Cover The Slow apartment designed by UPSTRS_ features a cosy living room with a myriad of textures

Modern industrial style has a hard edge that’s not for everyone. Dennis Cheok of UPSTRS_ shares tips on how to embrace the style without sacrificing comfort or warmth

Raw, rugged and edgy, industrial-style interiors emanate character. Taking a cue from old factories and other industrial spaces, the design style is notable for using raw elements and materials such as exposed brick walls, weathered wood and metal beams in spades, creating a distinctive space brimming with personality. 

“When it comes to defining the industrial style, I can only try to relate it to our firm’s approach—the appreciation of unapologetic honesty and the raw beauty of unembellished materials such as metals, brickwork, concrete, plaster and live wood,” says Dennis Cheok, founder and creative director of local design studio UPSTRS_.  “We often use these materials in their raw state in our projects, and directly due to that, our work is often associated with being industrial.”

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But while industrial design was all the rage a few years back, its popularity has simmered down since. An industrial interior setting can easily be mistaken as rough and cold, and thus many homeowners have gravitated towards other design trends.   

“I think that if we see it as a deep-seated appreciation for the ordinary and unfinished, and not so much as a ‘trend’, there is a lot of longevity to this as a material language,” Cheok shares his two cents.

Here, the designer divulges design tips for those looking to create an industrial-chic abode, or for those who’re looking to update their space with a modern edge.

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1. Layer monochromatic textures

It’s hard to mention industrial-style interiors without keeping in mind the raw and exposed elements. “Textures—an integral part of the industrial aesthetic—pick up beautifully with matte, darker surfaces,” Cheok shares. “Burnished black, gunmetal, brushed steel and concrete tones tend to fare very well due to that.” 

The designer also recommends keeping in mind timber grains and textures, which “lend a sense of comfort and earthiness to the material palette”.

Cheok also encourages one to experiment with different looks within the aesthetic. “One can also go the other extreme and part the dark tones with techni-colour splashes,” he muses. “True relevance comes from thoughtful details and finding new ways of utilising everyday materials, and that achieves so much more than simply material pairing.”

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2. Mix and match materials

Speaking of material pairing, a balance of various materials will help to elevate the interiors. “We like contrast and balance, and so we’re always looking to pair concrete with marble, or to terminate a rusted edge with solid brass,” says Cheok.  “One could also elevate and balance with natural stones and marble grains, or precious metals like brass or copper.” 

The industrial aesthetic is versatile and flexible, Cheok emphasises, and to mix the practical functionality of industrial design with a contrast of textures and materials can help create an impactful interior. Adds the designer: “Being something so neutral and ubiquitous, the beauty of what’s considered industrial is the way that it complements almost everything, and so it is really about where you like to go, and then how you run with it.”

3. Let there be light

Lighting is a key factor to keep in mind for anyone seeking to achieve an industrial look within their space. “Lighting is everything in industrial-style interiors,” says the designer. “The nuances of shadows, textures, light, can really bring the material and form to life.”

To create a welcoming environment, Cheok recommends consulting with experts on the placement of various lighting elements including the windows, in order to inject a certain sense of softness within the hard edges of the interior. “How the spaces receive and allow for light should be thoughtful and intentional,” he elaborates. “Lighting is something easily overlooked, but makes all the difference.”

4. Add personal touches

Places with an industrial aesthetic can easily be perceived as harsh and cold spaces. How does one create warmth within an industrial space that’s based around such practical materials? “This is interesting, because we’ve also tried to break it down to a client just recently,” answers Cheok thoughtfully. “Within all of the perceived rawness and harshness, two things bring a breath of fresh air to industrial spaces: light and life.” 

He elaborates: “By life, we mean life itself. Usage, personality, mementoes. Signs of wear. All of this brings about a sense of life, character, and the daily rituals of its inhabitants.”

The easiest way to add a personal touch into your interior is through the small details—think mementos, wall art, or other decor accents that showcase your character and create a personalised interior.

5. Include plant life

Indoor plants can also be used to add more life within the concrete or brick walls of your space.“Things that literally grow and thrive in these ‘harder’ environments tend to provide a delicate and much-needed respite,” notes Cheok. Trailing plants on top of a metal cabinet, or a vertical green wall can liven up the space with a bold green impact and create an inviting space.

“It's so akin to the post-apocalyptic landscape of Wall-E, where a single stalk of leaves brought about so much life and hope,” the designer playfully compares.

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