In nature, proteins are the machinery that accomplish many functions through their specific recognition and interactions in biological systems from single-celled to multicellular organisms. Biomolecule-material interaction is accomplished via molecular specificity, leading to the formation of controlled structures and functions at all scales of dimensional hierarchy. Through evolution, molecular recognition and, consequently, functions developed through successive cycles of mutation and selection. Using biology as a guide, we can now understand, engineer and control peptide-material interactions and exploit these to tailor novel materials and systems for practical applications. We adapted combinatorial biology protocols to display peptide libraries, either on the cell surface or on phages, to select short peptides specific to a variety of practical materials systems. Following the selection step, we determined the kinetics and stability of peptide binding experimentally to understand the bound peptide structure via modeling and its assembly via atomic force microscopy. The peptides were further engineered to have multiple repeats or their amino acid sequences varied to tailor their function. Both nanoparticles and flat inorganic substrates containing multimaterials patterned at the nano- and microscales were used for self-directed immobilization of molecular constructs. The molecular biomimetic approach opens up new avenues for the design and utilization of multifunctional molecular systems with wide ranging applications, from tissue engineering, drug delivery and biosensors, to nanotechnology and bioremediation. Here we give examples of protein-mediated functional materials in biology, peptide selection and engineering with affinity to inorganics, demonstrate potential utilizations in materials science, engineering and medicine, and describe future prospects.