited for life in the 21st century. Pieces which were originally designed to make factories and offices work more efficiently can do the same for your home.
After you are open to this concept, the sky is the limit! Military surplus cabinets can become the answer to your china storage needs, laboratory carts can become an integral part of your entertaining as a sleek and highly functional bar cart, and almost any long flat surface can morph into a table of any kind.
Another benefit to industrial décor is the interest, contrast, texture and style that will come from incorporating an unexpected element or two into your design. Wood that may reflect a bit of its history through slight wear and use marks, raw or finished metals, even with a bit of rust, can all be stylishly integrated into your home or office.
Not to be overlooked is the recycling, or “green,” factor obtained by giving new life to these wonderful and historic pieces.
Using industrial items requires one first to begin to see items in another light and, at times, beyond their original function. The application of industrial elements to your décor can be a very freeing decision, allowing you to think outside the box and letting your creativity to be your guide.
Bins, shelves, carts, boxes and even tools can become essential pieces of your home as you begin to rethink the “form” which can meet your need for “function.”
Take, for instance, the common household need for storage. Industrial trunks, metal filing cabinets, vintage library catalog files, tool and parts bins and steel shelved carts can all be put to use storing and displaying your books, china, glassware, kitchen items, clothing or collectibles.
Tables offer many ways to utilize nontraditional household items. The use of vintage industrial factory carts as coffee tables has become so popular that some furniture manufacturers are now reproducing them. Accent tables are able to be crafted from virtually anything — as we show in our photo of a coffee table which uses a circa 1910 “church cart” (coffin dolly) as its base and a simple glass top — and can become the highlight of your room.
Home offices are uniquely suited to industrial décor. Drafting tables as desks, metal seating and stools, vintage filing cabinets and shelves all can be easily mixed and matched to create a space which is comfortable, functional and stylish.
Industrial home décor furnishings and accessories can be found many places from design studios to flea markets and in various stages of repair, condition or repurposing. Expect to pay more for an item which has already been cleaned, restored and is ready for home use.
If you are prepared to put in a little cleaning time, though, many of these items can be found “in the wild” and in their natural state. Dust, dirt, grease and grime are common with these pieces and can be gotten rid of with some tender care. Soap and water often does the trick, but sometimes use of a mild solvent is needed to remove decades of grease.
Be careful to remove the dirt, but let the patina remain, as this is the quality that often adds character to your newfound treasure. We like to use a matte clear coat, particularly on the metal parts, to lock in that patina and minor rust areas.
Wood areas may require a light sanding and even a bit of stain before clear coating. The level of restoration or refitting you do is entirely your call and can range from a complete redo to “like new” condition to keeping your piece more “shop worn.”
Chuck and Connie Hamsher are collectors of 20th-century design and art and owners of The Purple Moon in downtown Charleston, which specializes in mid-century, industrial and contemporary home furnishings and accessories. They can be reached at 304-345-0123.
Next week: The WV Design Team’s Holley Price, of Holley Price Interiors, will take a look at design storage options for those with limited space who want to store their stuff in style.