This story is part of Pretty Ugly, a package celebrating design that’s so bad, it’s good.
Is it really that hard to build a head-turning project out of marble slabs or sleek glass panels? Where’s the challenge in turning velvety-smooth white oak boards or hand-chiseled stone into an architectural masterpiece? While we obviously love beautiful homes built from beautiful materials (see: every page of this website), there’s something extra special about designs that lean on more, uh, unconventional resources.
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Corrugated metal, concrete pipes, and cardboard may not be the most inspiring of materials, but when industrial supplies wind up in the right hands, the results can be downright magical. You know what they say: one person’s trash is another’s statement-making feature wall.
Whether these designers chose their unexpected materials to save money, create a one-of-a-kind space, or simply remind us that beauty can be found in the most unlikely of places (for example, the dumpster), each of these projects uses “ugly” materials in beautiful new ways.
A Wire-and-Steel Office, Built in a Former Italian Villa
Italian design firm Archisbang transformed an unfinished family villa—acquired through a bankruptcy auction—into additional office space for a company called Chemsafe. The volume is wrapped in a metal mesh and the walls are clad in exposed wood fiber, concrete insulating panels, and galvanized metal sheets, creating a striking contrast between precise detailing and raw materiality.
Archisbang saw the value in materials left exposed, so it amplified the look with mesh wiring, galvanized steel, and wood and concrete fiber panels.
A Metallic Workspace in Munich Pops Thanks to Bubble Wrap
Curtains made out of bubble wrap provide privacy while allowing sufficient light to enter the interior.
This Unique Boutique Hotel in Namibia Makes Strand Board Look Luxe
OSB was the right choice for the interiors of Shipwreck Lodge, a low-impact boutique hotel in the sand dunes of Namibia’s coastline. Designed by Windhoek-based Nina Maritz Architects, the 20-bed property was constructed on a $2,000,000 budget that relied heavily on prefabrication to minimize environmental impact, and to ensure comfort for guests in the remote and extremely harsh desert.
The buildings are designed to look like shipwrecked boats, but inside, it’s cozy and chic.
This Mexico City Hotel is a Showcase of New Mexican Design
In Mexico City’s central Cuauhtémoc neighborhood, the new Hotel Carlota revives a once-glamorous location. The 36-room hotel takes the place of Hotel Jardín Amazonas, a popular 1970s hangout that had fallen out of favor and lingered on into the 21st century as a run-down budget motel. Little remains of the former hotel except for the exterior corridors, which combine a concrete-brick lattice and plywood details.
A Midcentury-Inspired Home Proves That Corrugated Metal Can Be Cool
The homeowners tapped architect Malcolm Davis of San Francisco–based Malcolm Davis Architecture to redesign and expand the dwelling without damaging the many established oak trees.
Surrounded by a sea of forest in Northern California, the Portola Valley House features fire-resistant construction. The annex is wrapped with Cor-Ten corrugated siding, while shou sugi ban timber clads the main house.
This Dreamy Tiny House in Bali Is Made of Recycled Tetra Pak Cartons
Architectural designer Alexis Dornier of Stilt Studios devised Tetra Pod, a 688-square-foot prefabricated home made from recycled Tetra Pak cartons in Uluwatu, Bali. “The reflective characteristics of the material help the architecture blend into the surroundings,” he says.
Metal Decking Creates a Dramatic Ceiling in This Stunning Renovation
The roof of the garden house and the main extension are made of metal decking, which is left exposed inside. “Metal decking is almost never used for domestic projects, but it allowed us to create an articulated ceiling with linear ‘vaults’ or ‘waves’—instead of the boring, more traditional ‘cover it with gypsum boards’ approach,” says architect Mariia Pashenko. “The waves of the decking create an architectural theme together with the waves of the metal facade panels and window curtains.”
Colorful, Cutting-Board Plastic Cabinets Feel Surprisingly Rich in This Remodeled Kitchen
For this kitchen renovation, the homeowners decided on cabinets designed by Ghent-based duo Muller Van Severen for Reform, a Danish company that elevates Ikea kitchens with designer fronts. The panels are made from durable, wax-like, high-density polyethylene (HDPE)—a plastic traditionally used in cutting boards, and Muller Van Severen’s signature material. “We have always felt a love for polyethylene, with its powerful colors,” explains Fien Muller. “It is not a dead plastic with a cold and smooth surface. It has a soft and warm appearance that invites you to touch.”
These Tiny, Modular Homes Are Made of Concrete Water Pipes
Feeling the squeeze from Hong Kong’s affordable housing crisis, James Law of James Law Cybertecture dreamt up a surprising new microhousing solution.
His OPod Tube House is an experimental, low-cost, microhome designed to provide temporary living space for young people. It’s made from a 2.5-meter-diameter concrete water pipe.
Concrete Is the Star of the Show for This Brutalist Duplex in Belgium
Studio Okami tore down the walls of this five-bedroom apartment and stripped away layers of finishing to reveal beautifully textured concrete.
The rough concrete is balanced out with a peach-colored liquid floor trough-out. The concrete walls form the ideal backdrop for the homeowners’ art collection, and existing holes and plugs define the position of every artwork.
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