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What Is a Loft Apartment? Things to Know About Homes With Space and Coolness to Spare

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loft apartment kitchen and dining room (White/Packert)

What is a loft apartment? If you want a spacious apartment with few walls closing you in, a loft could be your ticket to happiness. As its "lofty" description suggests, these lodgings are characterized by their soaring ceilings and open floor plans.

Loft apartments are typically converted factories, and often highlight this architectural history by leaving many of their industrial features intact, which is why they'll often have exposed brick walls, visible piping and support beams, and wood or concrete floors. These features are actually a large part of their charm.

"Converted loft apartments have more of a 'cool factor' than a typical condo does," says David Kean, a Beverly Hills, CA, Realtor who lived in a Los Angeles loft for seven years.

A brief history of loft apartments

Although there's debate about when loft apartments originated -- some say urban homesteaders converted industrial spaces to lofts as early as the 1940s -- they began finding their groove in the late 1960s and early 1970s in the SoHo district of New York City, at the time a wasteland of abandoned sweatshops and retired factories.

Metropolitan developers soon found highly profitable ways to make use of all that open space.

Lofts were a way to upcycle old, industrial, or commercial buildings into spacious residences with a minimum of fuss and drywall. The spaces already had the infrastructure, from HVAC to plumbing and electrical systems, so converting to a loft required minimal work. Typically a builder would add bathrooms and kitchens and spruce up the floors. Voila! You're home.

They first became most popular with artists and urban pioneers, and felt revolutionary -- who the hell needs a dining room, anyway? By the 1980s, the style had caught on so much that developers began scooping up neglected warehouses and converting them as fast as the market would allow.

When the supply of factories dwindled, developers began constructing new buildings with open-space apartments that they called "lofts" to impart a seductive cool factor. Today, a "hard" or "true" loft refers to a space created from an existing building, while "soft" or "loft-inspired" describes lofts created from new construction.

Due to the added space, loft apartments can often be a bit more expensive per square foot than condos or other apartments. But if you love the look and feel of a loft, it may very well be worth the extra cost. And even if you like open spaces, you may want to consider some ways to break up the space a bit by using bookcases, credenzas, or other structures to partition off areas.