Although Brutalism typically refers to a style of architecture, it has recently become a buzzword to describe a trending inspiration for interior design. In this guide, we walk you through what Brutalism is and how to cop the look.
What is Brutalism?
Brutalism is a style of architecture that emerged in the 1950s in the United Kingdom. Following World War II, reconstruction projects were limited to scarce building materials and fast construction techniques. Without the luxury of time or resources, decorative details were omitted in favor of a minimalist approach that exposed structural components and building materials. What began as a solution to a problem has now become an iconic style with a cult-like following.
Indicative of the style are monochrome color pallets, raw concrete and steel, and chunky, geometric shapes. Materials like glass, brick, and wood are also common. Some of the most famous architects associated with Brutalism include Le Corbusier, Ernô Goldfinger, Marcel Breuer, James Gowan, Paul Rudolph, Paula Mendes da Rocha, and John Bancroft.
Brutalism has had a love/hate relationship with the public over the years. The style was most commonly put to use in designing large, imposing institutional buildings - courts, city halls, universities, and libraries - in addition to low-cost social housing. Its popularity eventually waned as it became associated with totalitarianism, austerity, and urban decay.
Since its heyday, Brutalism has had a polarizing effect. Though many still criticize the style for being cold, Brutalism has had a resurgence of interest recently - perhaps as a backlash to the squiggly, pastel-hued maximalism that has taken over design in recent years. This time, the tenets of Brutalism have been scaled down from imposing institutional buildings to domestic interior spaces.
How to Live with Brutalism
You don't need to live in a Brutalist building designed by a famous architect to celebrate the style. Here are 10 tips to help you incorporate the Brutalist vibe in your own living space.
1. Embrace Exposed Construction Elements
Brutalism celebrates functional materiality: exposed plumbing pipes on the ceiling or in the bathroom, concrete walls without drywall or paint, and polished cement floors with minimal carpeting. A bit of discoloration or rust? As long as it is not interfering with the structural integrity of your home, leave it be.
2. Concrete Accent Furniture
Don't have cement walls or floors? Don't worry. Look for an accent table with a concrete finish, like this square coffee table at CB2, or this end table from Burke Decor. Fiberglass pieces with cement finishes will be much lighter and easier to maneuver than pieces cast in solid concrete.
3. Minimize and Declutter
Brutalism is a minimalist style, so even if you have all the "right" furniture and materials, excess clutter and decor will negate the effect. Select a few objects for your shelves and surfaces, and ensure adequate storage to keep your clutter out of sight.
4. Stay Away from Patterns
Opt for upholstery in solid colors instead of patterns. Mix and match a range of textures for a dynamic effect. Leather, wool, and bouclé in cream, beige, charcoal, or black are all great options.
5. Slim Down Your Color Pallet
Choose a neutral color pallet with grays and beiges. For an even more severe look, go completely monochrome. A pop of color here and there can add an attractive focal point but don't go overboard with bright hues.
6. Metal, But Not Chrome
Metal is a great material to add to your home for that Brutalist look. But try to find pieces with a dark or rusty patina in favor of more refined finishes like chrome. Alternatively, opt for industrial-looking pieces with stainless steel finishes, like this box table from Horne or this end table at AllModern.
7. Bring Outdoor Furniture Indoors
If you're having trouble finding the right furniture for your interior, expand your search to include outdoor pieces. Items made to withstand weather are often well-suited for the Brutalist look and can also tend to be chunkier and heavier than their indoor counterparts. This outdoor table would look great in a dining room.
8. Chunky, Angular Forms
Forget any delicate, ornate, or figurative forms and embrace bulky, robust, or boxy furniture instead. Simple geometric shapes that mimic the large buildings of Brutalist architecture can be carved from wood, cast in cement, or forged in steel. Take a look at this gorgeous dining chair from Tattahome. The 101 Copenhagen Brutus collection also includes an armchair and coffee table and comes in dark gray or beige.
9. Textures Galore
If you're wondering how a space with so few colors or objects can feel interesting, remember the power of texture layering! To add some warmth and variation to your space, look for pieces that offer a range of textures and don't rely too much on one specific material. Rick Owen's Alchemy Bench, made out of bronze and camel skin, is perfect.
10. Candlelight for Warmth
Another way to warm up a Brutalist space is with candlelight. Opt for white or black candles and gothic candleholders. This heavy cast iron candelabra has a strong presence and would look great in a Brutalism-inspired living room.