Friday 9 December 2016

Interiors: 'Exposed beams, concrete floors and raw steel becoming firm favourites'

Exposed beams, concrete floors and raw steel becoming firm favourites

Published 03/07/2015 | 02:30

The industrial look can be adapted to almost any interior
The industrial look can be adapted to almost any interior
Bang On The Lights furniture from a drum kit
Vanessa Mac Innes
Industrial lighting
Scaffold table by Tricia Harris
Industrial interior by Vanessa Mac Innes

Call it a generational thing, but my sense of style has been permanently warped by the Parisian loft interiors in Jean Jacques Beineix's 1981 film Diva (1981). The young hero, Jules, lives in a garage loft amid the wrecked remains of vehicles, a surreal car mural with real headlights, and a serious sound system.

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On the other side of town, a new-age guru character lives in an empty loft with nothing much apart from a wave-machine sculpture and a free-standing bathtub. There's room for his kooky teen girlfriend to roller skate around it. Needless to say, I thought this was the essence of cool. Back in 1981, I was old enough to have been the teen girlfriend and at the time I wasn't asking myself how much it would cost to heat the space... or whether one could really live with that much blue neon.

Nearly 35 years later, I've fallen for another movie's industrial interior, every bit as impractical as the first. In Chappie (2015), a sci-fi film by Neil Blomkamp, much of the action is set in a dystopian Johannesburg in which a gangster couple, Yo-landi and Ninja, live in an abandoned factory building. The walls of their hideout are decorated with florescent graffiti, piles of toys in hammocks, and mismatching furniture in candy colours. The look has been described (by outraged critics) as kindergarten-punk and gangster-twee. It's dishevelled, dangerous, cutesy and cool, in equal measure.

The interiors in Diva and Chappie are pure fantasy but they've left me with a taste for exposed beams, concrete floors and raw steel. This can be a hard urge to satisfy when you live in a two-bedroom terraced cottage. But apparently it can be done.

"The true industrial style is masculine, pared-back and utilitarian," says the interior designer Vanessa Mac Innes, "but you can take inspiration from it and bring it into any interior." Her own home, a ground-up renovation of a former council house, wasn't an industrial space to begin with but, with a bit of clever design, she was able to create a subtle industrial look.

"There were no high ceilings and no original features but we replaced the rotten floorboards with reclaimed 1930s floorboards that came from a school in Northern Ireland. We have a polished concrete floor in the kitchen and a Belfast sink that came from a salvage yard, and we left the brickwork exposed on one of the sitting room walls," says Mac Innes.

Industrial lighting
Industrial lighting
The industrial look can be adapted to almost any interior
Bang On The Lights furniture from a drum kit
Vanessa Mac Innes
Scaffold table by Tricia Harris
Industrial interior by Vanessa Mac Innes

The industrial look tends towards empty spaces. This, in an ordinary domestic situation, means dealing with clutter. "I have a big metal storage unit with fold-down doors that I brought back from France and had restored. There's also an old school-locker type unit in the hall that takes all our coats and bags. One of the best things about industrial furniture is that it's really functional."

Of course it's not everyone's cup of tea, but I like it.

Finding that it was difficult to source industrial furniture in Ireland (probably because we had so little industry) Mac Innes launched her own shop, Industry, in 2010 with items ranging from filament light bulbs (from €10.50) and vintage copper vases (€12.50) to steel storage units made by the French company Tolix (€1,395 for a three-door locker). These are new, but made to the same specifications as they have been since the 1930s.

As if to prove that industrial style can work in small spaces, Irish designer Tricia Harris created the Scaffold table and benches for a tiny urban house whose owner needed a pull-out dining table and extra storage. "The table top is made from old scaffold planks, which I cleaned, sanded and waxed, and the base is box iron. It's powder coated in red, but I could have it made in any colour." The benches, made in birch ply, have hinged lids so they double as storage boxes and fit neatly under the table when not in use. The all-in-one dining, seating and storage solution costs €1,350.

Lighting plays a big part in creating an industrial look. Factory pendant lights, whether industrial-style reproductions or salvaged originals, can give a contemporary kitchen island that industrial edge, especially when combined with exposed brickwork and a concrete floor. Bare light bulbs, caged or otherwise, are also part of the look.

Harris' Jack-in-the-box lamp (€300) is a visual pun on the notion of a "light bulb moment". The lamp presents as a simple wooden box with dovetail joints. When you open it, an old-fashioned light bulb pops out, lighting up at the same time.

"Because the bulb lights up as soon as you start to open the box it looks as though it's on all the time, but it switches off automatically once the box is closed," says Harris, who worked long and hard to source an LED with the filaments and soft yellow light of a classic incandescent bulb.

Another Irish designer with an inventive take on the industrial look, Keith O'Reilly of Bang On The Lights, creates metal furniture from upcycled musical instruments. The Drum Table (€230 to €250), an adjustable side table made from the metal elements of a drum kit, has been described as "a rock version of Eileen Gray". The Cymbal Light (€470) uses the metal cymbal as a shade. "I buy the drum kits from second-hand shops and on Done Deal," he says. "Although sometimes people come in to me with their old musical instruments and ask me to make something for them."

Scaffold table by Tricia Harris
Scaffold table by Tricia Harris
The industrial look can be adapted to almost any interior
Bang On The Lights furniture from a drum kit
Vanessa Mac Innes
Industrial lighting
Industrial interior by Vanessa Mac Innes

Both Harris and O'Reilly have their studios at The Chocolate Factory, a cool design hub on Dublin's King's Inn Street with a cafe where you can see the industrial-style in action. I was there last week at the launch of House 2016, a new interiors event set to run in the RDS next May.

For more information on some of the products featured here, see www.industrydesign.ie, triciaharrisdesigns.com, bangonthelights@gmail.com, www.chocolatefactory.ie.

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