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The VICE Guide to Brutalism in Architecture and Interior Design

Laveta Brigham

Do you own a coffee table made out of salvaged steel? Is your home a converted cement factory? Are all of your wall hooks just jumbo, highly stylized brass nails? Congrats, grad: You’re Rick Owens a Brutalist.  Brutalism, the name of which is a callback to the French term béton […]

Do you own a coffee table made out of salvaged steel? Is your home a converted cement factory? Are all of your wall hooks just jumbo, highly stylized brass nails? Congrats, grad: You’re Rick Owens a Brutalist. 

Brutalism, the name of which is a callback to the French term béton brut (raw concrete), is a design aesthetic that emerged post-World War II in the UK, primarily out of a need to construct sturdy, affordable housing for a war-addled public. It was out with any ostentatious and indulgent design flair, and in with low-cost, raw materials such as exposed concrete, brick, and wood. Imposing structures took a towering precedence over the more nostalgic pre-war home designs, and buildings such as the Secondary School at Hunstanton in Norfolk—arguably the first Brutalist building ever—made a bold statement to the public: the future is here, and it’s bold.  

Alas, as with truffle oil and Bee Movie, Brutalism was and remains a divisive aesthetic. Haters will call it a stark, un-cozy design sensibility (see: the “Chad Brutalism” roast) and point to the dark legacy of foundational architects such as Le Corbusier; lovers will praise the socialist utopian potential of the movement to create affordable housing for all, and the innovations of active architects such as Tadao Ando to the aesthetic. No one, save maybe that French techno group Justice, plays with natural light and concrete like Ando. 

Therein lies the appeal of Brutalism, and its cultural resurgence in the past decade. As millennials in the post-indie-sleaze years started migrating toward a more pared-down, relaxed minimalist aesthetic—think, Glossier, Everlane, and Kim K’s monastic estate—Brutalism’s mastery of raw materials and dramatic, but not flamboyant structures resonated. There are more than 1.3 million posts under the #brutalism hashtag on Instagram, with popular accounts such as @african_brutalism and @cats_of_brutalism, which is hands-down the most millennial shit I’ve ever seen in my life, giving the people all of the exposed brick and textured concrete they could want. 

If you want to bring some of Brutalism’s interior design sensibilities into your home, look for inspiration in Rick Owens’ Italian apartment tour, the late Ricardo Bofill’s factory-turned-home in Spain, and Boston’s City Hall. If you find a coffee table at West Elm that looks like it could have been made from materials found in an abandoned parking lot, grab it; keep an eye out for chunky, graphic candles, and contrast your Brutalist pieces with Japandi and mid-century modern design classics such as Noguchi lamps and Eames loungers

We’ve rounded up some of our favorite pieces of furniture and decor to turn your home into a Brutalist bachelor pad, so put on a beret and some Molchat Dolma, and let’s start the transformation.  

Béton brut

When in doubt, remember: Concrete is king in Brutalism. This West Elm side table is the perfect cube to compliment your modular sofa, and it’s more than $50 off right now. Pair it with some big, beautiful art books from TASCHEN and a retro, orange mushroom lamp to ascend to Villa Fábrica heights.

$349$296.65 at West Elm

… Speaking of Ricardo Bofill’s home, cop Quince’s European linen blackout curtains to soften up your space, and give the walls some organic texture just like the late architect did in his own abode.   

$89.90 at Quince

A sofa with stage presence 

The sofa is the heart of the home, so invest in a modular couch that can really pull its weight in terms of welcoming tuchuses and having some stage presence. This Rove Concepts Porter sectional comes in seven neutral colorways, and gives us all the graphic silhouettes of Brutalism with none of the hardness; the sofa is made with three layers of high-density foam cushioning, and includes four feather throw cushions.   

$2499 at Rove Concepts

A twist on the iconic 1970s Togo sofa by Ligne Roset, this Eternity Modern couch will bring a little more color into your Brutalist home while adhering to the movement’s love of earthy colorways and textures. 

$2929 at Eternity Modern

Kidney-shaped candle holders? Yes.  

If you want to get a good idea of what Brutalism without a budget looks like, browse the offerings of 1stDibs. The auction site is filled with all of the Brutalist ceramic table lamps and antique wood milking stools a Brutalist bro could dream of, including this set of kidney-shaped candle holders that would look great as a centerpiece at your next dinner party, or dotted around your home for some well-curated ambiance.   

$120 at 1stDibs

A geometric candle 

Get you a graphic candle that says, “Oh, yeah. La Muralla Roja really changed my life.” 

$16.99$15.99 at Amazon

$10.56 at Amazon

Bring Brutalism into the bedroom

Long have we coveted our neighbor’s Floyd bed frame. The minimalist wood frame has achieved cult-fave status across our Instagram feeds; any room it graces just seems to feel lighter and less fussy. Bring it home while it’s 20% off

$995$796 at Floyd

Once you slide that Casper mattress onto your Floyd bed frame, reach for West Elm’s gauzy green cotton duvet cover and shams. They’re the perfect breezy summer swap for your bedding, and will let your guests know that you are a minimalist king who knows how to whittle folk art spoons from salvaged wood. 

$35$29.75 at West Elm

A calendar that doubles as wall art 

There’s an entire VICE article about how to find cool, expensive-looking wall art for cheap, but one of our favorite tricks for dressing our walls is to find a utilitarian home object with a little more design flair. This graphic 2023 calendar is printed on heavy-weight paper and highlights some of Brutalism’s most iconic buildings, while this wood calendar is a clever take on the retro Euroway calendar that goes for around $650 on 1stDibs.

$59.15 at Amazon

$106.46 at Etsy

Bring in some greenery

Brutalism is all about bold contrasts, which is why bringing some greenery into your otherwise sexy, spartan pad is so important. This graphic Vayu planter from Design Within Reach is 20% off and would look bangin’ with a monstera plant, while this Tortuga planter at West Elm looks as if it could be a Brutalist library for Barbies (it’s not; give it a cactus and enjoy).  

$110$88 at Design Within Reach

$110$88 at Design Within Reach

$65 at West Elm

Enjoy your concrete palace, my Brutalist bros. 

The Rec Room staff independently selected all of the stuff featured in this story. Want more reviews, recommendations, and red-hot deals? Sign up for our newsletter.

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