Industrial Furniture – trend or smart investment?

A brief history of industrial furniture

Industrial-style design is nothing new. People have been living in converted warehouses and industrial buildings for decades. These buildings offer open-plan spaces, exposed brickwork, high ceilings and a sense of minimalism. An industrial property is often well built and offers the kind of space not normally found in more traditional homes.

The New York loft apartment is perhaps the most iconic image that comes to mind when you think of industrial-style living. Originally seen as a cheap accommodation for struggling artists and musicians, they are now an enviable space to live, with the style popularised by American television shows such as Friends.

In the UK, industrial living has taken longer to establish itself as a leading style. Programmes such as Dragons’ Den and Grand Designs have encouraged people to convert buildings into luxury properties.

In the past 20 years British manufacturing has declined with the market leaning towards imports from the Far East. With the closure of factories around the country, items normally found for sale within the commercial sector started to find their way into domestic environments. Old machine bases were converted into dining tables and industrial metal furniture such as filing cabinets and staff lockers were given a new lease of life in the home.

How did we get involved?

Seven years ago my brother Martin and I started our journey into the world of industrial furniture. We enjoyed finding old pieces that were engineered to last a lifetime but had inevitably became tatty and in need of some love. By removing the old layers of paint and rust we were able to expose the fine details hidden away. Welds, grind marks and the general patina of the steel were revealed. By polishing and clear coating these beautiful pieces of early 20th-century industrial design, they could once again be admired but this time by a new type of owner. Our work started to generate interest and we sold more and more restored furniture to homeowners and creative businesses alike. Over the next four years we repurposed hundreds of items from pedestal desks to school lockers, and even restored a 1970s gynaecology table.

As demand for industrial steel furniture increased, we needed items that traditionally would not have been used in most industrial settings. Items such as TV units and coffee tables had no place in a typical workshop and although we knew these would be popular with our customers, finding a steady supply of items that could be reused for this purpose proved difficult.

Both Martin and I came from design backgrounds and realised we could use our knowledge and experience to start designing our own products. With our designs, traditional handmade manufacturing processes and industrial grade materials, we have been able to create items such as office desks and bespoke dining tables.

The good, the bad and the ugly

As with many things, you generally “get what you pay for”. Furniture is no different.

Traditional industrial furniture is made from materials that are designed to withstand prolonged commercial use. Heavy gauge steel, solid timber and durable fabrics such as leather were used so that they could cope with the daily grind of a busy factory or workshop.

Today’s furniture market has been flooded with cheap products made of disposable materials. Mass production of flat-pack furniture that is designed to last only a few years has become common place and unfortunately is destined to be granulated or disposed of in landfill.

Investing in handmade furniture means that you get a product crafted from quality materials. This is also true for industrial-style furniture. As specialists in this area we have spent years developing and refining our processes to ensure our product is of the highest quality.

You can, of course, find “handmade industrial-style furniture” on the internet at low prices. However, this usually means corners have been cut, sometimes quite literally: cheap wood, such as old scaffolding boards, and a poor finish are often tell-tale signs.

We have come across a number of examples of steel furniture that are not coated, so the original oily surface is left to make a mess, slowly rust and look unsightly. We have seen reclaimed wood in the form of old pallets and scaffolding boards that are often filled with rot and infested with bugs being sold as furniture to be used in a home. This wood could have been treated with rat poison and all types of commercial chemicals that you really wouldn’t want to eat your dinner from.

When looking around for your next piece of furniture we advise that you research where it comes from. Does the company present itself as one you can trust? Does it have an “about” page with information and contact details including address? It might seem obvious but does the company actually make the furniture? Does it have a workshop where you can visit and see the items being made? Perhaps most importantly, is the company proud to show off examples of recent work including testimonials and photos?

Trend or smart investment?

There has been a boom in this industrial style. It is hard to visit a high street without trendy cafes and shops full of industrial steel and wood furniture.

Unlike the “throw away” mass-produced furniture or poorly made “budget” items, Steel Vintage offers something different. Each piece we create is carefully designed and produced based on our understanding of authentic industrial furniture. We prefer to over-engineer rather than cut back on materials. Why use 1mm-thick steel when 3mm will produce a superior product? We do not use veneers or MDF, only solid wood. A piece of 40mm-thick Oak will last for generations. It can be re-sanded and oiled time and again.

When you buy well-made furniture that is built from quality materials, it is always an investment. A solid Oak dining table will last a lifetime but will also maintain a high residual value. We are producing furniture now that will be around long after we have gone. You could call it “heirloom quality”. Furniture made from hardwood and steel is always going to be a valuable combination. If built right, by skilled people, it is a sound investment. When you purchase handmade furniture from an independent company you are also buying a small piece of the training, experimenting, developing and perfecting that went into the product. For every design there are probably 20 others that never made it past a sketch or prototype. It is this dedication and creativity that ultimately allows for furniture designs to be produced.

Another point to consider when choosing where to buy your furniture is the service. When you contact Steel Vintage you will speak directly with myself or Carole. We can answer any questions you have and talk through options relating to your enquiry. If you have a bespoke product in mind we will be able to visualise your idea on the computer to ensure we produce the best design for your requirements. If speaking on the phone or via email is not quite enough then we are happy to meet. This can be in our showroom and workshop or if more appropriate we can visit your premises. Each order is managed by myself to ensure the item is produced to our usual high standard and on time.

Excellent customer service is at the centre of what we do. We want your experience with us to be positive so that not only will you return but will also recommend us. We are a family business and we want our customers to understand who we are and see what we offer. No hiding behind a website and no closed doors.

Get in touch today to start your journey with us. Call 01454 413 329 or visit our Contact page.

Jon Ball
Managing Director
Steel Vintage Ltd