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Bobby Breaks It Down: What is Industrial?

Design: Fogarty Finger

Not many design styles start from such a basic and necessary idea: work. But it was just that – the factories, mills and warehouses built for industry – that brought industrial style into the world. And while it started from a practical place, industrial design is about so much more than just getting the job done.  

As part of our ongoing series breaking down all Interior Design Styles, today we’re delving deeper into a style that’s rooted in work spaces: industrial. While we’ve all seen a converted loft space, there’s much more to this style than just exposed brick and bright, open floor plans. There’s a history that goes back hundreds of years (keep reading for more on that) and design elements that were functional long before they were fashionable in design.

Industrial style and characteristics have also had a far ranging influence on design today- from powder coated finishes in lighting and furniture, raw and unfinished materials in architecture, to using metal  in everything from window panes to tables to shelves. It’s also a style that pairs well with others, often acting as a blank canvas to layer pieces upon, or to bring in a gritty, more hard edged feel to a space.

So are you ready to get industrial? We’re starting by sharing a bit of the history of industrial style (we promise not to bore you!) where it began, and the key elements you’ll see in architecture, interiors and furnishings. And stay tuned- we’ve got lots more to share this week, so be sure to check back as we break down furniture, lighting and accessories.

Want to learn more about other design styles? Check out our previous posts What is Mid-Century Modern? and What is Boho? 


Industrial style was born out of (not surprisingly) industry, and the factories constructed starting in the mid 19th Century in the United States and Europe. The Second Industrial Revolution saw advances in manufacturing and the need for new buildings to house a growing workforce. Many of the features of early factories were utilitarian in nature: Large windows allowed sunlight to fill a space before electricity was widely used, large open floor plans to house machinery and equipment, and brick facades that would be more resistant to fires. Further design advancements saw cast iron and steel used, enabling taller buildings and larger warehouse spaces to be built.

The style as we know it today got its start when those formerly industrial spaces were transformed into residential living spaces and studios, beginning in the 1970s with spaces being converted into lofts for artists in the Soho neighborhood of New York City. The spaces had large windows, open floor plans (and cheap rent), which perfectly suited the needs of artists. In the ensuing decades, lofts began to gain popularity amongst other creative types, before spreading to the mainstream and all types of other commercial spaces. Now former work spaces all over the world, from garages, to workrooms, to fabric mills, are being transformed into residential spaces with 21st Century conveniences, while still retaining their industrial roots.



When it comes to industrial, there are a number of characteristics, both architectural and design wise, that are synonymous with the style. Here are our picks the the elements you’ll most commonly see.

  • Brick walls
  • Columns
  • Concrete
  • Converted warehouses, lofts & factories
  • Exposed ductwork and pipes
  • Exposed wood beams
  • High ceilings
  • Leather furnishings
  • Large metal frame windows
  • Metal accents (stainless steel, galvanized aluminum, iron)
  • Metal Grating
  • Open floor plans
  • Open staircases
  • Powder coated metal
  • Repurposed machinery and vintage items
  • Rolling doors
  • Rustic wood
  • Salvaged materials
  • Tin ceilings


Now that we’ve given you the background and all the key design components, it’s time to show you how you can make it happen. This week we’re breaking down all things industrial, from furniture to lighting to accessories. Be sure to come back tomorrow for everything you need to know about industrial furniture, and to shop our favorite pieces to get the look in your own home.

And in the meantime, if you’re looking to learn more about this style, here are a few of our favorite books that are filled with industrial inspiration.


Design: Workstead
Photo: Peter Kubilus
Design: JIDK

  1. Love your designs!!!!! It is a joy to wait and see what is coming up next. Love the explanations you give in regards to your designs and the history behind it.

  2. I stumbled across this blog while searching what boho was about after my girlfriend mentioned she was into it (spoiler: I’m not), this is some amazing content 🙂

  3. Great article- thank you for including the history of industrial style too.

    1. So glad you liked our story! It’s always more interesting to know where a design style comes from and how it evolved. Happy reading! xx -B