Industrial design is known for its raw elements and factory beginnings. Whether you're decorating a downtown loft or are simply drawn to the style, there are ways big and small to incorporate it into your existing space. We spoke with designers who shared their insight on how industrial chic style—as industrial design can be called—became mainstream and provided suggestions for key elements to keep in mind, along with decorating tips.
Meet the Expert
- Jessica Davis is the principal designer at and owner of JL Design.
- Alex Nino is the founder of the Brooklyn interior design firm Alex Nino Interiors.
- Alessandra Wood is the VP of Style at Modsy.
- Eilyn Jimenez is the founder and creative director of and an interior designer at Sire Design.
- Annie Elliott is the founder of and a designer at Annie Elliott Design in DC.
Industrial Design's Origins
If industrial chic style makes you think of your friend who lives in a converted loft building, you're right on the mark. "Industrial design became a popular aesthetic when more and more historic commercial buildings and factories began to be converted into residential spaces," designer Jessica Davis explains. "Most designers believe that it happened as a natural process whereby increasing populations of people in large metropolitan cities forced builders to get creative about where they were building," adds designer Alex Nino. "Old, abandoned factories and warehouses suddenly boasted the potential for massive residential building projects where land for new-builds was scarce—and thus, industrial design style was born."
These residences became particularly popular with members of the creative community. "Later in the mid-century, artists including Andy Warhol famously converted old warehouses to lofts where they would live, work, and host events for exclusive patrons," Modsy's VP of Style Alessandra Wood explains. "The spaces celebrated their first life as a factory. The association of these old, industrial spaces with cool, contemporary artist quarters make loft-living popular, and dwellers really leaned into the architecture to inspire the decor."
As Davis explains, "Industrial design captures raw materials—often original to the space—such as wood, metal, and concrete." We see this in the case of Marcel Breuer’s Cesca chair in the early 20th century, Wood shares. "In the 1920s, thanks to the Bauhaus design school in Germany, we see designers leveraging materials and construction techniques of factory-made objects in the design of furniture and decor," she explains.
If there's anything that industrial style is not, it's conservative and concealed. Rather, it "puts the inside elements of buildings on the outside for all to see," Nino notes. As she explains, the aesthetic "favors exposing architectural and mechanical details, like brick, beams, ducts, and pipes, rather than trying to conceal them." That said, newer industrial chic residences may feature exposed brick and ductwork that was added during construction.
There's often no reason to make major alterations to a space with exposed industrial features, and Nino therefore appreciates industrial design's characteristics in that they can be both wallet and eco friendly. "There's no need to burn your budget trying to hide the structural and systemic elements of the space; just embrace them instead," she says. "As a designer, I also love this style because it emphasizes re-purposed, time-worn materials, making it visually appealing and environmentally friendly at the same time."
When designing an industrial-style kitchen in particular, Nino suggests selecting neutral backsplash tile. "This will play into the neutral color palette and lend itself well to other common industrial style materials like exposed brick, metal, wood, and concrete," she comments. Nino is also a proponent of opting for thin countertops and wide base cabinets, both of which evoke the minimal look that is synonymous with industrial design.
While working with neutral hues, don't forget to add texture, says Eilyn Jimenez, who designed the office space pictured above. "The use of alternating textures in monochromatic color palettes always delivers a timeless, inspirational approach that feels pure and welcoming," she explains. "This tends to be the most requested aesthetic from clients who want their spaces to breathe simplicity in an organic, yet refined way."
You can most definitely incorporate elements of industrial chic design into a space that doesn't boast brick and beams. First, toss the clutter. "Functionality is at the core of industrial style, so you don't see a lot of superfluous pillows, patterns, or accessories in a true industrial interior," designer Annie Elliott says. Then, think in terms of accent pieces. "Start with some antiqued pieces preferably in metal; a few of these pieces will start to introduce this style into your home effortlessly," Davis advises. Then, go for rich finishing touches. Wood notes, "Layer in black metals, leather, and weathered wood to take the style to the next level."
Mixing styles is fair game, Elliott adds. "If you love industrial design, add some pieces from one or two other styles to soften the look," she suggests. "If you add a navy antelope-print rug, a lucite waterfall coffee table, and multi-colored block-print pillows in different sizes, you've just added some classic, glam, and bohemian elements to your room."