Cotswolds-based interior designer, Pippa Paton, explains how some traditionally urban design trends can be adapted to create unique country interiors.
“Industrial Chic” is one of those typical designer terms of ostensibly mixed metaphors – how can something possibly be at once raw and functional yet stylish and elegant? It might sound a contradiction, but this trend has given birth to some of the most interesting and usable interior design ideas of the past two decades, which are now increasingly being seen in Cotswold homes.
The original habitat of Industrial Chic is in the urban lofts of New York, which over the course of the second half of the 20th century evolved from stark, former industrial premises, into some of the most luxurious, desirable and sophisticated properties in Manhattan. Industrial Chic is all about taking monochromatic minimalist living and “roughing it up” by focusing on creating textures with an organic, authentic vibe – bare concrete and brickwork, unvarnished wood, sturdy industrial steel fixtures and unusual “re-found” objects, often super-sized and given a new lease of life and typically a new function – all feature prominently in this design theme. Now, as has ever been the case, these ideas are flowing out of the city and being translated and adapted for country living spaces.
The incarnation of the new Rural Industrial Chic is a more romantic and softer look than its older city cousin. While the design focus is still on using re-found or “upcycled” items and finishes to add greater interest and a feeling of authenticity, it is less masculine and austere than in the urban context. I have to confess that I love the possibilities which mixing metaphors bring to interior design – old and new / polished and unpolished / gloss and matte / smooth and rough. I often caution clients about over-use of colour, advising them instead to concentrate on texture and patina, which will give their interiors a longer and more interesting life. I am also an avid collector of “treasure” – to my mind, particularly in a rural setting, taking an item with an interesting history and giving it a brand new function, is far better use of a client’s budget than an overpriced designer “statement piece” which may soon appear anachronistic.
Let me be clear, we’re not talking about knick-knacks, the kind of rural “horse brass ephemera” you might find in the local pub, but instead about items of intrinsic character and integrity. Examples include old farm stone troughs, which in the home can be used to hold groups of candles; old ship mast lights – these can work brilliantly in a contemporary kitchen; vintage signs / letters – great as artwork on walls; old flour bags and canvas which are terrific as textured soft furnishings; and big items such as sculptures – give them their own space and they will repay you in abundance as large-scale points of interest.
Scale is a feature of many of these industrial items as they tend to be larger than those intended for the home. Industrial glass bottles, for instance, can be re-used as large light fittings and likewise olive jars make excellent large vases. Old theatre and film lights can provide dramatic lighting with real “wow factor”, proving that you don’t need to be a slave to indigenous country items – pieces such as the Chinese pharmacy cabinet pictured here, for instance, can be made to work well within this kind of design and large-scale reclaimed items, such as the wall clock, also shown here, can become a focal point and even the inspiration for an entire room scheme.
Sometimes a very successful look can be achieved when vintage objects are juxtaposed with a very contemporary streamlined look, such as an all-white kitchen. Against a stark backdrop the vintage items stand out – in many Cotswold homes they can be used to provide a visual link to the old fabric of the building itself – which may have exposed stone walls and wooden beams, creating a warm and interesting environment.
Basically, with Industrial Chic, in the right hands, almost anything goes – what’s important is the mix and juxtaposition of the elements. A poured concrete floor, for instance, will be softened by the additional of anything natural, like wicker or wood; while the introduction of carefully chosen reclaimed items can be used to tone down the formality of a setting, by bringing in a rustic element. Items need to be carefully chosen, however, with a real sense of purpose to make this approach work – you don’t want a room to end up looking cluttered and jumbled. Keeping a careful hold of colour is also of key importance – neutrals and textures are brilliant partners in design.
For me the appeal of Industrial Chic is in finding real conversation pieces for the home and the opportunity to create something completely unique that doesn’t conform to any “rules”, but instead, intuitively feels “right”. We should not underestimate the importance of using reclaimed materials from an ecological perspective either – every individual brick we re-use represents a small amount of recovered carbon. So get treasure-hunting!