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Trend Alert: Designing with Mixed Materials

Every few years, a group of young designers will exit their various colleges and institutes armed with the knowledge that they have learned just a little more about design than their predecessors. They will have intimate understanding of hundreds of design forms under their caps, and will know all the rules for making a space fit into an established design pattern. Some will favour Art Deco, others will prefer post-modernism, yet another will be a staunch Bauhaus adherent… and some will decide to break a few rules and create whole new trends.

For the last few years, a new, almost lawless, and very exciting devotion to doing things differently has started to dominate the design scene, and those designers, architects and others involved in creating living and working spaces that appeal to a more globally aware market have started shaking things up and throwing things together to see what works.

Mixing materials isn’t exactly new, as elements of it have been seen in design trends like Art Deco and mid-century modern before, but today’s designer is approaching it with a fervor that can only be attributed to the vastly increased access to rare, exotic and unfamiliar materials, styles and textures. After all what could be more exciting and fun than taking the known, the familiar, and pairing it with the strange and outlandish?

Placing a refined cut Venetian crystal bowl as a display piece atop a rough cabinet made of reclaimed wood and lit by a cheesy dancing hula girl lamp found at a yard sale, or using an exquisite piece of Indian fabric, shot through with threads of gold, as a throw on a wrought iron bench on your porch – mixing materials, textures, colours, patterns and styles is part of this growing trend towards a more eclectic, personalized style, one where you use what appeals to you to create a space that you are comfortable and happy in, rather than focusing on being on point with a particular style.

Four walls and a roof

The mixed products trend lends itself perfectly to designing and building new homes and workspaces. With growing ecological consciousness at the forefront of many architects’ minds, but with people’s ongoing desire to enjoy spaces that are unique, it is becoming less and less unusual to see a rustic stone building look paired, for example, with clever solar power-generating roof tiles, or glass and metal buildings that bring in as much natural light as possible, built into a hillside and capped with a grass roof.

Mixing materials, especially in architecture, comes from the idea that we need to rethink the way we build in order to be as sustainable as possible. That’s why modern apartment buildings, built with the best in construction advances, and simultaneously designed to house a multitude of plants, all the way up their sides and roofs, giving a whole new meaning to the concrete jungle. In most cases, these buildings serve a dual purpose of providing housing for a growing population, while mitigating the additional air pollution these people will put out by planting robust greenery – or, in many cases, planting food to help cope with the increasing demand.

Home, sweet home

Indoors, a stone fireplace sits as comfortably next to rustic terra cotta flooring as it does nestled in a hyper-modern polished concrete floor, or a charmingly creaky and deeply glowing antique wooden one. A kitchen with beautifully carved wooden cabinets could feature ultra-modern polished steel counter-tops, while a glass and wrought iron table takes centre place, surrounded by faux-wicker chairs.

Again, this trend speaks to our exhaustion with being a throw-away society. Our design sensibilities and desire to remain fashionable is clashing with our desire to stop discarding things when they become old, but retain serviceability. So, rather than replacing everything every few years, we’re beginning to adopt a more mix-and-match, anything goes attitude, and seeing some stunningly attractive results.

Creating your own mixed materials space

The mixed materials design trend is appealing to many different types of people for a variety of reasons. You might like the creativity that the trend offers, or perhaps you like the idea of being able to haul out a few decor and design items you’d hidden from view in a chest in the attic, hoping they’d come back into fashion again someday. Perhaps you enjoy yard sales, and want to simply buy the things you like without agonizing over whether or not they will suit your current decor. Or maybe, you’re building your ideal home and don’t want to restrict yourself to a set of rules that don’t work for you. Whatever the reasoning, there are a few ways you can get your space on trend with mixed materials

Built to last

One of the best things about the mixed materials design style is that it makes design considerably more open to non-designers and those who have always wanted to experiment with styles, but were worried they’d get it all wrong. By adopting a mixed materials approach, you now have an opportunity to do what appeals to you and create something unique, without the stress of checking every little thing to see if it suits the chosen style.

Whether you’re building a new home or renovating, there are several ways you can incorporate a variety of materials into your space to make it unique and attractive. Sit down with pen and paper – or a Google doc – and write down a list of things that you find visually appealing. Don’t worry if they don’t traditionally match each other, or make sense together, as the idea is to get in touch with your creative side and just get together a list of your personal likes.

Next, fine-tune the list to include a few elements that you like, and that will be practical and affordable. Again, don’t worry too much about making things match – after all that’s the idea. If, like we suggested earlier, you like the idea of a stone fireplace, but also like polished concrete floors, then go for it, make that your look. While you’re at it, try adding industrial-looking shelving alongside the ultra-rustic-looking manufactured-stone fireplace for a little more contrast.

Have fun with your exterior, too. Build a wooden house, and clad a section of the exterior walls with beautifully textured manufactured-stone veneers, while painting the rest a clean, smooth white. Install a stained-glass window with aluminium frames alongside a large, clear-paned window with stone lintels

The entire idea is to offer as much contrast as you can by mixing up materials that aren’t traditionally paired. Smooth next to rough, next to cobbled, next to patterned. Metal mixed with wood, glass and stone paired with each other, even two different types of metals could do the trick. There are many different materials on the market that you can use to finish the exterior of your home, including fibre cement, metal, wood or manufactured stone siding, stucco, aluminium siding, and a host of others. It’s all about finding new ways to use and combine traditional materials

The inside story

Indoors, have some fun with your decor as well as your fixtures. You might have prominent wooden beams in your ceiling, while naked light bulbs hang from them, or an elaborate antique glass and metal chandelier providing light in your modern kitchen. Have a living room with four smooth, clean walls? Why not cover one of them with manufactured stone veneer, wood panels or even something way out there, like faux leather?

Indoors, you have several surfaces, furnishing, finishes and decor options that could add to your eclectic mix. Keep these few basic principles in mind, and you’ll soon create a mixed materials home that you are comfortable in:

Colour – Keep your colour pallette interesting and varied. Whether that means painting one wall a different colour to the rest, giving each window its own unique colour trim, or having a multitude of throw cushions adorning your couches is up to you. The trend of a single accent colour in a monochromatic room is fading, and enjoying colour for itself is growing in popularity. And remember, colour doesn’t always have to be an add-on – different metals, woods, ceramics and stones all have their own unique colouring, and you can use that fact to create a vibrant colour pallette without using a drop of paint.

Texture – Texture is such an important aspect of design, yet it often gets overlooked in favour of colour and patterns. If you pay attention to it, however, texture can give you an incredible variety of design options and alternatives. In fact, if you’re not a fan of wild, vibrant and varied colours, you could create an elegant and simply-coloured look that still offers a feast for the senses, just by varying textures. Even a completely grey room can be exciting and interesting; for example, your floors could be a slate veneer, your walls concrete, your surfaces steel, and your furniture a blend of grey plastics, fabrics and even grey-painted wood. Okay, you might feel a little greyed-out there, but see it as an illustration of how textures can create interest, simply by mixing up the materials you use.

Patterns – Once upon a time, it seemed to be a hard and fast rule that mixing patterns was a no-no. If your couch was striped, then that was the only pattern allowed, and all other non-striped items had to be single colours, preferably matching with said stripes. Now imagine that overstuffed, striped canvas couch adorned with one floral cushion and one with polka dots, while the other couch – maybe a nice, dark wooden ball-and-claw – is upholstered in a lovely velveteen and sports a cushion that’s screen-printed with an Andy Warhol-style quartet of strangely-coloured faces. Now imagine that was done on purpose. That’s the essence of mixed materials – having fun with what you have, and not being afraid to throw something unusual or interesting into the mix.

Contrast – At its heart, mixed materials style is all about offering contrast; contract for all the sense to enjoy. That means making things interesting whether you’re looking at it or feeling it. While it’s always possible to overdo something, this approach to design isn’t a less-is-more approach – it’s about putting in what pleases you, throwing everything into the mix and seeing what comes out.

The real beauty of this design style is that if you get it wrong, if an element isn’t working for you, you don’t need to start all over again. You can just remove, repurpose or relocate that one element, shuffle things around until you have created a space that works for you. It’s all about enjoying the discovery of your own personal style and letting it be.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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