Materials are known to be the foundation of architecture and design, the makers or breakers of successful buildings. They have a huge impact on all sorts of built-spaces and their users by pertaining to certain physical, psychological, and cultural properties. William Morris has rightly said, “Architecture as the art of building suitably with suitable material”. Designers have always strived to focus on trying new materials to focus on various factors like aesthetics, building strength, sustainability, environment friendliness, and economy generation.

Here is a list of a few unconventional choices of materials used in interior design:

1. Straw marquetry

An age-old craft of splitting and scraping rye straw into a pattern of flat ribbons, straw marquetry gained popularity during the Art Deco period when designers wanted to cover everything from the walls to the furniture in buildings. Similar to wood marquetry, by replacing wood veneer with straw, this technique is becoming prominent again in interior design as a versatile finish. Mostly used as wall paneling and as a furniture material, straw marquetry offers an endless range of colors, patterns, and textures by adding a unique character to the elements. Though acknowledged as a luxury finishing system, its raw material straw is one of the most natural and sustainable products and is easily available.

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Milk and Honey Credenza in straw marquetry ©
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Milk and Honey Credenza in straw marquetry ©

2. Mycelium

Reducing our built environment’s carbon footprint by finding sustainable material alternatives is vital for improving the ecological conditions in today’s world. Already being used in multidisciplinary ways for organizations like Ikea and Dell, Mycelium is an organic, fibrous material made from fungi that offer super-strength, mold resistance, and fire-proofing to buildings and their interiors. As an alternative to polystyrene, mycelium is a regenerative material that digests itself and grows around its waste. The interior design uses this innovative material in the form of composite boards (Myco-board), a substitute for MDF that doesn’t emit illness-causing formaldehyde during its production and as a furniture material that can be easily recycled. Apart from its environmentally friendly properties, mycelium also offers strength and durability.

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Building with mushrooms ©
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Building with mushrooms ©

3. Parchment

The onset of modernism in the 1920s demanded a neutral and minimal design palette to redefine the perception of luxury by replacing dark wood and ancient tapestries with a much lighter product. This gave rise to the use of parchment, a thin material made from animal skin that was historically used for paper-making. Today, parchment is used as high-end furniture making material which after a process of being stretched and scraped under tension, results in a stiff and translucent texture to be applied to the wood substrate. In interior design, it is used as an applied material on various surfaces like doors, desks, and wall-paneling systems. The translucency of this soft-ivory like material makes it ideal for lampshades and partitions.

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Milk and Honey Credenza in straw marquetry and parchment ©
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4. Concrete

Widely used as an architectural building material, concrete is now gaining importance as an interior design material as well because of its versatile nature. The widely popular raw and robust look offers high durability and strength in varied weather conditions along with fire-resistance and mouldability. A tried, tested and true construction material, concrete is available for flooring, paneling systems, and as an added texture on surfaces. Associated with unadorned and rough looks, it has low construction costs and easy workability.

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Concrete Hotel Decor in Canberra ©
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Concrete Hotel Decor in Canberra ©

5. Timbercrete

A mixture of cement, sand, sawdust, and non-toxic additives, timbercrete is a supplement of concrete but is almost 2.5 times lighter. Used by screwing or nailing it on top of the wood, timbercrete provides much more amounts of insulation and sequestrated carbon.

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6. Clay and ceramics

Commonly used in interior design as tiling, clay is a durable, non-porous, and versatile material that is now being used in various innovative ways. From bespoken murals to plain partition walls meant to maintain interior temperatures, clay, terracotta, and ceramics have now made a mark in earthy and stripped-down interiors. Apart from being used in larger elements like walls and furniture, clay pottery, utensils, and decorative artifacts also add to the charm of earthy interiors.

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Corporate office – Manoj Patel Design interior ©
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Hattusa Studio Linares-interior architecture restaurant design ©

7. Galvanized steel

The flexibility and malleability of metal have resulted in opening its range of usage to the interior and furniture design as well. Various designs, coatings, and surface finishes allow steel to give a dramatic effect in contemporary and industrial settings. As compared to other metallic finishes, galvanized steel offers a more flexible and sustainable approach in forms of stamping, paneling, and a variety of other interesting patterns.

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8. Recycled and Reused Materials

Many interiors designers have started stepping up and committing themselves to the cause of reducing waste. Be it using old beer bottles to build an amphitheater in Houses of Goa, creating benches out of recycled newspapers, or using PET bottles as insulators, the world is now moving towards a sustainable future by discovering new construction techniques and materials. Architects, interior designers, furniture makers, and product innovators are all trying to depict a new and woke way of thinking by repurposing waste material and embracing the old and the new together.

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Recycled newspaper bench ©

Yamini Kathuria is an architect who has recently graduated with a masters in interior design from CEPT University, Ahmedabad. A strong believer of the notion that built-spaces directly influence how people live, connect and perform, she approaches design as a multi-layered process which involves creativity, analytical research and contextual awareness.

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