What is a Loft Apartment? A loft apartment is an apartment in a building that was converted to residential use from a commercial, manufacturing, or warehouse use. Lofts usually have large open spaces, columns, brick walls, and large windows. Loft apartments in New York became popular though artists illegally making live-work spaces out of obsolete manufacturing buildings during the ’60s and ’70s. In 1982, NYC passed the Loft Law to protect tenants of these buildings and require landlords to bring the buildings up to code and acquire a Certificate Of Occupancy. Since then many commercial and manufacturing buildings have been legally converted into Loft Apartments in NYC.
What is a Loft Apartment?
This post is meant to be a general overview to identify the actual definition of a New York City Loft and discuss the architectural characteristics of what loft look like.
- Residential Buildings Converted from Manufacturing
- Where are Lofts?
- Architectural Characteristics of Lofts
- Artist Lofts
Loft Apartment Definition Architecture
A loft apartment is an apartment in a multifamily building that was converted to residential use from a commercial, manufacturing, or warehouse building.
NYC Loft Apartments
During the 1960’s and 1970’s, there were a large number of vacant and obsolete manufacturing buildings in New York. The owners could not find commercial or industrial tenants for these spaces, so they began to rent them as artist live-work studios and to other residential tenants. It was illegal to do so for many reasons mostly because the buildings were not up to code for residential use. Additionally they were often in areas not zoned for residences, and they did not have a Certificate of Occupancy for residential use.
In 1982 NYC passed the 1982 Loft Law to protect these illegal tenants and to require the loft buildings be brought up to code. Additionally NYC rezoned some of these areas even creating special zoning districts and modified manufacturing districts that would allow for residential use. One example is the creation of Zoning Districts M1-5A and M1-5B in Soho. This is a manufacturing zoning district that allows Joint Live Work For Artists. Not all lofts today are Joint Live Work For Artists but in SoHo many are.
Over the years lofts were legalized and now have a residential Certificates Of Occupancy and many have been converted to Condos. Lofts have a great history in NY and are now a coveted form of living often carrying very high price tags.
Where are NYC Lofts Located
The neighborhoods most famous for lofts in NYC are SoHo and Tribeca but there are other areas with lofts. Although lofts can be scattered throughout the city here is a list of neighborhoods where you may find lofts in NYC.
NYC Neighborhoods with Lofts include:
- The Bowery
- Union Square
- Flatiron District
- Hell’s Kitchen aka Clinton
- Long Island City
Architectural Characteristics of Lofts
Characteristics of Lofts
- Large Open Spaces
- High Ceilings
- Exposed Brick
- Large windows
- Mezzanines (Sometimes)
- Structurally Overbuilt for Residential Use
What Does a Loft Look Like?
Large Open Spaces
Lofts in former manufacturing buildings often have large open spaces. Living Rooms in a loft can be over 30 feet deep and up to 50 feet or more in some cases.
Lofts often have high ceilings these can easily be over 12 feet tall depending on the building. The picture below is of a loft we worked on with high ceilings in Tribeca.
Columns and Structure
The most ubiquitous feature of a loft would have to be the columns. Lofts have columns in them often with a base and capital. These may be cast iron or steel. There can also be exposed beams in steel or wood. Sometimes you will have wood joists.
The picture below is of a loft apartment we are renovating for one of our clients in Soho. It has a cast iron column with a slightly decorative capital and large wood (heavy timber) beams.
Lofts With Exposed Brick
Exposed Brick is one of the most common features in a loft. The exterior walls of lofts are typically thick brick walls. Although some people like to cover the brick in lofts many people leave it exposed.
This picture is the living room of a Soho loft we are working on. It is a ground floor unit with a door to the sidewalk. These types of apartments are also called a Maisonette.
Large Loft Windows
Lofts often have large windows with transoms or arched windows. The large windows are one of the best parts in a loft. This is important because lofts are often very deep and large tall windows can really help bring light into the deep portion of the loft apartment.
The photo below is of a NYC Loft in Tribeca that we worked on.
Mezzanines in Lofts
Some lofts have a mezzanine or elevated floor with the loft. In the picture below we added glass railings and sliding translucent partitions to the mezzanine in this Tribeca Loft
Loft Buildings are Overbuilt Structurally for Residences
Many loft buildings were designed to be manufacturing buildings not residential buildings. They were meant to hold large equipment and have storage. Compared to residential buildings lofts may have very thick walls and floors. Depending on the building they may be capable of supporting far more weight than a residential building needs. The residential code requires a live load of 40 pounds per square foot where one loft building we are working in can support a live load of 120 pounds per square foot.
Potential Negative Characteristics Of Lofts
Some lofts can have a few negative characteristics especially considering their origins in illegal conversions.
- Illegal Rooms
- Work Without Permits
- Thrown Together Not Thought Out
Illegal Rooms In Lofts
Lofts are often very deep spaces this means you are limited when it comes to windows. Since all Habitable Rooms require windows, it may be difficult to make legal rooms in a loft depending on the existing layout. People often make illegal rooms without windows in lofts because there is so much available space and so little window wall, relatively speaking.
Work Without Permits in Lofts
In lofts, we sometimes find that there was work previously done without permits. One example is the building of illegal bedrooms without windows, as mentioned above. this seams to be a common trend in many lofts that I have seen.
Thrown Together Not Thought Out
Some lofts are really well designed and put together, but others are not. People sometimes do piecemeal renovations adding little by little. Especially when it was done by multiple owners over a period of time. This can result in lofts having a thrown together look and a layout that does not feel thought out. An eclectic look is fine, as long as it is done well. And the layout of a space should be decided from careful consideration and not thrown together.
We have another blog post on Loft Design Ideas if you want to check it out.
Joint Live Work Quarters for Artists Lofts
Some lofts are designated as JLWQA Lofts. These are New York Artist Lofts known as “Joint Live Work Quarters for Artists”. These exist in SoHo and NoHo within the M1-5A and M1-5B Zoning Districts. These lofts were specifically meant for artists live work space, as artists were the first ones to move into these especially in Soho. If you want to learn more we have another blog post on Joint Live Work Quarters for Artists Lofts.
Real Lofts vs Building Made To Look Like Lofts
Sometimes people make buildings to look like lofts that are not actually lofts. If the building was not originally a commercial or industrial use, then it is not a real NYC Loft.
NYC Lofts (What is a Loft Apartment)
This article provides a brief overview of NYC Lofts. If you are looking for a more in-depth understanding of the Loft Laws, please see the NYC 1982 Loft Law, The NYC Loft Board, The Multiple Dwelling Law, The NYC Zoning Resolution, and The NYC Building Code.
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I hope this was helpful. Please leave questions and comments below. If you would like to speak with an architect, you can Contact Fontan Architecture directly.
Source: NYC DOB Lofts
This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 15 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.