It’s an undeniably sturdy chair — the sleek, silver piece of furniture sitting in the showroom of Inspired Home Interiors looks like it could withstand more than a trip or two in a moving van. But, just calling it “sturdy” is like praising Michelangelo for being “crafty.” After all, according to Alana Gannon Schilf, owner of Inspired Home Interiors, the Emeco 1006 Navy chair is nearly indestructible. Before Emeco started selling them to the public, the chairs were crafted for the U.S. government during the Second World War for use on naval ships.
It takes 77 steps to make one of these industrial heavyweights and, even after hitting it with a torpedo, it would probably look better than most dining room chairs after five years of use. (No exaggeration: The original contract, according to an Emeco brochure, requested the chair withstand torpedo blasts.) It’s part of the industrial decor trend that makes use of reclaimed wood, iron work, exposed bulbs in wire cages and huge barn doors. And items like the Emeco chair elevate the trend to a level where home furnishings don’t just appear to be industrial strength, they actually are.
And that’s a huge part of the industrial look’s charm, according to Shane Pawluk of IZM, a local high-end furniture company that produces beautiful wood dining room tables and chairs that would be at home in a loft alongside the Emeco chair. He says many people are disenchanted with disposable, prefab items. During the ’90s, throwaway furniture was especially popular, but by the millennium, when Pawluk and his business partner Jerad Mack started IZM, people started wanting things that would last.
“Initially, we were going to have a tagline: ‘Anti-landfill Furniture’ or something like that,” says Pawluk. While a dining chair can run as high as $1,100 and dining room tables as much as $12,000 at IZM, Pawluk says the solid wood furniture pieces are heirloom quality, and should be passed down to future generations at least twice. Selling through the U.S., in some parts of Europe and locally, Pawluk has noticed a definite upswing in sales, especially in the last two years.
But the industrial look doesn’t just have longevity on its side — in some cases the pieces are repurposed, giving buyers one-two eco-punches with their purchases.
Take Kyle Walton’s work, for instance. He’s the owner of Hammer and Forge and, while he often uses new materials for his iron work, he creates interior staircases and intricate metal work inside and outside people’s homes. He once used tractor cogs to make a door pull and repurposed rebar for a variety of projects. For him, it’s not only great from an eco-perspective but from an artist’s point of view: “When you’re working with free materials, you’re less inhibited; you’re not as worried about making mistakes.”
And sometimes, the look isn’t just inspired by old warehouse designs; the materials actually come right from the source. “Warehouse floors can be cut into butcher block tops for counter tops. Th ere’s also a lot of repurposing of warehouse lighting, and sliding barn doors are what people are using to cordon off their bedroom and living room space,” says Trevor Compton, co-owner of Christopher Clayton Furniture & Design House. He also works with a company that makes dining room tables and consoles out of wood from a warehouse where cars (Studebakers) were made.
Warehouses were made to endure wear and tear — sliding a glass across that table top isn’t going to make a difference on a surface that previously withstood strewn car parts. But the oxymoron within the catchphrase “industrial trend” isn’t lost on Pawluk. It’s like saying “longevity is fleeting” and begs the question: Why would people invest in an expensive, made-to-last item if it’s only a temporary trend? Simple answer: Because many of the pieces are not going anywhere.
At least not pieces like those heavy-duty, custom-made furnishings at IZM that will look just as interesting in 100 years as they do now — they’re classics. “If it’s a good design and it fills a function, it will last,” says Pawluk. “But you know Edison bulbs — the ones with the exposed filament? I put some angry tweets out about them [on Twitter], and said: ‘If you put an Edison bulb in a jar, that’s not a design, it’s an idea.’ That’s one [trend] that won’t last.”
The desire for unique, long-lasting, sustainable furnishings is reason enough for people to be interested in industrial decor trends. But maybe there’s something else at play. The look is inspired by the Industrial Revolution and you can see elements of steampunk style in the aesthetic. It has a historical feel with modernity mixed in. We’re living in a time when technological breakthroughs are daily news. And that feeling of movement and fresh ideas is inherent in pieces inspired by spaces where some of our biggest technologies were developed.
Adding an Industrial touch
Gannon Schilf suggests picking a few key pieces and even mixing different styles. “If you were to put an industrial-style piece in a contemporary space, the juxtaposition could give it some edginess,” she says. Industrial lighting, for example, can be added and easily updated later. you could hang an oversized light fixture, such as an old gaslight or wire warehouse lights, over a normal-sized dining room table. Compton agrees: “It’s that break-the-scale rule where the piece would be very oversized because it would have been in a much bigger environment historically. And the scale is what causes that tension in the room.”
Yin and Yang
Pawluk suggests investing in a few key pieces, but he cautions people against overdoing it. “We actually tell people not to buy too much of our stuff at once, so it doesn’t look like a kit. Especially if there are two people in a house; it should have both personalities in that house. that’s something I grew up with,” he says. IZM’s designs try to appeal to a wider variety of tastes, rather than consistently producing a very chunky product with hard lines. “Most people don’t want to go completely ‘man cave’ or have something that’s incredibly feminine; you want to appeal to both sides,” says Pawluk.
Compton says creating the look doesn’t have to be relegated to just traditional furnishing, lighting and all the practical elements of a room. “If you found an old floor grate that’d normally be used for ventilation in a warehouse at the Architectural Warehouse — where people can buy discarded items — you could hang it on the wall as a work of art,” he says. “A piece of repurposed metal is a really cool thing.”