The appeal with industrial furniture lies in bringing back a design age that focused on the appreciation of raw and unfinished interiors
The lovely Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye, famous for its yearly literary festival and second-hand book shops, is also home to The Old Electric Shop (www.oldelectric.co.uk), a wonderful emporium stuffed full of antique and vintage industrial furniture and lighting. When I visited recently, I was blown away by the range and variety of the utilitarian pieces on display.
These old pieces, many made for factories and public buildings, are now highly sought-after as interior design pieces. Popular items include old filing cabinets, lamps, ceiling and wall lights, clocks, chairs and tables. The appeal lies in bringing back a design age that focused on manufacturing, mechanical ingenuity and the appreciation of raw and unfinished interiors. Today, you can use industrial furniture and lighting in domestic settings with almost any style.
Look for pieces that may have been made for factories, office blocks, community halls, blocks of flats, public buildings, libraries or police stations. The key is their industrial format – rustic exposed finishes and structural elements.
Don’t assume that industrial pieces are always made from metal. Chairs, benches and pigeonholes are more likely to be made out of wood. Each object will have been made out of the best material around at the time for the particular job in hand and will be sturdy and well constructed.
This is also part of the industrial appeal – these items were made to do a job and last a very long time. Look out too for shelves, tables, cupboards and artists’ chairs.
Some great designers started out making industrial pieces. Kaiser Idell, for example, designed lighting, seating, wall panels and benches out of the Bauhaus movement of the 1920s and 1930s, and his pieces are beautifully crafted. Most sought-after are original pieces from the industrial revolution of the 1800s but they’re increasingly hard to find these days as during the 1950s and 1960s a lot of it was deemed worthless and binned. European designs produced around the time of the Second World War can still be found however.
Large industrial clocks have become very popular recently and can look wonderful in a kitchen. Such is their current popularity that there are now many modern reproductions to choose from – and they can be attractive but, like a lot of things, the old ones are always the best!
Like most antiques, the good pieces will increase in value and will command the highest prices. The current popularity of industrial design means that the market has been a bit flooded by objects of varying quality, however this will settle down as the fashion moves on and the best designed pieces will retain or increase in value.
One note of caution though: be realistic about the size and weight of a piece and how it will translate into your home. It is heart-breaking to fall in love with a large piece of industrial furniture only to discover it won’t fit in your room. Also, you must get lighting restored by professionals – don’t plug it in until it’s re-wired and make sure it’s clean but never, ever remove the original paint or patina.