Creating an industrial style decor is all about embracing things that are old but not quite antique, and finding the artistic beauty in items that are generally considered to be purely functional. Like modern design, industrial spaces emphasize simplicity and minimalism, but rather than sharp, clean lines, it’s more important to show off the human touch – whether it’s a hand scraped wood floor or a reclaimed factory stool. Nowhere is this more true than with artwork, where pretty much anything but fine art will do. In fact, some of the most striking types of art you can use in an industrial decor are made of things you probably have in your house right now, or that you could easily find at your local thrift shop or flea market.
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Maybe one of the most extreme examples of regular items being used as art in an industrial style decor is the sheer prevalence of framed papers. These run the gamut from hand written letters to sheet music to poems or even manuscript book pages, and can be written in English or otherwise. Often, it’s less about what the paper says (e.g. the contents of a letter) and more about its appearance. Little details like worn creases, coffee stains, or notes in the margins give the papers a unique, tactile quality that allows them to serve as something like time capsules, capturing a moment and putting it on display. That’s exactly what an industrial style decor is about: not about idealizing the past, but about digging in and enjoying the (flawed) reality of it.
Postcards are another common item that can be repurposed as art in an industrial style decor, and for similar reasons. Postcards capture a single moment in time even more explicitly than letters do, not only for the pictures and places depicted on the front side, but for the stamps and postmarks on the back. Like passport stamps stereotypically portrayed on old fashioned luggage, postage stamps mark when and where the card came from, while the simple small notes conjure up an untold story. Postcards can easily be displayed either faced forward or in reverse, and are small enough that they work equally well shown off individually or in a collage. Post cards are an especially good choice if you want to add a slightly foreign or exotic touch to your industrial decor.
If you’re really having trouble letting go of the idea of art needing to be fine art, consider a sort of middle-ground option: instead of a finished painting, seek out pencil or charcoal sketches. These can be anything from very simple line drawings to more complex pieces (if you’re feeling especially fancy, you could even seek out sketches from renowned artists). These combine the authority of Being Art with the slightly grungier quality that you want for an industrial decor – aged paper, smudged graphite, and soft, sketchy lines rather than hard shapes. I particularly like the elegance of simple figure drawings, but landscapes or more detailed architectural sketches work well, too.
The industrial revolution marked a huge advancement not only in technology but also in science. So while many of the trappings of a contemporary industrial decor have to do with the former (from reclaimed factory lights to repurposed machine parts), when it comes to smaller decor items, it can be fun to play up the latter. Simple scientific drawings of plants or animals are perfect for this. This type of precise, detailed art is often paired with hand written notations that give them a one-of-a-kind appearance, and because drawings like this aren’t really done anymore, they inherently carry that little sense of history with them that’s perfect for adding a touch of sophistication to an industrial style decor. Old encyclopedia pages with detailed etchings work well for this, too, especially if you deliberately choose which pages to put on display.
Schematics Or Other Technical Drawings
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On the more mechanical side of things are technical drawings – anything from machine schematics to old fashioned models of the solar system. Like scientific nature sketches, these are detailed, precise drawings that should have a slightly dated quality to them and maybe a little visible age or wear and tear. But while sketches of leaves, flowers, or birds bring a touch of nature into an industrial style decor, drawings of man-made parts will emphasize the grittier factory and mechanical aspect of the style. Often, these types of drawings will also have a more abstract, geometric quality which gives them a slightly more modern look and feel if you want a style that’s a little more daring.
What do you think of using found objects as art? Do you like this slightly grittier, grungier look? Let me know in the comments below!