Lofts in the U.S. are architectural reminders of rust-worn bodies of the Industrial Revolution, but at the same time, their imagery is deeply connected to artistic movements. The spaces house not only people but also ideas, freedom of expression, social changes and a shift in housing trends.The first loft structures appeared in Paris and were artists’ studios. In the U.S., the idea of living in a loft is rooted in the appearance of the post-World War II abstract expressionism movement, as New York City artists started converting empty warehouses, factory floors or water towers into minimalist and raw work spaces. This form of non-residential adaptive reuse became popular in the city’s SoHo neighborhood, but their usage created a clash, as most of these buildings were not zoned as residential, therefore being used illegally as living spaces.
Living in industrial neighborhoods such as SoHo, TriBeCa, Chelsea and Greenwich Village was cheap, but also dire, due to terrible conditions and lack of amenities. Following many protests, loft housing for artists was legalized in 1971 and even nowadays, if you want to live in SoHo, you have to get your art certified by the City Hall (although its enforcement is debatable). On a similar note, the adoption of the Adaptive Reuse Ordinance in 2001 in Los Angeles encourages further conversion of defunct industrial and commercial buildings to residential apartments.
It took Los Angeles almost two decades to embrace the conversion trend, although the local industrial style created a different kind of loft apartment with an upstairs loft area/attic that’s used today mostly as a bedroom or personal space.
Characteristics and design
This fairly new standard of living challenged both architects and designers to bring in the spotlight the skin and bones of former warehouses, bringing the industrial characteristics back in style. Whether they are “hard lofts,” meaning first-, second- and third-wave conversions, or “soft lofts,” which are prefabricated residential communities, these spaces share the same main characteristics, leaving a great deal of creative freedom for both their residents and designers.
Loft apartments make the best of the existing architecture and all spaces have high ceilings and oversized windows. The storage space was mostly occupied by massive equipment and natural light was essential for workers. Although its characteristics go hand in hand with its historical use, the most commonly used building materials are a combination of brick walls, cement and wood floors. Additionally, the loft style features exposed elements such as light bulbs and pipelines.
The open floor plans are one of the most sought-after perks, as multifunctionality is a key element for millennials’ needs. This way, the space may be used for a wide variety of accommodations. Hard lofts are predominantly found in central neighborhoods, providing residents with easy access to and from work and nearby amenities. The antique touch still lingers in most buildings, with freight-elevators and chic shared space bringing a plus of value for all vintage lovers and not only.
It’s hard to believe Andy Warhol paid a yearly $100 rent for the Factory, the pop-art melting pot that once stood at 231 E. 47th St. in Midtown Manhattan. Today, following a series of regulations and gentrification, loft living was highly embraced by bohemians, becoming a focal point for real estate developers. Today, companies build lofts that sell for eight-digit amounts each, neatly combining structural elements with built-in high-end amenities.
Images courtesy of YardiMatrix