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.
PeggiJuly 19, 2021 at 7:05 am
Good morning! You’ve already inspired a nostalgic music video viewing (Prince’s “Controversy”💜), but I’m back to discuss natural v created materials! My instant reaction to the question is natural all the way! This is a topic where
I can be very vocally snooty (snootily vocal?) Then I remember that I actually have quartz counters.😂 I was deterred from a natural material in this instance due to my trepidation about wear. I’m prone to view it as damage rather than patina. (I’ve got a rant about aging and cultural beauty standards all queued up…) What I’ve learned is that even engineered materials wear! The deterioration tends to be less attractive though. So, I’m team natural because I always find it more beautiful and luxurious. (And I’m learning to embrace the signs of time…) Down pillows, wool rugs, cotton/linen/silk textiles, hardwood floors…all worth it for me. Despite the visible effects of my pups, I’d choose these materials again. My cedar fence, on the other hand…ugh. The lack of durability and significant upkeep have not been awesome! I wish I had opted for the Trex, but at the time, it was twice the cost and did look a little…faux. A case where it might have been worth it to welcome some synthetic substances. Live and learn. And please keep hosting these great discussions, so I can continue to be informed! Here’s to a great week, team!😉💪🏻
SarahJuly 19, 2021 at 9:05 am
Haha!! Now I’ve got that song stuck in my head :) I have the same mindset… natural, natural, natural, but don’t mess with my performance fabrics. Lol! You’re definitely right- all materials will wear in one way or another, even the engineered ones. Oh, and the dogs. I feel that. Our mohair sofa in the living room still looks super clean, but I had my lint and fabric shaver out the other day and decided to give it a few swipes. Yikes- for having non shedding dogs, I certainly picked up some undetectable hair. It’s a good thing they’re cute! The outdoor materials and upkeep of natural features outside is a LOT. We had all wood everything at our first home and we were constantly power washing, staining, repainting, and replacing boards. It’s a lot. If we would’ve had the budget, Trex would’ve made a lot more sense for upkeep. Here’s to a great week, indeed!! xo
LaurenJuly 19, 2021 at 7:24 am
There’s always so many great points to be shared on this topic. I’m looking forward to reading what others have to say.
Personally I prefer natural to engineered over and over again, and Jeff is the same. When choosing an upgrade for the house, we almost always eliminate the engineered options. We narrow our options based on the natural materials that fit within our budget, and from there it’s all about aesthetic. I’m with you-engineered materials have a right time and place, but it’s not my preference, and we have rarely used them.
My poll response definitely reflects my preference versus my reality. We have yet to conquer many of the updates that need to be done in our current home. The reality is that right now we are living with a ton of poor quality, engineered materials throughout our house, but our plans for updating include upgrading to more natural materials. The good news is we are almost at a balance now, with the kitchen being the largest space containing engineered material. The largest determining factor in our decisions usually comes down to price. I feel like the spaces we have renovated contain the best quality natural materials our budget allows, and that fit the aesthetic we want to create. This home was slated to have much higher end materials than our last, because we had planned on staying in it much longer. Now we know we will be looking to move in the next few years, so I’m sure we will reevaluate. For us, that looks like eliminating full scale renovations and opting instead for facelifts. For example, we’ll paint the existing vanity in the kids’ bath and add hardware and a natural stone top, versus replacing the vanity altogether. We’ll likely skip replacing the tub and shower surround and opt for replacing the plumbing fixtures and flooring. Hopefully that example offers a sense of where our mindset lays.
Such a fun topic for Monday morning. We made it to SLC-yesterday was a long day of driving, but we’re ready to explore. You weren’t kidding about the heat Sarah!🥵 I hope your week is off to a great start. Xo
SarahJuly 19, 2021 at 9:01 am
We’re in the same boat, Lauren! The existing materials in our house are engineered, but the spaces we’ve renovated contain natural. You bring up such great points on considering the budget, resale value, and longevity (a forever home vs knowing you’ll move within a couple years). I’m assuming it looks different for everyone. So happy you safely made it to SLC! It’s actually going to be a bit cooler here this week and we’re starting the morning with some clouds, so you might be in luck- perfect timing. Have a great time exploring today! xo
ColleenJuly 19, 2021 at 9:15 am
Great topic for discussion Sarah! It’s a topic that fascinates me too and here’s why. I am team natural materials all the way but I don’t have many in our current home. Our last home was all natural materials and we spent more money as a result. It was a new build and we selected all beautiful natural materials that were available at the time. We were in that home for 15 years and we loved it. However, I spent more time and energy cleaning taking care of the high gloss hardwood floors, wool rugs, granite countertops, customized solid wood crepe kitchen, marble tile, cedar fence etc etc.
When we purchased this older home it had been somewhat recently renovated with synthetic materials like vinyl floors and quartz counters. We continued the theme with Porcelain tile and quartz in bathrooms and synthetic rugs. The only natural material in our current home is wood stairs and we installed a new red cedar fence. Though I much prefer wood floors from a visual perspective the matte vinyl floors clean so easily and I don’t worry about scratches and dings. We have extra material if a board needs replacing as the floor can be removed and reinstalled.
The quartz is easy and I also like the matte finish. This home as altered my perspective about all natural materials and I think a mix is probably the way to go. We had way too many fussy finishes in our last house that caused me much stress and work although the beauty of those finishes were amazing 🤩
We we’re in our last home for 15 years and the house next to us went through about 5 different owners in that timespan. I think the hardwood floors in that house were replaced with every new owner ( so much waste) as each individual had different preferences and taste. It seems here in our area people follow trends more than I realized. They want the new, shiny, in style at the moment finishes and seem to overlook the classic as they consider it old and dated. It’s definitely an interesting topic and I’m eager to hear others opinions too. Needless to say maybe much of our choices depend on the age of the occupants and the stage in life. I have decided on cork flooring for our cottage as it has mold and mildew resistance as well as very comfy and cozy underfoot. And cork has definitely come a long way over the years. Anything is better than the beaten up linoleum that’s currently there 😳 Great topic for discussion indeed.
Happy Monday! It’s a beautiful day here 😎
PeggiJuly 19, 2021 at 10:44 am
Good morning, Colleen! Interesting perspective! I can definitely relate to the stress caused by caring for fine materials! I also had to comment on your linoleum mention! I know I am in the minority, but I actually LOVE true old linoleum. And it’s a natural product! Like many awesome products, it’s difficult to source in my area, but I would love to use it in a kitchen or bath. Anyway, happiest of Mondays to you!
ColleenJuly 19, 2021 at 12:06 pm
Hey Peggi 🤗
Yes I haven’t met many people who Love linoleum and actually the color and style not so much the issue as the shape it’s in. It can’t be saved unfortunately. Our cottage is a chalet style with wood plank and plaster walls and vaulted Aspenite ceiling. As it’s a three season cottage only and the floor has to go through dampness and cold in the winter as well as hot humidity in the summer I thought cork might be the best option but I’m totally open to suggestions. Wood floors won’t work and I don’t think vinyl will suit the overall aesthetic, it’s been difficult as most of our budget is dedicated in saving the structure itself. Ah what to do, it’s such a sweet unique place that offers us such serenity and relaxation. I am all ears to any and all suggestions 😉 Thanks so much for your input 😊 my wool rug from the other house looks beautiful there. I had it cleaned professionally and it looks exactly like the day I purchased it. We have made it comfortable enough temporarily as we are waiting for our contractors. It’s been a chore waiting and waiting as we also suffer from material and labor shortages here 😩 It seems to be a common theme these days. Nice chatting with you, have a super amazing day!
SarahJuly 20, 2021 at 9:41 am
Such great points on how you use your home, the upkeep, what’s typical in your neighborhood (for resale), and the stage of life we’re in, Colleen. I will say- my sister has cork floors throughout her home and they’re beautiful! They really are cozy, are wearing really well, and have a great aesthetic. I think that’s an awesome choice for your cottage! Another option might be tile? Some sort of a rustic terracotta or limestone tile of some sort? Cork would definitely be warmer though, unless you heat the tile. Anyway, I think it’s a good choice (not that you needed my opinion, ha). The first time I had seen it installed in a large area was at my sister’s house, and I was impressed :)
Danna FJuly 19, 2021 at 11:07 am
It’s so good to read to get on and read your posts Sarah. I have missed them. We were in Tahoe for a week. I am anxious to go back and read what I have missed.
Interesting topic! Sarah, your views are always well balanced and give important information on both sides. I also enjoy reading everyone’s perspective. Our last house (20 yr old) had hardwoods, carpet & tile flooring. The rental we are in has LVP & carpet. I am really testing out the LVP to see if it holds up to water, dogs, etc. My choice has always been natural materials (love hardwood floors, granite, marble) but the older I get the harder it is to keep maintained. If money and maintenance was no option then I would choose natural materials hands down. Of course their beauty when it’s new or even when they are worn can’t be matched. You (and others) have given me more things to think about.
Hope your Monday and week has started out good!
SarahJuly 20, 2021 at 9:34 am
Aw, I hope you had the most wonderful time in Tahoe! It’s nice that you’re able to test out LVP in your rental. That will help you figure out what will work best in your house once building starts! Hope you’re having a good week, Danna :)
CaitJuly 19, 2021 at 3:00 pm
Mostly, I’m into naturals (wood foors! wool rugs!), but I can see the point of engineered (countertops!)
Except for down- I am SUPER allergic (sitting on a down couch makes me sneeze repeatedly for an hour; sleeping with a down pillow will make me stuffed up and give me a facial rash for a few days).
SarahJuly 20, 2021 at 9:06 am
Definitely, Cait! My best friend is also very allergic to down, so I know she relies on the down alternatives, too. Your allergic reaction sounds miserable… definitely don’t worth bringing down into your home!
LisaJuly 19, 2021 at 5:53 pm
I’m renovating what might be my forever home and I generally lean towards more expensive natural materials — but stone is my great exception. Somehow, I’m totally fine with dings and nicks on hardwood floors while the idea of a blotchy oil stain on marble counters gives me conniptions. I also do a lot of high-heat, oil-splatting type of cooking (authentic Asian food), so I need a material that can resist staining. So we are doing plain white quartz counters and porcelain tile flooring. In porcelain tile particularly, I wish there were more higher-priced options — for example, I would gladly pay $25sqft for a faux marble porcelain tile that has zero repeats across an average sized bathroom floor. I wish I could get the true look of high-end stone without the maintenance (and I’m willing to pay an equivalent price to the natural option).
SarahJuly 20, 2021 at 9:03 am
Haha!! We all have our preferences, Lisa! Your cooking sounds delicious, and I know your quartz countertops are both beautiful and functional. I think the engineered options are really progressing with technology (repeats, realistic look, etc). Stonepeak has some large format nice marble looking floor tile. Maybe check that out?
Ashley DillonJuly 19, 2021 at 9:36 pm
I’m also team natural. Hardwood throughout my home, quartzite counters and marble backsplash, Full grain leather sectional. And I love every single piece. It does take time to save up for those materials though.
One place I had to do synthetic was in my basement. It’s carpeted and LVT. I was told it was not advisable to do hardwood floors in a basement, and tile felt like it would be too cold. Maybe someday I’ll save up for heated marble flooring and cover it with a wool rug. Lol.
SarahJuly 20, 2021 at 9:01 am
I love hearing that, Ashley! It definitely takes time to save up, but I always feel like those are worthy investments that will withstand the test of time. The basement is definitely not a place for hardwoods because of flooding. When we renovate our basement, we’re thinking we’ll do a heated tile? Who knows! Have a great day and thanks for sharing!