SoHo is the New York center of loft apartments with deep history and significant architectural character. This neighborhood once housed manufacturing and warehouse buildings that have since been converted into luxurious lofts and subsequently became some of the most sought after apartments in NYC. These lofts are often characterized by their high ceilings, large open spaces, large windows, columns, and exposed brick.
I am Jorge Fontan an architect in NY and owner of Fontan Architecture a Manhattan based architecture firm. In this post I want to look at a few SoHo Lofts that we worked on and discuss some key architectural and interior design features of lofts. I will also go over some general tips for loft renovations whether in SoHo or elsewhere.
In New York, a loft is an apartment in a building that was originally built for commercial or industrial use and later converted to residential. There are many architectural features that we commonly see in lofts that one should consider when planning a loft renovation. Everyone has their own personal taste and how you deal with the details of a loft renovation will vary but these are all items you need to think about when planning your loft design. And do not worry if it seems like a lot, that is what architects like us are for.
Large Open Spaces
Lofts often have a somewhat open plan. This means open spaces with few partition walls. The kitchen, living room, and dining room are usually all open to each other to create one great room. Lofts are commonly large and deep, the configuration can make it difficult to layout rooms because usually you only have windows on the ends (not always). It is best to keep the open space as much as possible without too many unnecessary partitions.
The open plan loft style layout makes for a much more grand feel. You really should consider minimal obstructions and a truly open loft feel. This type of openness is the single greatest aspect of loft apartments and what makes them so coveted in New York residential real estate.
Lofts With High Ceilings
Lofts in NYC will have higher ceilings than most apartments, sometimes going up to 14 feet and above. A word of caution real estate listings can often exaggerate ceiling heights. These high ceilings make the space feel grand and are especially awe inspiring for the open plan living room / great room. Take advantage of this characteristic when planning the decor for the loft to complement the space. This type of ceiling height will have a major affect on how one feels about the space.
Large Windows in Lofts
One key feature of lofts is that they will usually have large operable windows. Sometimes the windows in lofts are square and simple like the ones below and sometimes they can be arched. Either way they will usually be large and bring in plenty of light.
Exposed Brick Lofts
Loft buildings in NYC were typically built with brick bearing walls & facades. These walls can be exposed around the perimeter of the building or covered with other materials. The ubiquitous exposed brick wall is the most recognizable symbol of a New York loft but not everyone chooses to leave the brick exposed. It is a great historic reference if you like the aesthetic. People sometimes paint or apply coatings to the brick.
Columns in Lofts
Depending on the building lofts may have a row or multiple rows of columns running the length of the building. These are typically cast iron or wood. In skinnier loft buildings you may not have any columns at all. The columns in lofts are usually present in wider buildings with larger open spaces.
The photo below is of cast iron columns and a heavy timber wood beam in a SoHo Loft on Crosby street in the Historic Landmark Cast Iron District.
SoHo Loft History
SoHo was originally filled with manufacturing industrial uses and warehouses. As these businesses left New York in the 20th Century artists began to move into the spaces creating illegal “Artist Lofts”. This was common in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. SoHo became famous for it’s artist lofts and eventually New York City made new laws to legalize these apartments as “Joint Live Work Quarters for Artists”. Today these are large and luxurious apartments known throughout the world for there size, character, and of course, history.
SoHo Loft Interior Design
Renovating a loft begins as it would with any other apartment, you need to identify what you need and what you want with regard to the use of space. After identifying the use you move on to the aesthetics. In a loft you need to take the loft style characteristics into consideration and make the architecture / interior design work with the loft. this means assessing existing conditions and determining how you want to incorporate them into the design or conceal them completely.
Expose Brick or Cover the Brick
One example would be on the brick we so often see in lofts. Do you want to expose brick or cover it up? Different people will have varying opinions on this, it will come down to personal taste. I personally love exposed brick but not all of my clients do. Also you do not need to expose it everywhere you can compromise by having some brick moments in the building.
Simple Loft Bedroom Design
This photo is of a loft in SoHo with simple painted sheetrock walls and wood floors. There is no exposed brick and it is quite elegant. The large windows and doors to the Juliet Balconies have long curtains accentuating the verticality of the 13 foot ceilings.
Exposed Brick Loft Bedroom Design
This next photo shows a great contrast from the last in that this has exposed brick walls in the bedroom. These decisions are critical in planning any loft renovation and interior design. The exposed brick has a gritty feel that exemplifies what SoHo lofts are know for throughout the world.
Loft Open Kitchen Design
Lofts have large open spaces and it is critical to use this in the design. You can have a great room with open kitchen, dining and living all combined. These spaces have a unique feel to them that is just awesome. You will almost always want to put an open kitchen in your loft to keep it free of visual barriers.
Furnishing A Loft
You want to avoid clutter in a loft. The spaces are open and you can keep it that way by remaining minimal with the furniture layout. The furniture should work with the space and be based on how you live and use your home. In general, I recommend you do not over do it when it comes to furnishing a loft. Keep it simple.
Loft Art & Decor
One wonderful advantage about lofts is that you have open spaces with high ceilings resulting with large walls. These large walls are perfect for hanging artwork which not only decorates the space but links back to the rich history of artist lofts in neighborhoods like SoHo and Tribeca. Art can make a simple space come to life especially when you contrast minimalism with rich and emotionally evocative artwork.
Loft Renovations in SoHo
SoHo stands for South of Houston Street. This is an area with a rich history of artists lofts in former industrial buildings. Although it is great to understand and respect the historic nature of these spaces you must make your home your own. There is no formula to designing and renovating a loft but it is best to start out with an understanding of loft architecture and interior design to better inform your decision making process.
As an architect, I study design and construction, but these are complicated and quite involved issues. Every project is different and must be assessed on its 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 SoHo Loft Renovations
I hope this was helpful. If you would like to speak with an architect about a potential project 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.