Exposed brick walls, pipes covering the ceiling, polished concrete floors, exhaust cones transformed into light fixtures–these are staples of the industrial warehouse aesthetic, ripped right from the 20th century’s factories and transformed into the 21st century’s idea of charming grit (without the dirt).
A new book, Warehouse Home, is the bible for this glamorized vision of postindustrial America, acting as a style guide of the most drool-worthy industrial lofts and a how-to manual for transforming any space into a look-alike. Chosen by the interior design editor Sophie Bush, who publishes a biannual magazine and a blog of the same name, the spaces drip with a self-conscious sophistication that says, I’ve made it in life because I’ve anchored a rusty service elevator motor to my ceiling.
In one office space, heavy steel I-beams crisscross the walls; in another, I-beams are interpreted more artistically, translating into a mounted chandelier on an apartment’s ceiling (though it looks like a garage door more than a light fixture). In the Stockholm loft of an illustrator, subway tiles act as accents. In a London apartment, the discolored concrete ceiling looks like it’s growing mold.
Other interiors are furnished with old industrial equipment. In one converted shoe factory in London, metal fire doors from 1938 become a decorative feature in a modern kitchen. And one loft in Philadelphia proudly boasts a motor as a sculpture hanging from its ceiling. As my colleague Diana Budds said, you know manufacturing in America is dead when assembly-line machinery becomes a statement piece.
The rise in popularity of industrial lofts is likely tied to the increasing availability of abandoned warehouses in the 1980s and 1990s as the U.S. and other developed countries moved toward a postindustrial economy. In the SoHo neighborhood of New York for instance, buildings formerly housing small-scale manufacturing weren’t zoned as residential and lay vacant for years until artists began to illegally inhabit them, putting in bathrooms and covering windows with plastic sheets to keep the cold at bay.
Where artists colonize, commoditization often follows. In many cases, the lofts that were once without any amenities became desirable–and expensive–properties. Now they’re the stuff of coffee table books.