The History of Industrial Interiors

The History of Industrial Interiors

The 2020s have seen industrial interiors experiencing a significant revival, with more of us eager to incorporate the rawness and unfinished nature of this ultra-cool design style into our homes. But what are industrial interiors, how did this trend originate and why is it so appealing to us today?

Here we dive into the history of industrial architecture and design to uncover some of the reasons why this is a timeless trend that will remain popular long into the future.

What are industrial interiors?

Industrial interior design puts exposed features at its heart and truly celebrates them, resisting the temptation to do everything possible to conceal them. However, to reduce industrial interiors to just that would be doing them a great disservice because they are so much more than simply exposing tonal brickwork or introducing raw metal accents into a space.

Industrial architecture and design also prioritises functionality, with every single element serving a purpose beyond simply looking aesthetically pleasing. The distressed walls, visibly worn flooring and aged metal pipework hint at the stories that took place within industrial buildings over the centuries, with every imperfection saying something about its history.

A brief overview of industrial design

As its name suggests, this style of design stems from the time of the Industrial Revolution, when society made great strides towards the kinds of modernisation we experience today. The very first industrial structures were built in the late 1700s and they were designed to be solely utilitarian and house as many workers and machines as possible.

Many industrial buildings are narrow with large-scale windows, which allow natural light to permeate every corner of the structure in the absence of electricity. A no-frills approach to construction was adopted, with the sole aim of creating a building that could support manufacturing processes through every stage, resulting in a streamlined production line that would keep costs down and turnaround times short.

As early industrial buildings needed to work hard for the businesses within them, insurance companies had a huge influence on the layout of these structures, particularly with regard to preventing fire from completely destroying the structural integrity of the architecture. This is why so many industrial buildings have a homogenous look that has become iconic today, including separate stairwells, plain facades, and open-plan layouts. Everything that could possibly prevent the effective suppression of fire was removed, which contributed significantly to the style's unfinished look that we have come to appreciate so much today.

During the early 1900s, technology had developed and the manufacturing process underwent a huge transformation. Coal powered machinery now featured far more heavily in production lines, which meant that structures needed to be larger, sturdier and much more versatile than ever before. As a result, steel and concrete started to be incorporated into the construction process and vast warehouses and multi-storey structures were built on larger pieces of land which were often located slightly outside large towns and cities. At this time, the very first Edison light bulbs were available, which provided important sources of light in the heart of these much larger structures.

industrial interiors

The reclamation of forgotten buildings

When manufacturing moved outside of metropolitan areas, previous factories and warehouses were simply abandoned and forgotten about, until the mid-1900s that is when artists and creatives who recognised the potential of these spacious buildings with an abundance of natural light started to reclaim them.

Just a few decades later, interior designers and design magazines first started to laud the unique qualities of industrial design, which quickly gained traction and long-abandoned buildings became sources of inspiration, renewal and recycling. Loft-style living spaces became hugely sought after and they have remained popular to this day.

While industrial design cemented its place as one of the most popular interior styles long ago, its profile rose again significantly in the 2000s when housing shortages led to swathes of factories and industrial buildings being converted by developers into loft-style apartments with layouts that really made the most of the spacious footprints of the buildings themselves.

Next, the rise of the hygge and minimalist movements that began in the late 2000s furthered the popularity of industrial design, as materials synonymous with industrial design are easily paired with the clean lines of contemporary minimalism

The benefits of industrial design

Industrial interior design is a trend that can be incorporated into a plethora of different styles. Not only is this one of the main reasons why this style has stood the test of time so well, but it also means that you don't need to live in a loft style apartment to enjoy this timeless aesthetic.

Even ultra-modern properties can incorporate elements of farmhouse style design, mid-century modern furniture and industrial chic, largely because industrial design has inspired an array of sub-genres including:

- Steampunk

Taking inspiration from the Industrial Revolution and writers including H.G. Wells and Jules Verne, the Victorian steampunk style features an abundance of wheels, gears and cogs, exposed metal, and rusty colour schemes.

- Urban chic

This design style merges the exposed architectural elements of industrial design with the energy and convenience seen in urban and metropolitan areas. Notable features here include reclaimed wood and a clever combination of modern and vintage design.

Industrial design today

Today, many industrial structures are used as venues for weddings, parties and other celebratory events, and given the large floor plans and plethora of natural light, this should come as no surprise.

The masculinity inherent within the likes of brick, steel and concrete are ideal companions to romantic string lights, floral displays and other decorations used to give special occasions a final finishing flourish.

What are the main characteristics of industrial interior design?

Although industrial interior design is a highly streamlined style that is renowned for advocating paring back on accessories and embracing the natural form of a space, this design style does still have a small selection of core characteristics.

Natural light

Large windows that allow streams of natural light to permeate a space are one of the elements that set industrial interiors apart. Large windows don't necessarily need to be solid panes of glass, as often a grid pattern was present on original structures which brought a sense of cohesion to brick structures and inky black window panes.

Neutral tones

A neutral colour palette essentially provides you with a blank canvas that allows you to introduce statement furnishings and other design pieces without needing to worry too much about clutter. It also means that you can introduce small splashes of bold colour if you want to give your neutrals a bit of a lift.

Despite favouring neutral tones, industrial interiors can have a surprising level of depth, which separates them from ultra-modern minimalism. Common tones include soft concrete greys, rich brick reds, and dark iron work.

Repurposed materials

With form and functionality both key components of industrial interiors, design pieces that have been made from reclaimed and repurposed materials typically sit beautifully in these types of spaces. Railway sleepers made into bookshelves and castor wheels mounted onto wooden coffee tables are just two ways in which repurposing can be incorporated into industrial designs.

repurposed furniture

Putting a spotlight on architectural materials

Rather than encasing metal pipework and plaster boarding over brick walls, these architectural features are left exposed and as such, they become core design features in their own right.

From something as simple as switching out drawer handles in your kitchen to replacing your modern bathroom tap with one that has a more traditional silhouette, metal accents are one of the easiest ways to introduce a touch of industrial chic into a space. Here, you can experiment with pewter, brass or copper tones, opting for a single metal for a cohesive look or choosing to create a more unique aesthetic by mixing and matching different metals throughout your home.

Edison light bulbs

The iconic aesthetic of Edison light bulbs deserves to be appreciated from all angles, which is just as well really because bare bulbs are another core characteristic of this interior style.

edison lights

From solo bulbs hanging on either side of a master bed to groups arranged together to form a chandelier effect, there are numerous ways to get creative with this very simple style of lighting. However, if totally bare bulbs don't light up your life, then metal dome shades and cool floor lamps that allow the bulb to be a core feature are also excellent options.

Natural materials

Without some carefully selected natural materials, industrial design can feel somewhat harsh and cold, which doesn't make for a comforting and inviting home. Linen and heavy cotton materials are an excellent choice, alongside worn leather and knitted wool because they offer that lived-in look that is so intrinsic to industrial chic.

How to introduce industrial chic into your home

If you are keen to explore ways in which you could incorporate elements of industrial design into your own interiors but you aren't quite sure where to start, here are a few of our favourite industrial-inspired pieces that could soon be standing in pride of place in your property.

- Industrial lighting

From wall-mounted spotlights to dome-shaped pendants, industrial style lighting can be incorporated into every interior style with ease.

The Swivel spotlight from Industville features two adjustable spotlights with petite domed shades and exposed light bulbs. Constructed from pewter and boasting a streamlined silhouette, this wall light can be used to complete a retro chic guest bedroom suite, cosy reading area, or minimal dining space.

The Oxman Pendant from Andrew Martin is a prime example of an industrial twist on an elegant chandelier and would make a spectacular addition to an open plan dining room to really amp up the atmosphere and establish an inviting space ideal for entertaining. Five cylinder-shaped smoked glass shades encase elongated bulbs with glowing filaments, which have been expertly attached to a straight mount via stunning exposed cables.

industrial lighting
If you're searching for the perfect singular hanging pendant light, the Brooklyn Wire Cage Pendant collection from Industville could be the one for you. The open cage structure expertly showcases the light bulb as the exposed wire fixture further enhances its industrial inspiration. Hang from the ceiling on either side of a master bed to create a cosy sleeping space conducive to rest or group three together and hang from the ceiling above a circular dining table to create the right mood for every occasion.


- Industrial seating

The open-plan nature of industrial-inspired spaces often requires each zone to be multi-functional. So, while you may have a separate dining space, you may also be looking for the perfect bar stools to sit alongside a breakfast bar or kitchen island. The Turner bar stools from Industville have a delightfully vintage silhouette and feature hand-stitched leather seats, beautifully crafted mango wood, and expertly shaped iron legs.

The duo of Edington dining chairs by Gallery Direct are the ideal partners for a petite, reclaimed wooden dining table. The grey leather upholstery gives each chair a lived-in look and boasts a charmingly textured surface that is delightfully tactile in nature. The curved seat and backrest deliver maximum comfort and a sleek look that will suit vintage, Scandinavian or full-on industrial spaces with ease.

industrial seating
Positioning a chic occasional chair in an empty space within a bedroom or a living area can instantly act as the finishing touch on an entire design scheme, bringing each element together in a way that delivers on both form and functionality. The Koko Occasional Chair from Olivia's has a unique leaning silhouette and clean lines that highlight its bold structure. Both the seat and back have woven leather details, which bring an element of texture to the piece and allows the light to permeate through small gaps, further increasing its visual interest.


- Industrial accessories

If you're keen to merge industrial design and minimalism, the Pillar side tables from Libra could be the perfect accessories to pull together your primary living space. The tall, slender, slightly tapered legs are immediately eye-catching and are the ideal size to house a petite table lamp or lush house plant either in the corner of a room or beside a distressed leather sofa or armchair.

Wall mirrors can be used with great effect to bounce natural light around a space, even into those far-away corners. This sophisticated circular mirror from Native Home has a black metal frame and a rich brown leather strap for easy hanging. This highly versatile design accessory can be incorporated into a wide variety of rooms and zones, including master bathrooms, dedicated dressing spaces, and laid back dining areas.

industrial style mirror
The Milton Mirror by Gallery Direct delivers form and functionality with its integrated shelf that can be used to house everything from candles to keys depending on where in your home you want to place it. Its simple construction highlights the natural beauty of the metal material while the expansive piece of mirrored glass deftly reflects the light.

The Trento console table from Olivia's expertly merges contemporary design with an iconic retro silhouette to provide plenty of space to display your favourite interior accessories and treasured trinkets. Between the smoked grey glass table top and the lower solid shelf sits a slatted metal shelf that gives the kind of unique aesthetic that will really shine within an industrial-style space.

For everyone with a slightly larger collection of trinkets and mementos who doesn't want to tuck them away out of sight, the Rothbury display unit from Gallery Direct could be the perfect piece to create a central focal point within an expansive open plan living area. Its simple design allows the metal structure to shine and clear glass shelves ensure that all the attention will always be on the items you choose to put on display.

This charming side table illustrates that modern industrial chic can also include metal accessories that have been given a contemporary finish in a fun, pastel hue. Suitable for internal and external use, this vibrant aqua table benefits from an integrated handle which allows for efficient repositioning at any time. This also enhances its versatility, as it can transform into a serving tray from a side table in a matter of seconds.

We hope we have gone some way to answer the enduring "what are industrial interiors?" question and provided you with plenty of inspiration and ideas for ways you can incorporate flashes of this timeless style into your own home.