It has been a few months since I’ve shared a Design Discussion post (the contervisal topic of taxidermy) and I wanted to chat about a subject I get a lot of questions and comments about: natural materials versus engineered products. You know what I’m talking about… marble versus quartz, hardwood flooring versus luxury vinyl, hand knotted wool rugs versus machine loomed polypropylene, genuine leather versus polyurethane faux leather, down cushions versus poly, etc. Materials can make a big difference in terms of design and longevity, so I thought this would be an interesting and fitting conversation for our next discussion! Click through to share your opinion, read about the pros & cons, and of course, to hear about my personal preference.
I’m assuming you already know where I stand (team natural 99% of the time), but I do believe there is a time and place for both. Like all of our Design Discussions, there are pros and cons for each. In my home, I typically prefer natural interior materials over their engineered, synthetic, or manufactured counterparts, but that’s just my personal preference. I think material use really depends on the application, project, design plan, how your family uses the space, the budget, and your aesthetic preference.
Let’s break down some of the obvious pros and cons….
- ages and patinas over time (a pro, in my opinion… some may consider a con)
- often more sustainable and eco
- natural materials are often the organic option
- can be a healthier lifestyle choice
- classic or timeless, in terms of aesthetic
- often less durable
- susceptible to imperfections
- changes over time (again- patina & aging isn’t for everyone)
- often requires maintenance & upkeep of some sort
- usually more expensive
- can be more durable (think of quartz countertops)
- cost effective
- requires less maintenance
- consistent over time (will not patina or change with age)
- often more accessible
- may not withstand the test of time (physically or from an aesthetic POV)
- replaceable (rather than restoration… it often isn’t possible)
- not always a classic design choice
- can look less expensive
- can contain harmful materials
How about some specific material examples? Maybe the ones I mentioned in the post intro? Let’s quickly tackle a handful… and feel free to ask me about others in the comment section! I’ll just riff the first thoughts that come to mind with these materials (obviously we could play the comparison game all day):
- Hardwoods vs. LVP // Hardwoods are gorgeous, can be sanded and refinished over time, and are a classic natural material that will withstand the test of time. They’re also susceptible to scratching, chipping, aging with time, are expensive, and can easily be damaged (especially by water). LVP flooring isn’t as timeless and can’t be refinished, but is pretty durable, water resistant, budget friendly, and is easy to install.
- Wool Rugs vs. Polypropylene Rugs // Wool rugs are natural, durable, moisture wicking and beautiful- their price tag certainly reflects that. It’s no doubt they are expensive. Poly rugs are much less expensive, but they often contain toxic byproducts that cause issues when inhaled (when fibers become airborne). They’re often treated with fire retardants, can contain materials like formaldehyde, and VOCs are off-gassed from the material. Does the price and stain resistant properties make them more appealing than wool?
- Down vs. Down Alternative // Down cushions and upholstery are more expensive, will last longer (with appropriate care & fluffing), and are often said to be the most comfortable, but they do require maintenance. Down alternative options are usually less money, require little maintenance, and are naturally hypoallergenic because synthetic materials are unlikely to trap allergens. However, they may flatten over time and have to be replaced more frequently.
- Genuine Leather vs. PU Leather // Genuine leather is extremely durable, natural, is a classic design choice, patinas over time, will last forever when taken care of, but is expensive and requires conditioning. Of course it also an animal product, so it’s certainly not the vegan option. PU or bonded leather is far less expensive, can contain harmful chemicals, will wear and crack over time (with no patina), can look extremely faux, but it is a vegan option.
The topic that frequents my inbox in regards to this conversation is typically about stone. Why choose marble or soapstone (both natural products) when quartz (manufactured product) looks so similar and is virtually indestructible and maintenance free? Many can’t believe I’d opt for a material that can be scratched, stained, and will patina over time. Fortunately, I have quite a few posts on this specific topic, so if you’re interest in diving deeper into past conversations surrounding that particular design decision, I’m linking the following: Marble Maintenance and The Truth About Natural Stone and Why We Used Soapstone in Our Kitchen… Again.
I will say… we do have an exception at our house. Any guesses? It’s our backyard fence and pergola. We have a white vinyl privacy fence and pergola. Sure, they were here when we moved in, but we also opted to install the same fence material at our previous home. Why? It’s maintenance-free, is easy to clean, is durable, and it fit the budget. At our current home, is it my ideal fence? No, but I really don’t mind the way it looks. Rather than replacing it with wrought iron (like we have around the perimeter of our property), we’ll leave it as is. Wood would be another natural alternative.
Another exception for me includes engineered fabrics in certain scenarios- especially upholstery… you know I love natural fabrics (wool, cotton, linen, mohair, leather, etc), but I also appreciate and enjoy performance fabrics (Sunbrella, Crypton, etc) because they are so durable! For more on fabric selections, check out this post.
Ok, are you ready for the poll? I’d love to know what you typically choose, and what type of materials fill your house. As I previously mentioned- I believe there is a time and place for both, but the majority of materials in our home are natural. Does your home skew one way or another, or is it pretty split? Is that even something you consider or think about when specifying items for your home? What is the biggest determining factor?
If you’re looking for more Design Discussion topics to chat about, I’ll link them below…
- Hardwoods in the Kitchen
- Nude Art
- Countertop Space
- Color Blocking
- TV Over the Fireplace
- Stacked vs Side-by-Side Laundry Units
- Furniture Arranged Against a Wall
- Shelf Styling with Books
- Wool Rugs in the Bathroom
I’m also happy to answer specific questions about any given material (to the best of my ability)! Feel free to drop me a note in the comment section below. These posts are always really fun for me, even though they can get controversial. It’s fun to see where everyone stands and hear unique perspectives. What topic should we dive into for our next Design Discussion post? I’d love to hear your suggestions! Here’s to a great week ahead.