Loft apartments in New York City are a highly sought-after portion of the city’s real estate stock. These unique apartments are in specific neighborhoods, such as Tribeca, SoHo, Chelsea, and NoMad. They are often high-end residential units whose architectural character comes from the building’s historic origins.
What is a Loft Apartment in New York?
In New York City, the term ‘loft’ refers to an apartment in a building that was converted from commercial or industrial use into residential. Loft apartments commonly have particular architectural characteristics that range from wide open spaces, high ceilings, columns, exposed brick, mezzanines, large windows, and large doors.
At Fontan Architecture, a Manhattan-based architecture firm, we work on various project types including Loft Conversions and Renovations. In this post, we will discuss and show you some of the most common architectural features of loft apartments using a few of our loft renovation projects as examples.
Wide Open Space
In the 60’s and 70’s, the manufacturing industry began to flee Manhattan. This change left a large stock of empty industrial buildings with huge open spaces. The owners of these buildings started renting them to artists as Live/Work Artist Lofts. These spaces were commonly left wide open to allow for sufficient workspace, take advantage of the scale, and minimize potential alterations.
Today, the trend for wide-open spaces in lofts still remains one of the most striking architectural features of the apartments. The open-concept layout of the living room, dining room, and kitchen creates one large “Great Room.” People often only build partition walls for rooms requiring privacy, such as bedrooms and bathrooms. An open-plan loft can be an awe-inspiring and grand living space. It is quite an experience to step into a loft and see a large, spacious living room with a vast open floor plan.
Lofts were initially manufacturing buildings and were designed for storage and industrial functions. Therefore, they tend to have high ceilings, which were typical for their original purpose. The high ceilings create an excellent feature for an apartment. Loft ceilings often reach heights of up to ten or fourteen feet high, sometimes even exceeding heights of over fifteen feet.
The high ceilings unique to loft architecture are certainly one of the reasons these apartments are so highly sought after. This distinct characteristic provides a luxury that is not so common in other Manhattan apartments.
Loft buildings in NYC were built at a time when brick was a commonly used material for exterior and bearing walls. Today, people often leave these walls exposed because they add a level of texture and character to the overall interior design. It’s also important to note that exposed brick walls have a significant cachet in NYC as they are considered aesthetically pleasing to many while being a mark of history. Exposed brick is undoubtedly one of the most commonly cited architectural features of NYC lofts and one of the most ubiquitous features within the city. You can see more examples of this in our post on Exposed Brick.
Not all loft buildings have columns, but many do. Whether or not a building does will depend on the width of the entire building. If the building is relatively narrow, then it may not have columns. But if it is wider, seeing columns is more likely.
The columns can be made of steel, cast iron, or heavy timber wood posts with a capital or base. These structural columns usually contain a steel or heavy timber beam that supports the wood floor joists. Sometimes, the cast iron columns are very decorative, and other times, they are more on the simple side.
In New York City loft terminology, a mezzanine is an elevated level that does not equal the entire floor area below. Many loft apartments have mezzanine levels, but not all of them do. Often, the mezzanine level has a lower ceiling than the level below it, while the open space in front of the mezzanine has a very high ceiling.
It is very common for lofts to have large, hung windows. The windows often feel relatively proportional with the high ceilings and openness of the lofts, adding to the true essence of a New York City loft.
It is also very common to find large doors in lofts. Even if they are new with higher ceilings and open space, taller doors tend to be more architecturally proportional while adding an opulent feel. Not all lofts have large doors, which is not always a significant characteristic, but it is common even with new renovations.
High Square Footage
The most obvious point about lofts is the scale. These are usually large apartments with large features. The size is one of the reasons why loft apartments are very popular for people with high-end budgets and why neighborhoods like SoHo and Tribeca became some of the most expensive places to live.
Architecture of Lofts
The singular most important takeaway you should leave with is that New York City lofts are quite different from typical apartments. These buildings were not initially designed for residential use and instead were made for industrial use. It’s this fact that leaves a significant mark on all their features.
Thank You for Reading Our Blog Post on the Architectural Features of New York City Lofts
I hope this was helpful. If you want to speak with an architect about a potential project, contact us at Fontan Architecture directly.
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 20 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.