8 Inexpensive Materials That Can Transform an Interior

The interior design world isn’t lacking in options—we’ve perhaps never had better access to a range of raw materials and technologically advanced surfaces—but sometimes the most interesting options are right under our noses. As in, on the shelves at your local hardware store. As proven by some of the best in the business, what are commonly thought of as cheap building materials (plywood, cinder blocks, etc.) can actually be made glamorous if put on display. Below, eight inexpensive raw materials that can transform the look and feel of your interior—for the better.

Plywood
While technically unglamorous—it’s a bunch of glued-together sheets of wood veneer—plywood is actually formidable: Each layer is alternated 90 degrees to increase durability, and an odd number of them in total reduces warping. Plus, it looks nice and costs little, and can be a smart choice for designing built-ins and shelving without the price tag of a finer grain.

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Cinder Blocks
Poured and paneled concrete might be the more obvious choices, but everyday cinder blocks can also lend a sophisticated industrial effect to walls and floors—just check out Goop’s L.A. offices for proof. The trick is simply to not to coat them in glossy paint, which will look more “’90s high school” than “warehouse chic.”

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Acoustic Tiles
Prized primarily for their ability to absorb and remit sound, acoustic tiles are also kind of mod and cool-looking. The team at Float Studio—the go-to designers for start-ups seeking sophisticated office space on a budget—has used it to panel the walls of a few in-office telephone booths, left unpainted for visual impact.

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Copper Pipes
While typically pricier than less flashy pipe materials, copper piping still isn’t an exorbitant purchase for small projects (this 10-foot length is about $13, and you can likely acquire it for a much better deal through a contractor or plumber during construction). Once armed with enough of it, you can cut it using this eentsy, easy-to-use device and screw together hanging utensil racks, side tables, even faucets.

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Wax
For a watery-but-protective finish over any construction-grade plaster, try using wax the way Neal Beckstedt did over the massive, undulating black hearth in his room at the 2017 Kips Bay Showhouse. No paint will get you a glimmering look like that. (The stone he used around the fireplace is tumbled Belgian limestone—proof that high-low always wins.)

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Cork
Not just for framing and covering with ribbons from your teenager’s swim meets, cork sheets can also be used to add a visually textural surface on floors and walls (and these days you can actually find it pre-made as a wall covering).

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Steel Sheets
Available in a wide array of gauges and finishes, steel sheets can be fashioned into doors, table toppers, walls, and the like.

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Peg Board
While perhaps an obvious choice for organizational purposes in, say, the kitchen, a peg board wall can also be used just to add an unexpected touch (especially when painted an edgy color) to other walls. Oversized is especially fun.

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