When designing and constructing a building, the materials used can make a huge difference in the overall aesthetic. While functionality and cost effectiveness are important factors, utilizing beautiful materials that elevate the visual appeal of the space should not be overlooked. From natural stone to reclaimed wood, there are many environmentally friendly and eye-catching options available today for both residential and commercial projects.

Natural Stone for Timeless Elegance

Using natural stone materials is an excellent way to add beauty and elegance to any building design. Stone offers a classic, sophisticated look that does not go out of style. Some popular choices include:


Renowned for its veining and variety of colors, marble is a go-to for luxury settings. Carrara and Calacatta are two of the most coveted types of marble for their crisp white backgrounds and elegant gray patterning. Using marble for surfaces like countertops, floor and wall tile, vanities, and accents lends a refined touch.


With its rustic layered aesthetic in earthy tan hues, travertine brings warmth and old world charm to indoor and outdoor spaces. Less formal than marble, travertine fits right in for patio flooring, backsplashes, walkways, pool decks, and more.


Valued for its hardness and durability, granite makes an excellent choice for kitchen countertops and other heavily used surfaces. The speckled and veined patterns have an organic feel that can complement modern, traditional, or eclectic spaces beautifully.


Offering unique texture and fossilized detailing, limestone brings a casual yet polished look perfect for fireplace surrounds, backsplashes, bathroom walls, and accent walls. Soft beiges and creams are most common, but limestone can also exhibit bolder grayish-blue hues.


With its layered flagstone look, slate stands out as flooring whether indoors or outside. The dark charcoal tones add drama and visual interest. Slate is also popular for roof shingles and is an eco-friendly option since it is plentiful and recyclable.


Sandstone’s natural swirls and stripes create movement and depth. Light browns and tans complement many color schemes for rustic patios, pool terraces, walkways and more.

Reclaimed Wood for Rustic Warmth

Using reclaimed wood, meaning wood salvaged from old barns, buildings, wine barrels, and other sources, is an eco-friendly option that adds rustic beauty and charm to any space. Depending on the source, reclaimed wood exhibits aged patinas, stains, nail holes, and other imperfections that add character. Some great uses for reclaimed wood include:


Nothing warms up a room like reclaimed wood flooring. The variances in color and texture provide visual interest and pair nicely with many décor styles from modern to farmhouse. New milling techniques allow reclaimed flooring to be installed in patterns like chevron or herringbone for extra flair.


Exposed ceiling beams made from reclaimed wood offer architectural detail and a sense of history. They work in everything from modern lofts to traditional dining rooms to porches.


Wood paneling offers texture and depth to any blank wall. Reclaimed wood paneling adds an extra layer of visual appeal with its natural imperfections and rustic vibe.


Rustic dining tables, beds, benches, shelving units and more crafted from reclaimed wood add natural beauty to any space. The wood’s imperfections shine through finished pieces.


Using reclaimed wood planks as interior or exterior wall cladding adds textural appeal. The multi-toned hues and varied textures bring life to otherwise plain spaces.

Sustainably-Sourced Natural Finishes

Utilizing natural, sustainably-sourced finishes allows the inherent beauty of the material to shine through. Options like:

Linseed Oil

Made from flaxseeds, linseed oil provides a clear finish that protects and enhances the look of natural wood grains. It is easy to apply and maintain.


Non-toxic beeswax is an all-natural wood finish and protectant that leaves a lightly golden tone. It accentuates natural variations in the wood.

Tung Oil

Derived from the nuts of Tung trees, tung oil is valued for the protective matte finish it creates on natural wood surfaces. It is water-resistant and easy to maintain.

Plant-Based Stains

Stains made from vegetables, fruits, herbs, and other plant sources add colorwhile allowing the beauty of the wood grain to show through. They are far less toxic than chemical stains.


This ancient finish for plaster and masonry is enjoying a resurgence. Made from lime, sand, and water, limewash gives walls and floors a textured, matte white coating that naturally wears over time.

Vibrant Accent Tiles

Carefully chosen accent tiles in bold colors, fun patterns, or unique shapes provide eye-catching focal points. Accent tiles liven up kitchen backsplashes, bathrooms, fireplaces, pools, patios, and more. Options include:

Handmade Subway Tile

Subway tiles are classics, but handmade versions with irregular edges, cracks, and color variations have far more character than uniform mass-produced types. They make great contemporary or vintage-inspired accents.

Moroccan Zellige

Traditional Moroccan terra cotta tiles, called zellige, exhibit elaborate geometric patterns in vibrant blue, green, yellow and terracotta hues. They bring exotic flair to walls, backsplashes, and floor inserts.

Patterned Cement Tile

From bold geometrics to delicate florals, patterned cement tiles lend color, whimsy, and global flair when used creatively. Cement tile works in both indoor and outdoor settings.

Mosaic Glass Tile

Tiny glass mosaic tiles allow you to create custom murals, motifs, and designs in any color scheme imaginable. Add them to pools, showers, and backsplashes.

Rustic Appeal of Exposed Brick

Few materials impart rustic charm into a space as easily as exposed brick. The organic texture and weathered colors of uncovered brick walls or accents contrasts beautifully with minimalist decor and helps break up sleek, modern materials. Exposed brick around a fireplace instantly warms up any room. For outdoor entertaining spaces like patios, exposed brick adds visual appeal and timeless character.

Reimagined Metal Accents

Metallic accents offer an industrial edge, but using reclaimed metal and unique fabrication techniques opens up many new, eco-friendly possibilities for adding eye-catching details. Some creative ways to use metal:

Repurposed Barn Siding

Flatting out old corrugated metal barn siding exposes its rustic patina and weathered textures. Use it to accent walls, ceilings, and furniture indoors or out.

Salvaged Steel Beams

Refinishing salvaged steel I-beams, often remnants of old warehouses and factories, allows their sculptural lines and aged surfaces to shine. Incorporate them as shelves, tables, accent walls, and more.

Patinated Copper Backsplashes

Backsplashes and range hoods covered in patinated copper add an elegant, vintage element to any kitchen. Over time, copper develops a lovely greenish aged finish.

Perforated Metal Screens

Laser-cut metal screens in nature-inspired organic patterns or modern geometrics make cool room dividers or artwork. Backlighting enhances their visual impact.

Eco-Friendly Concrete

Despite its hard appearance, concrete can take on many nature-inspired forms and finishes that enhance aesthetic appeal. Sustainable concrete options include:

Architectural Concrete

Instead of relegating concrete to simple slabs, architects are coaxing the material into inspired shapes like cantilevers, flowing countertops, tapered walls, and patterned facades. Raw concrete gains visual interest from the wood grain-like impressions left by forms.

Pervious Concrete

This porous pavement allows rainwater to filter through into the ground instead of running off surfaces. Visually, it resembles flagstone or cobblestone paving.

Recycled Glass Aggregate

Mixing pieces of recycled glass into the concrete matrix before pouring adds reflective accents that sparkle beautifully in the finished surface. It diverts glass from landfills.

Polished Concrete

Grinding and polishing transforms raw slabs into smooth, glossy floors with high visual appeal. Integral pigments can stain the concrete any hue.

The Green Roof Movement

Green roofs make use of soil, vegetation, and recycled building materials to create eco-friendly rooftop gardens that also provide visual appeal. Types include:

Extensive Gardens

Hardy sedums and succulents that require minimal soil depth are ideal for extensive green roofs. They create a carpet of organic textures and colors.

Intensive Gardens

Deeper soil supports trees, shrubs, ponds, patios, and more expansive plantings. Rooftop farms and recreational green spaces are possible.

Blue-Green Roofs

These roofs integrate both water retention and vegetation. The water can irrigate plants during dry periods or gradually evaporate.

Natural Wood Shingle and Shake Siding

Nothing imparts rustic beauty quite like natural wood siding made from shingles or shakes. The multi-toned, variegated appearance and organic shapes integrate beautifully into natural surroundings. Cedar and redwood are common shake siding species valued for their weather-resistance. Wood siding offers sustainability benefits, too, as trees are a renewable resource.

Rammed Earth Construction

This ancient sustainable building method is enjoying a resurgence for its visual appeal. Rammed earth involves compacting layers of soil, gravel, or sand within forms to construct walls. The resulting finishes exhibit raw, organic textures and earthy hues that impart tranquility. Stabilizers like lime or cement increase durability.

Finding Beauty Through Salvage and Reuse

Sourcing salvaged building materials saves usable items from landfills and gives them new life. The worn, weathered, and repurposed nature of salvaged goods adds aesthetic appeal and eco-cred to spaces. Everything from salvaged barn wood flooring to antique clawfoot tubs to reclaimed factory carts turned into lights gain value from their imperfections. Seek out salvage yards and antique architectural elements for authentic character.

Embracing Imperfections

Rather than disguising natural variances in building materials, highlight them! The knots and whorls in wood, cracks and aged patinas in natural stone, random flecks in recycled glass aggregate, irregularities in handmade tiles… these inherent so-called “flaws” add organic beauty. They tell a material’s unique story. A few hairline cracks or hammer marks on concrete, for example, impart a relaxed, authentic vibe. Perfection lacks visual interest and soul.


Utilizing natural, authentic, eco-friendly building materials allows the true essence and beauty of spaces to shine through. Time-tested traditional materials like stone and wood mix effortlessly with contemporary recycled and upcycled elements to create aesthetically appealing and environmentally responsible designs. There are so many gorgeous ways to construct green buildings brimming with character and creative vision. We are limited only by our imaginations in choosing materials that elevate spaces visually while treading lightly on the earth.

Frequently Asked Questions

What building materials add the most natural beauty?

Some of the most beautiful natural building materials include stone like marble, travertine, and granite; reclaimed or sustainably-sourced wood; glass tiles and accents; exposed brick; rammed earth; and salvaged goods.

How do you incorporate reclaimed wood into a space?

Reclaimed wood can be used for flooring, beams, paneling, furniture, cladding, and more. Let the wood’s natural imperfections shine through rather than disguising them.

What are some unique uses for metal in construction?

Repurposed corrugated barn siding, salvaged steel beams, patinated copper, and perforated or laser-cut metal sheets can become eye-catching architectural details indoors and out.

How can concrete be made more eco-friendly and attractive?

Options like architectural shapes over basic slabs, pervious pavement, recycled glass aggregate, integral pigments, and polished finishes transform concrete into a beautiful sustainable material.

What are the benefits of green roofs?

Green roofs allow integration of vegetation and water retention systems into roofscapes. They help insulate buildings, reduce runoff, support biodiversity, and provide aesthetically pleasing outdoor spaces.

Should imperfections in building materials be concealed or highlighted?

The imperfections should be highlighted! The natural cracks, knots, stains, and other irregularities in authentic materials add character and visual appeal. Perfection lacks soul.