Trend: Industrial and Vintage Decor

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Ongoing economic hardship has brought about some notable interior design trends in the past five years. At first, folks wanted to “cocoon” in soothing or cheery surroundings, but now the trend is toward rugged, Machine Age design elements that call to mind an era when American industry was at its zenith.


The various modes of transportation that delivered consumer goods are celebrated in today’s home décor, including railroad, aviation and naval motifs says Los Angeles interior designer Lori Dennis. Retailers like Restoration Hardware offer train station clocks, porthole medicine cabinets, vintage desks and chairs clad in polished aluminum panels with exposed steel screws, like the skin of an airplane.


Driven by nostalgia, the industrial trend also mixes with the sustainability movement and our tendency of late to take pride in frugality. “Harkening back to better times goes hand-in-hand with ‘extreme salvaging,’ because manufacturers used to build things to last, and if something broke, you fixed it,” Dennis says.

Local vintage stores, thrift stores, auctions and artisan websites like Etsy offer an abundance of salvaged and repurposed items such as accent tables made out of factory carts or steamer trunks.

By putting such items on display, “It’s not like you shop at the Salvation Army because you’re broke,” Dennis says. “It makes you look cool and resourceful and creative.”

While a lot of industrial or vintage artifacts are being remodeled from their original form into usable furnishings, others are simply intended as objets d’art. Sometimes, the more random and worn a found object is, the better.

“It makes a statement: Look how clever I am because I found this cool wireframe mattress, and now I’m using it as wall art,” says Los Angeles interior designer Susan Corry. “It becomes a conversation piece.”

Not to be outdone by flea market vendors, retailers are offering pieces designed to look repurposed, such as Restoration Hardware’s adjustable pulley sconces, scissor lift table and vise bookends.

“It’s a little ironic because most of the things people are buying are not actually old, but these industrial-looking objects add a sense of history and character to a space,” Corry says.

What’s driving these purchases is a “yearning for authenticity,” she adds. “In my mind, it’s different from nostalgia, or longing for the good old days and simpler times. It’s about wanting things with a story and a past.”

People want “one-of-a-kind or handmade pieces in their homes,” agrees San Francisco designer Michael Friedes. “You can go to any city and there’s a Gap and a Starbucks — all these standard things. You almost have to search for local flavor. So in their homes, people want things that are unique, express their individuality and add a little bit of quirkiness.”

Though “industrial chic” interiors incorporate rusticated pieces, “the overall look tends to be streamlined and sophisticated,” Friedes says. “I think it’s here to stay because it combines so much of what we value right now — sustainability, individuality, creativity.”

Tags: industrial, vintage, decor, trend