I recently went apartment hunting with a good friend of mine who’s in the market for an artist’s loft. Regular readers might have noticed that I’m really embracing the trend towards a more industrial style home, especially renovated warehouse spaces, so this trip was a real treat. What was even better is that I got to see a whole slew of furniture made from reclaimed industrial parts, from huge wood tabletops mounted on cast iron legs salvaged from machine shops to adjustable stools saved from turn of the century factories. This renewed industrial style is becoming hugely popular, both in authentic restoration work and antique replicas.
The most common type reclaimed industrial furniture is large, draft table style tables with large wood (or occasionally glass) tops and ornamental cast iron legs. The legs can be made new or reclaimed from any number of industrial machines, like lathes, workbenches, or even factory style sewing machines or mannequins. The salvaged wood tops have a totally unique historical character, while the practical antique metal bases make for the perfect combination of stability and beauty.
What’s especially nice about these reclaimed industrial tables is that while most of them are quite large, they can come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes, and almost every one is unique. They can be tall or short, wide or narrow, deep or shallow, with bases made from any variety of parts and tops made from wood that’s uniquely aged and chosen for its lovely visual character. Authentic antique pieces have even greater character, with spots worn smooth with use or small, unique-to-you flaws or inconsistencies resulting from age or the restoration process.
Vintage industrial chairs are pretty easy to come by, too. In sharp contrast to the popular cushy wingback chairs, fainting sofas, and settees that are commonly associated with antique design, this is a much more practical type of seating. Factory style stools and adjustable Sit-Rite chairs are more in the industrial vein, with sturdy metal bases and wood seats that have developed a beautiful patina of age. Plus, these are chairs that are meant to be sat in, with fully adjustable heights and typically pretty comfortable seats.
Factory carts make great alternative coffee tables. They sit at a similar height and have a broad, flat surface, and though they’re typically mounted on anywhere between four and eight (usually working) wheels, these can often be locked in place to keep the table stationary. Originally used to move heavy equipment or inventory, restored factory carts make a beautiful accent piece, adding a touch of rustic wood and antique metal to your living space.
Of course, industrial furniture doesn’t just mean tables and chairs. Salvaged parts can be used to make all manner of items – it just depends on what parts are available and how they’re reassembled. To continue the decor through a larger space, consider adding a shelving unit made of antique pieces. Unlike some of the workbench-style tables, this is a design that isn’t particularly authentic, but it still presents a nice opportunity to get a visually arresting piece that will add functionality while blending with an industrial decor.
I have to admit, though, that my very favorite reclaimed industrial furniture isn’t actually furniture at all: it’s the lighting. From old fashioned farm and factory fixtures like pulley lights to even more industrial old-fashioned lamp cages with antique sockets, antique industrial lighting fixtures have a character that’s totally unique from any kind of modern lighting fixture. Because these lights were made for utility before a whole lot of contemporary innovations in lighting, the designs are positively whimsical, both classic and fanciful.
Reclaimed industrial furniture is a great antique choice for a modern space, paying homage to a past that’s often overlooked in more conventional antique design. It’s especially good for a working space – even if the work is more paint and ink than metal and grease! – and pairs spectacularly with the industrial loft spaces that are starting to pop up in cities around the country.