So What's a Loft?

When some people think of loft living, images of Frasier's sophisticated Seattle digs usually come to mind. But lofts can have many different styles and owners. Read on to learn more about who's choosing to live in the many lofts across America and why lofts have become such a popular housing choice.

  • Lofts used to be considered multi-function residences with both living and work spaces within them. They've now evolved to become simply fashionable residences.
  • Not everyone agrees on what exactly a loft is. Purists argue that that lofts only refer to factories or plants that have been converted into residences. Required accents in these homes include huge windows, beams or columns supporting 16-foot ceilings, and a maple or concrete floor.

Newer developers believe that lofts refer to any apartments that fit the principles of loft design: open layouts, large windows, and unique finishes in an urban location.

  • These discrepancies have led to new terminology, such as new loft, fake loft, soft loft, loft-inspired, mezzanine suites, "true" lofts, and loft-influenced.
  • Lofts are generally decorated in a minimalist style with high ceilings and soaring views of the city skyline.

  • Lofts originated in Paris in the mid 19th century as artists' ateliers. The oversized paintings of the time required expansive high-ceilinged studios -- the first lofts.
  • Loft space originally came to the United States in the early 20th century as storage warehouses near shipping ports in New York and Boston.
  • As early as the 1940s, some of New York's abandoned loft spaces in SoHo (South of Houston Street) were being populated by starving artists.
  • By the 1970s, SoHo had full-floor loft spaces that were being renovated and transformed from commercial to residential properties. Since this was technically a commercial zone, 92 percent of these residences were illegal. However, the sheer number of new residents forced the city to rezone the area and allow the buildings to be converted to apartments.
  • This trend spread from New York's SoHo to other urban areas around the country over the next 20 years.
  • In 1980, environmental psychologist Susan Seagart queried over 2,500 workers in 53 companies and institutions in Denver. Her results revealed that there was a strong market for downtown housing among single women and men, single mothers, and unmarried couples living together.
  • Most major cities across the U.S. began undergoing urban revitalization in the early 1980s, with new housing being built in downtown areas and classically charming buildings being renovated. This has been aided by favorable tax treatments, zoning amendments, and public investment in large-scale projects for downtown areas.
  • Loft residences have popped up around the country in converted office buildings (Philadelphia, New York, Boston), warehouses, factories, and stores (Atlanta, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, and Cleveland), reclaimed waterfronts (New York, Milwaukee, Cincinnati), historic areas (Charlotte, Lexington, and Chattanooga), "found" land (Des Moines, New York), and new mixed-use construction (Chicago).
  • The cities with the biggest percentage of downtown growth in the 1990s were Miami, Boston, Atlanta, Chattanooga, San Francisco, Chicago, and Seattle.
  • Shows like Seinfeld, Friends, and Sex and the City have glorified urban living for 20- to 30-year-olds.

  • The largest populations in loft spaces today include people with no children, singles, and students. Statistics indicate that loft residents are generally more educated and affluent than suburban residents.
  • Compared with other urban areas, a larger percentage of loft residents are Caucasian. However, compared with the suburbs, the percentage of Caucasian residents is actually smaller.
  • Traffic congestion induced by suburban sprawl has been one of the major reasons why people decide to move to loft spaces. Studies show that many relocated suburbanites referred to their commute as "unbearable" and cited being closer to their office as a major reason for moving.
  • New urban populations are demanding new services that were previously only available in the suburbs, such as supermarkets, park space, above-average schooling, and community-serving facilities.
  • Developers in major cities, such as Los Angeles, Denver, Baltimore, Detroit, and Memphis cite the presence of sports arenas as critical in their decision on where to build new loft housing in downtown areas.
  • Retirees are a growing population in urban buildings. Public transportation systems and an in-house building maintenance crew make life easier for older Americans.
  • Loft dwellers have easier access to, and tend to participate more in, nightlife, theaters, museums, and concerts.
  • Current loft residents cite cultural events and nightlife, convenience, ethnic diversity, shopping, and jobs and job opportunities as the benefits of loft living. They also cite crime, congestion, pollution, cost of living, and the pace of life as its drawbacks.