Materials and Finishes: Becoming Knowledgeable about a Range of Materials

Think Interior
7 min readFeb 14, 2023


Materials and finishes are vital in the design and construction of buildings. They determine the look and feel of a space, impact the comfort and health of its occupants, and influence the sustainability and longevity of the building. It’s important to understand the range of options available to make informed decisions about the materials and finishes to use in a building.

From the purpose and function of the space to the environment, maintenance requirements, sustainability, cost, aesthetics, color, texture, light reflectivity, sound, environmental impact, health and safety, and the lifecycle of the materials, you must take every factor into account. The goal is to choose materials and finishes that create a functional, beautiful, and sustainable building that meets the needs of its occupants and supports the environment.

A diploma in interior design provides a comprehensive education in the principles and practices of designing spaces for the industry. As part of this interior design diploma, students will learn about the selection of finishes and materials and how to use these elements to create functional, attractive, and sustainable environments.

This article will provide an introduction to materials and finishes, exploring the different factors that must be considered when making selections. It will also cover various materials and finishes and explore their properties, advantages, and disadvantages. We will also discuss the importance of life cycle assessment, embodied energy, and recyclability in material selection.


Becoming knowledgeable about a range of materials and finishes is critical for anyone involved in the design and construction of buildings, including architects, engineers, contractors, and building owners. By understanding the options and evaluating the various factors, you can make informed decisions that result in a functional, beautiful, and sustainable building.


Concrete is a popular building material due to its strength, durability, and versatility. It can be shaped into any form and used for structural and non-structural purposes. Concrete can be reinforced with steel to increase its strength, making it an ideal material for building foundations, beams, columns, and walls.


Wood is a renewable resource used in construction for thousands of years. It is a multipurpose material used for several purposes, including flooring, framing, cabinetry, and millwork. Wood can also be treated to resist decay, insects, and fire, making it an ideal material for outdoor construction.


Steel is a strong, durable, and flexible material commonly used in construction. It is often used for structural purposes, such as beams, columns, and exterior cladding. Steel is popular for commercial buildings due to its strength and durability.


Masonry materials, such as brick, stone, and concrete blocks, are used to construct walls and chimneys. These materials are durable and fire-resistant, making them an ideal choice for buildings in areas with a high risk of fire. Masonry materials are also good insulators, helping to reduce energy costs.


Glass is a popular material for construction due to its ability to let in natural light. It is commonly used for windows, skylights, and partitions. Glass can be tempered, laminated, or insulated to increase its strength and thermal performance.



Paint is one of the most common finishes used in construction. It adds color and texture to walls, ceilings, and other surfaces. Paint can also protect surfaces from moisture and other environmental factors.

Wall Coverings

Wall coverings are materials applied to walls to add texture, pattern, or color. These materials can range from wallpaper and fabric to ceramic tiles and stone. Wallcoverings are popular for adding visual interest to a space and can be easily changed or updated.


Flooring materials used to cover and finish a floor include carpet, hardwood, laminate, tile, and concrete. Flooring can be chosen based on durability, maintenance requirements, and design style.

Cabinetry and Millwork

Cabinetry and millwork are used in kitchens, bathrooms, and other areas in a home or building. Cabinetry is typically made of wood or composite material and can be custom-designed to fit the specific needs of a space. Millwork includes decorative elements such as crown molding, baseboards, and wainscoting.


Lighting is a vital component of any building design. It can enhance the appearance of a space, create a mood, and increase the functionality of a room. Lighting options include overhead fixtures, wall sconces, table lamps, and floor lamps.

Tips for Selecting Materials and Finishes

When selecting materials and finishes for hospitality spaces, there are some significant features to consider to ensure that your choices are functional, aesthetic, and budget-friendly. Here are some guidelines to remember:

Consider the Purpose and Function of the Space

When selecting materials and finishes, it’s important to consider the purpose and function of the space. For example, when designing a kitchen, you’ll choose durable and easy-to-clean materials, such as granite countertops and ceramic tile flooring. Moisture-resistant materials, such as ceramic or porcelain tile, are essential in a bathroom.

Consider the Environment

It’s important to consider the environment when selecting materials and finishes. For example, if you are building in a coastal area, you’ll want to choose materials resistant to salt and moisture, such as stainless steel or concrete. In areas with a high risk of fire, fire-resistant materials, such as masonry or steel, should be used.

Consider Maintenance Requirements

When selecting materials and finishes, it’s important to consider the maintenance requirements. Some materials, such as natural stone, require regular sealing to prevent staining, while others, such as laminate flooring, are low-maintenance and require only periodic cleaning.

Consider Sustainability

Sustainability is an important factor in the selection of materials and finishes. Materials like renewable wood with a lower environmental impact should be chosen whenever possible. Energy-efficient materials, such as insulated windows and doors, can also help reduce energy costs and improve the overall sustainability of a building.

Consider Cost

Cost is always a factor when selecting materials and finishes. High-end materials, such as natural stone, can be expensive, while budget-friendly options, such as laminate, are more affordable. It’s important to consider your budget when making selections, but it’s also important to remember that the quality of the materials and finishes will impact the overall durability and functionality of the building.


Hospitality spaces experience a high volume of foot traffic, so choosing durable materials and finishes that can withstand wear and tear is important. It includes items such as flooring, countertops, and wall coverings.


Some materials and finishes require more maintenance than others, so it’s important to consider the maintenance requirements when making your selections. For example, natural stone flooring may be beautiful but requires regular sealing and polishing, while ceramic tile is a low-maintenance option.


The look and feel of materials and finishes are an important consideration. You want to choose materials and finishes that complement the overall design and style of the building. For example, suppose you are designing a contemporary building. In that case, you might choose sleek and modern materials, such as glass and steel, while if you are designing a traditional building, you might choose classic materials, such as wood and stone.


Color is an important factor when selecting materials and finishes. The colors of the materials and finishes can influence the complete appearance and sensation of a space. Neutral colors, such as beige and gray, are often used for a calming and neutral effect, while bold colors, such as red and yellow, can create a more energetic and playful atmosphere.


The texture of materials and finishes can also impact a space’s overall look and feel. For example, a smooth, polished surface can create a sleek and modern look; while a rough, textured surface can create a more natural and organic feel.

Light reflectivity

The reflectivity of materials and finishes can impact the amount of light in a space. Shiny, reflective surfaces, such as glass and stainless steel, can increase the amount of light in a space, while matte or dull surfaces, such as concrete and wood, can absorb light and create a more intimate and cozy atmosphere.


The sound properties of materials and finishes can also impact the overall environment of the space. Hard, dense materials, such as stone and concrete, can reflect sound and increase the overall noise level in a space, while softer materials, such as carpet and fabric, can absorb sound and reduce noise levels.

Environmental Impact

It’s important to consider the environmental impact of materials and finishes. Some materials, such as synthetic materials and finishes, harm the environment due to the production process, while others, such as recycled materials and finishes, have a more positive impact.

Health and Safety

The health and safety of materials and finishes is also important consideration. Some materials and finishes, such as formaldehyde-emitting materials, can release dangerous elements into the air and impact the health of the occupants. It’s important to choose materials and finishes that are safe and healthy for the environment and the people living and working in the building.


Materials and finishes play a crucial role in the design and construction of any building. When selecting materials and finishes, it’s important to consider the purpose and function of the space, the environment, maintenance requirements, sustainability, and cost. By carefully considering these factors, you can choose materials and finishes to create a functional, beautiful, and sustainable building.

By pursuing an interior design course for working professionals, students will gain a comprehensive understanding of the selection of finishes and materials and the skills to make informed choices that support design goals and needs. These programs typically cover various topics related to interior design, including color theory, space planning, furniture design, and materials and finishes selection. By completing a diploma program, you can gain the knowledge and skills necessary to work as an interior designer and make informed decisions about finishes and materials for your design projects.



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