Lofts have come a long way since they were first used as makeshift living spaces decades ago. Today, they have become inspiring living spaces for those who want a more urban home. Lofts began when factories and industrial buildings were erected in the late 19th century for the purpose of mass-producing goods and wares in a time period that was not known for health and safety compliance. These spaces were built for their convenient proximity to other commercial buildings and transportation hubs.
Fast forward to the 1960s. Lofts were extremely cold or hot (not properly ventilated) open concept spaces with huge windows, exposed industrial fittings and an abundance of light that made them excellent work spaces for artists. These dusty and drafty places were often at the top of a very steep flight, or two, of wooden, dimly-lit stairs and were located on some typically non-residential street. However, they slowly evolved into more permanent living spaces when artists decided to camp out and live and work in these spaces that could accommodate large works of art.
Lofted spaces make the most of the room they have. Image: Coupdeville
Many of these occupants were illegal squatters, though they made these spaces habitable with ingenuity and style. Before long, large cities such as New York, London and Toronto passed laws to make it legal — if one was a certified artist — to live and work in these spaces. Galleries soon came to discover new artists, followed by cafes and restaurants. Landlords eventually realized that all this creativity was increasing property values. Today, most loft spaces have been fully renovated and are completely habitable. In large urban areas, loft spaces can sell for millions of dollars.
New York State of Mind
New York City is home to blocks and blocks of loft buildings and spaces. One of the best known is the “Little Singer” building at 561 Broadway, one of New York City’s finest architectural masterpieces.
A loft in the Little Singer Building with a dynamic view of New York City. Image: CityRealty.com
It was erected in 1903 and designed by Ernest Flagg, who later completed the 47-story Singer Tower office tower at 149 Broadway at Liberty Street in the Financial District. At the time of its completion, it was the world’s tallest building. It was demolished in 1967 to make way for the U.S. Steel Building. Flagg’s original, 12-story building would then become known as the “Little Singer” building.
Built to house the corporate offices and factory space for the Singer Manufacturing Company, it was converted in 1979. After conversion, it became a cooperative with a mix of residential and commercial uses including 20 offices and 15 live/work units for artists. It now has 22 cooperative apartments with remarkable views and outdoor spaces.
Six on a Wave
Toronto, also known as the “Six” for its area code 416, has many residential lofts. Gone are the days of late night rock ‘n’ roll parties in warehouse spaces with paper thin walls that doubled as musician’s apartments. Today, the commerce and business capital of Canada has some of the most expensive real estate in the world. That includes many loft spaces that have been updated and renovated. One of the best-known lofts in Toronto is The Tip Top Tailors Building, now known as the Tip Top Lofts. A former 1920s industrial building converted to condominium lofts, this landmark building is located on 637 Lake Shore Boulevard West. It’s just west of Bathurst Street, near the waterfront. It was the former headquarters of Tip Top Tailors Ltd., a Canadian menswear retailer.
Tip Top Lofts in Toronto, Canada is one of the country’s most recognizable loft buildings. Image: Natasha McColl.
Designed by Bishop and Miller architects using Art Deco design, the building was completed in 1929 and housed the manufacturing, warehousing, retail and office operations of Tip Top Tailors Ltd. Tip Top Tailors eventually became a part of clothing conglomerate Dylex Limited.
In 1972, the building was designated as a heritage structure by the City of Toronto. In spring 2002, Dylex sold the property to Context Development, which converted it into condominium lofts. The conversion was designed by the architects at Alliance of Toronto. The conversion included the addition of six stories on the roof. The neon ‘Tip Top Tailors’ rooftop sign was retained and given a slant. Today, it is one of the most recognizable buildings in the capital city.
The Big Easy
Big open spaces in the Big Easy aren’t very easy to come by. In a city with a limited amount of warehouse space that fits the loft criteria, finding a unique loft space can be challenging. However, there are some excellent choices in the Warehouse District of the city. At 747 Magazine (aptly named for its address), you’ll find multi-level homes with private elevators, interior staircases and wrap-around balconies overlooking the city.
Lofts at 747 Magazine come with an unobstructed view of downtown New Orleans. Image: Meaghan Clark.
Owner John Shoup has both a workspace and private residence at 747 Magazine. He has been in the building for over 20 years. Initially used as a secondary home in the city, the entrepreneur and business owner is transitioning to this urban setting full-time. Shoup enjoys the practicality of living in the city center, while still enjoying a residence that remains very private. His view of the downtown skyline from three different angles is enviable and is something he fully appreciates.
Just three blocks away, one of Shoup’s employees, David Mahoney, also lives in a downtown loft with a great view of the city. St Joe’s Lofts is a building geared toward providing affordable living space for artists and musicians, something Mahoney appreciates. The lobby and hallways of this building is full of unique paintings, drawings and sculptures created by residents and available for purchase at any time. Mahoney enjoys living among other artists and says the creative environment helps to foster closer relationships and a neighborly attitude.
Loft living doesn’t mean you have to give up outdoor space. Image: Meaghan Clark.
Loft living benefits
Convenient access to shops, services and entertainment is one of the major benefits of loft living. Many loft residents also enjoy access to public transportation and the ability to cycle and walk. Those who take up residence in a loft gain the ability to make a unique living space that isn’t typical and that can be personalized. In short, lofts give those with vision and creativity an opportunity to create a home that inspires.