Loft apartments are a unique type of living that comes from formerly industrial, commercial, or warehouse buildings being converted into multifamily residential use. Lofts often have high ceilings, exposed structure and large open spaces. When renovating lofts you can incorporate modern and industrial elements as you primary loft design idea.
I am Jorge Fontan an architect in NYC, in this post I will discuss some ideas for loft design using our projects renovating lofts in Manhattan at our architecture firm, Fontan Architecture.
Open Plan Loft Design
An open plan space is any space unobstructed by walls. Open plan living areas can incorporate the living room, dining room and kitchen in one open area. Lofts are usually quite large and have quite a bit of open space. If you are going to renovate a loft I would suggest keeping it as open as possible, especially if you have very high ceilings. An open plan or open concept will make the loft have much more of a luxury feel with its open great room. Do not build unnecessary walls making small disproportionate rooms.
The picture below is of an open plan living room in a 4,000 square foot luxury Tribeca loft with an open plan great room.
Accentuate Classic Loft Features
The number one design tip I can give when renovating your loft is to incorporate any existing unique characteristics into the design. All lofts are different but here is a list of some of the common features you will find in a NYC Loft.
Common Architectural Characteristics of Lofts
- Exposed Brick Walls
- Large Windows
- Steel or Cast Iron Columns
- Iron or Steel Beams
- Heavy Timber Beams and Wood Joists
- High Ceilings
- Mezzanine Levels
- Wide Open Spaces
Design comes down to personal taste, its your apartment after all. Some people will want to expose all the typical loft structural details and some people will not. The picture below is of a cast iron column with a slightly decorative capital and a (heavy timber) wood beam. This is left exposed as a design feature in a Soho Loft we are are currently renovating.
Exposed Brick Wall Loft Design
One decision every loft owner has to make is whether or not to expose the brick. Some people love exposed brick some people do not. This is probably the first decision you should consider when planing a loft renovation. It comes down to personal taste but either way it will shape the entire feel and design of the loft. Personally I like to see the exposed brick in a loft even if it is only for a small area. I think it is a good idea to have some exposed original features but I have had plenty of clients who prefer not to expose brick.
A few brick tips people will often paint the brick or apply sealers to the brick. Often if the brick is not in great shape painting it can cover up some flaws. You may be surprised by how many people want to add brick to their apartments to make their apartment look like a loft.
The picture below is of an exposed brick wall in a Soho Loft Maisonette. A maisonette is an apartment on the ground floor with a door directly to the outside. This is a loft that we are currently working on combining with the loft next to it to make one 6,500 square foot loft. The white wall to the right will be completely removed and create a 50 foot wide living room when both lofts are combined.
The clients in this apartment are still debating as to whether or not to leave the brick exposed. They are from California and said that only New Yorkers like exposed brick. I am a born and raised New Yorker (and an architect) I like exposed brick so maybe it’s true. But honestly I think it is just personal taste. As an architect I feel compelled to use original features in the loft design, but it is their apartment after all so we will see what happens. I will put an updated picture when the work is done to see what they decide.
Loft With Open Kitchen Design
Modern apartments and lofts generally have open kitchens. It is most likely your loft already has one. Open kitchens are more modern aesthetically and functionally. A counter with stool seating is a great place to have breakfast or drink a coffee with your tablet. The picture below is of a nice sized open kitchen in a 4,000 square foot SoHo Loft.
Open & Glass Mezzanine
A mezzanine is an elevated level within a floor. Not all lofts have mezzanines but there are plenty that do. The mezzanine is usually a smaller and darker space compared to the rest of an open loft which can have large windows. Try to make the mezzanine as open as possible you can can glass or translucent panels to let light pass through but allow openness. Keep the mezzanine as lively as possible.
Raise The Ceiling
If you have the opportunity you should always consider raising the ceiling. This will only be an option if you have a drop or suspended ceiling in your loft apartment.
In the photo below we removed an incredibly low ceiling in this loft apartment and raised it exposing a concrete beam and sprinkler pipes above, but making the entry foyer much more open and grand.
you should consider artwork for your loft for many reasons but I will mention three. First, Artwork adds character to any space. Second, lofts often have high ceilings and long blank walls you can use and why not put them to good use hanging artwork. Third, NYC lofts have their history rooted in artist live work spaces placing artwork is a great homage to the rich history that made lofts such a sought after form of NYC living.
Lofts usually have high ceilings so it is appropriate to have a tall door. This plays off of the scale of the space and provides balance where a small door may look disproportional.
Minimalist design is certainly a key aspect of modern architecture. Lofts are usually modern and you may want to keep it simple. For some people this is the best advice not everyone is a keep it simple kind of person.
The picture below is of a small modern and minimalist kitchen in a Financial District Loft we renovated. The kitchen appliances are panel ready which means they get a cabinet door to match the rest of the kitchen. Also the walls were painted to match the kitchen cabinets. This is a real simple modern design. Side note the kitchen was made in Italy make sure you have plenty of time when ordering European kitchens.
We already mentioned open kitchens but I want to look a bit more at counter seating. This really is a great flexible space that most people get great use out of. I am a huge fan of counter seating. In this picture below you see a kitchen peninsula with counter stools. The peninsula is marble with a waterfall, that is the side panel. This is a popular detail for modern kitchens.
Keep It Simple
Keep the overall design simple don’t over do it. People sometimes try too hard when renovating their lofts making them feel thrown together and cheap. Lofts can have a very luxurious feel with a simple design.
New York City lofts have a rich history of being gritty and original lofts have a lot of texture. They have bricks, cast iron columns, hardwood floors, steel or wood beams. You may want to complement this by incorporating industrial materials and industrial aesthetics into your design. The picture below is of a steel handrail in a Tribeca Loft. This industrial raw steel really works in a loft and is a great throwback to the industrial history of loft design.
We have another post you can check out on Industrial Loft Design.
The picture below is of a custom industrial yet simple and minimalist coat rack in black tube steel. The walls are a concrete finish also giving a real industrial feel.
Dark Colors or Simple Color Palettes
Dark colors can really look good in a loft. They set a mood and make the space sophisticated. A simple and minimal color palette will really be enough for a loft apartment. Let some of the other features such as artwork or columns be a stand out.
Concrete Loft Interiors
Concrete is one material that goes very well in a loft but is not for everyone. There are two ways to have an exposed concrete look. One is to actually expose any concrete in your apartment if there is any. The other way is to apply concrete finishes to the walls or floors. If you are interested in concrete interiors we have another post on Concrete Bathrooms.
Large Proportional Furniture
If you have an open space you should have fewer large pieces of furniture rather than many small ones. The furniture should be in proportion to the space and avoid clutter at all costs. We always want to make sure there is plenty of space to walk around the more free and clear space the better.
Operable Partitions & Sliding Doors
Lofts are often deep and only have windows on the ends. This makes the middle portion of a loft dark. You can brighten this up by making it all open, but this causes a problem for privacy. Using operable partitions or sliding doors and panels can allow a convertible space that can be private or open. You can also use translucent panels to allow light to pass through. The picture below is of a Mezzanine in a Tribeca Loft where we put translucent sliding panels to create a a transitional space that can be flexible, private or open.
Black Metal and Glass Doors
Black metal will just about always work in a loft design. Especially black metal and glass doors. The picture below is of a home office we added to a loft in Chelsea. It has custom black metal and glass doors to allow for a more open feel and for light to pass through. It also has a bright red accent wall to give a pop of color to an otherwise white loft.
Flooring is a major decision and critical element of interior design for any project. In the picture below you can see a bleached wood floor where most of the color was removed from the wood to create a light desaturated look. Bleaching does not necessarily remove all the color. Whatever wood flooring you use should have a modern feel you may consider extremes like very light or very dark. Wide Plank is also a great option for a loft.
Large Bathroom Design with a Freestanding Tub
A freestanding tub is definitely a luxury loft design feature. Lofts are usually larger than the average New York City apartment therefor you have plenty of room for a large bathroom. If the bathroom is large enough a freestanding tub may be a great design idea. It has a luxurious look and can even act as a sculptural design element.
Below is a grey porcelain bathroom in a loft we designed in Chelsea. This tile has a subtle texture and weathered look. If you want to see more bathrooms we have another post on Bathroom Design Ideas. Texture is important in lofts and you should consider material look and feel.
Set The Mood With Lighting
Lighting is critical to design. In this photo we have under cabinet LED strips as accent and task lighting in a modern loft kitchen.
Creative Moments – Sitting Nook
This picture is of a sitting nook in a loft. This is a quaint and cozy moment in the design, a nice little space like this or some other type of moment can really be a creative use of space.
There is no better way to say it but you need a place to put stuff. Finding a creative way to make space is a great option and wall niches tend to have a real modern feel. In this all white loft our client put plants in the wall niches to bring life to an all white space.
Loft apartments have their origins in industrial and commercial buildings it will be fitting to have some industrial features added to the design. This picture below is of an industrial looking articulating kitchen faucet.
Make It Your Home
One thing I always tell my clients: Its your home you can do anything you want. You need to make your home personal. And for everyone that means something different. Design and decorate your loft to make you happy not to make other people happy or to fulfill some perceived standard.
In the picture below you will see a Loft in Chelsea where my clients had a giant Alvin Chipmunk statue in their apartment. Just for scale that’s me in the picture and I am 6 feet tall. I’m the blurry one in black not the giant chipmunk. So why am I showing you this, it’s because these people personalized their home with art, paintings, sculpture, and a very kitsch giant cartoon character because it made them happy.
New York Loft Design Ideas and Tips
Lofts are unique apartments that may be filled with historic character. All aspects of the design must be considered together to have a cohesive feel. Make sure to select a good team to work with you when you are designing and renovating your loft.
As an architect, I study design and construction, but these are complicated and quite involved issues. In this article, we reviewed some tips and ideas for loft design in NYC but there are many others to consider. Every project is unique, we assess all projects on their own unique characteristics. This post does not assume to cover every possible issue or condition, but provide a general overview of the topic.
Thank you for reading our blog post on New York City Loft Design.
I hope this was helpful. Please leave questions and comments below. If you would like to speak with an architect, you can contact us 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.