Polished Industrial Design in Commercial & Multi-Unit Spaces

You may be unfamiliar with the term “Polished Industrial design,” but you’ve most likely seen examples of it–maybe at the new brewery in town or the apartments now occupying that old brick factory.

This trending typically warehouse look of exposed pipes and ductwork plus minimalist metal and wood is showing up in commercial spaces and multi-unit developments across Canada.

In this article we talk about the history of the design, its typical elements, and ways to incorporate it into your projects.

Origins of Polished Industrial Design

Mary Cook, of Chicago-based Mary Cook Associates, says the Polished Industrial style arose for three primary reasons:

Economic recessions forced people to choose more affordable decorating styles. Elegant, expensive features were abandoned for cleaner, simpler, more frugal forms.

A burgeoning interest in urban styles led builders, developers, and designers to incorporate distinctive elements of those looks into their projects. It’s not exclusive to cities; the trend has extended to the suburbs and beyond.

The ever-present nature of technology and the impact of mass production have created a desire for authenticity, character, and rawness—elements which have found their way into interior design and specifically the Polished Industrial look.

Polished Industrial Defined

So, what is Polished Industrial design? A handful of words capture its vibe: clean, open, bold, modern, durable, minimalist, hard-working, neutral, raw, under-the-radar, no-nonsense, simple, authentic.

The particular elements found in Polished Industrial spaces vary, but you will see similar materials and looks across the board.

Floors & Stairs

Brick, wide-plank, and polished concrete floors are all common. Soft, patterned rugs and bold, solid-color break-room floor tiles provide interest and texture relief. Steel staircases tie floors together and direct the vibe to the next level.


Metal, wood, brick, and stone are all staples of Polished Industrial design. They can be presented as raw and unfinished or sleek and smooth depending on what else is in the room.

Exposed ductwork and pipes add industrial interest along with visible wooden and metal beams, stainless steel, sanded or rough wood, polished stone, and old-factory brick walls.


Vintage or hanging light fixtures hearken back to the industrial age. Mixed metal or bronze faucets, curated accessories, and divided-light shower enclosures add to the urban feel. Think the thoughtfully assembled offerings of Restoration Hardware and similar retailers.

Other Elements

Clean paint and linear upholstery help to soften otherwise overly-dominating brick and metal while architectural salvage items maintain a historic, non-processed feel.

Where You’ll See Polished Industrial

Converted Factories and Warehouses

Drive around an older industrial area in any town, and you might see evidence of the Polished Industrial trend that’s sweeping the country.

  • Long-abandoned factories are being renovated into condos and apartments.
  • Defunct warehouses are being restored and turned into offices, retail spaces, bars, and restaurants.
  • Plants and industrial complexes are getting converted into virtual offices, business headquarters, and entertainment venues.


City lofts are a natural fit with the Polished Industrial style. Former manufacturing facilities and old offices and stores can be transformed into multi-unit living spaces while keeping the character of the old buildings intact.

Exposed ducts, visible brick walls, ceiling beams, and plank floors all remind occupants of the building’s former life.

The strictly industrial space is quickly turned into Polished Industrial with the addition of soft elements like light-hearted upholstery, patterned rugs, or wingback chairs.

Does Polished Industrial Design Work in Commercial and Multi-Unit Spaces?

This style works best in spaces where soft and industrial elements are combined. Exposed brick can be contrasted with a low-pile area rug, or a few velvet cushions may soften a prominent stainless-steel accessory.

Flooring—Understand Polished Concrete

If you have your heart set on installing polished concrete floors, understand the material you will be dealing with. This is especially true if your projects are large-scale commercial or multi-unit properties.

Polished concrete, when laid and finished properly, is stunning. Unfortunately, it can be quickly marred while a space is under construction. Painters, plumbers, and carpenters will walk across it, dropping grease, glue, and paint—substances that can be impossible to remove if not treated immediately. Restoring a slab like this takes professional work, careful preparation, and a lot of time.

That said, a carefully poured, prepared, and finished concrete floor is beautiful and has many benefits.

  • It cleans easily and does not harbor allergens.
  • It can be left plain or softened with an attractive rug.
  • It can be customized with a range of colors and finishes to match the unique style of the space.


This article has mentioned exposed walls several times. A brick wall that adjoins smooth, neutral-colored walls draws the eye without being overbearing and captures the essence of the Polished Industrial vibe. Painted millwork squares or strips can provide a beautiful, understated embellishment to the commercial space.


Ceilings can incorporate exposed ductwork or be traditionally smooth depending on your liking. Visible beams or pipes can be painted with bold colors as accents or colors that match the ceiling for subtlety.


Polished Industrial design utilizes large, unadorned windows to bring in lots of light. They enlarge even the smallest areas, lending a spacious feeling to otherwise tight rooms.

Old warehouse and factory windows were traditionally divided by muntins into smaller panes, so you’ll find this type of window commonly featured in Polished Industrial-style spaces.

Soft Accent Pieces

A design style that is pure Industrial features harsher materials like brick, metal, and glass without softer accessories to warm up the space. Including these accessories turns Industrial style into Polished Industrial. The function of the space—professional, business, entertainment, multi-unit dwelling—will naturally govern the type of accessories selected.

Light-hearted accessories may be appropriate even in professional settings. It all depends on the corporate culture and branding plus tastes and preferences of the client.

Eclectic Polished Industrial

Polished Industrial in its purest form is a minimalist design style. However, it can be blended with other styles to achieve whatever environment is appropriate and desired.

What is the purpose and function of the commercial space? What is the influencing aesthetic for the multi-unit development?

Bend and govern the structures of Polished Industrial design to stamp your own signature look on your projects.