Living the Loft Life
In an economic climate that has forced some homeowners to downsize and prompted others to buy, lofts have been on the rise as newfound residences for many. Here, we give you an at-a-glance guide to loft living—the benefits of buying, areas to consider, when to make your move and more.
What makes a loft a loft?
With the influx of available housing on the market today, many existing and potential homeowners are asking themselves what differentiates a loft from a townhome, condo or house. The answer lies in the building’s history and the interior features of the space.
“The fundamental characteristics of a loft stem from their origin as adaptations of industrial or commercial buildings from another era,” says Jerry Miller, principal at Fabric Developers LLC. “Those buildings had high ceilings, lots of light from massive floor-to-ceiling windows and exposed structures—brick, steel, concrete, wood beams, old wood plank floors and the like.”
An authentic loft is a space that has been converted from a factory, warehouse, mill or similar building, and in Georgia, most of those lie in the heart of Atlanta. The Pencil Factory Lofts on DeKalb Avenue, The Cotton Mill Lofts off Boulevard, the Ford Factory Lofts on Ponce de Leon Avenue and the Mattress Factory Lofts on MLK Drive are just a few of the many renovated structures that are now home to spacious residences that maintain their original architecture.
But a space that emulates the characteristics of this often industrial look can still be considered a loft. In fact, there are a plethora of newly constructed ones on the market today. “Typically, the most common materials you see in the construction of lofts are similar to what is used for commercial construction: concrete floors, exposed brick, exposed HVAC duct work and stainless steel are just a few examples,” says Mollie Chalk, designer and project manager at Pineapple House Interior Design. “Another great aspect of most lofts is large windows.”
City View Lofts in the Poncey-Highland area of Atlanta
Real estate professionals say one of the top reasons owners purchase lofts is convenience—they’re usually centrally located and within walking distance to boutiques, coffee shops, markets and restaurants. And homeowners don’t have to worry about lawn care and exterior maintenance. “Loft living is ideal for someone who travels a great deal,” says Patricia Paulk, owner of Patricia Paulk Interiors. “They have the benefits of being close to great restaurants without the responsibility of yard upkeep.”
Aesthetic appeal is another big draw. Individuals who are attracted to lofts are often seeking an outside-the-box residence—something far from traditional. “The people who purchase lofts are looking for a creative space in a neighborhood of character,” Miller says. “An authentic loft can’t be duplicated. Its character is timeless, and it won’t go out of style.”
If you’re seeking modern-day luxuries, such as pools, fitness centers, Internet cafés and more, both Miller and Pete Hargrave of CoBroker Real Estate and AllAtlantaLofts.com suggest checking out newly constructed lofts, as older, authentic ones are less likely to be equipped with these amenities. “Pools and fitness centers are not standard,” Hargrave says. “I think most buyers are looking for eateries, shops, good parking and nice views.”
But know that regardless of a loft’s amenities, Homeowners Association (HOA) fees are usually part of your monthly expenses. Fees can vary greatly, but typically depend on the square footage of the unit. “Most fees cover exterior maintenance, garbage, reserves and some insurance,” Hargrave says. Some will even include water and Internet or cable. Keep in mind that the more you’re getting, the higher your HOA fee is likely to be.
“Depending on the loft’s amenities, you can find the HOA fees as low as 15 cents per square foot and as high as 50 cents per square foot,” says Chrys Martin, associate broker and eco broker at Digs Atlanta Real Estate. “I would be extremely leery of purchasing in a new development building with very low HOA dues. Chances are, after the developer leaves, the dues will increase.”
Scouting out the area
Before beginning your quest to find the perfect loft, decide whether you prefer an older, authentic loft or one that is newly constructed; this will dictate the area in which to begin your search. If you’re shopping for a recently constructed space with all the amenities, check out Buckhead, Midtown and even more suburban areas such as Avondale Estates, Covington and East Point.
“In Midtown and Buckhead you will generally find the soft loft or ‘loftominiums’—condos with slightly higher ceilings (9-foot) and a more open living space,” Martin says. “They also have many of the glass high-rise soft loft buildings with higher-end amenities, such as concierge, swimming pools, fitness centers and retail spaces.”
If you’re searching for an authentic loft, however, start looking in Atlanta’s historic district, namely Castleberry Hill, which industry pros agree is the most burgeoning area for loft dwellers. “Generally, Castleberry Hill and Marietta Street Corridor are home to authentic lofts in Atlanta,” Martin says. “This is the highest concentration of former warehouses converted into loft developments. Overall, the lofts have exposed brick, hardwood floors, 12-foot or higher ceilings, and several top-floor units have private rooftop decks. Several of the buildings even have in-building parking for the owners and private elevators. These were created for those who wanted creative spaces and weren’t worried about many building amenities that you would find in other condo buildings.”
The best time to buy
Without a doubt, the best time to purchase a loft is now, while prices are low and genuine lofts are still available. “When the market returns, lofts will be in demand,” Hargrave says. “But unless more are converted, there won’t be many to choose from, making the price of the ones available costly.”
Beyond the perk of being one of the few to own an authentic, “limited-supply” loft, individuals who plan to purchase within the next 6 months have an advantage when it comes to cost. “The prices today are the cheapest I’ve seen in 10 years,” Martin says. “I honestly think you can get so much more for your money than you could back in 2002 or 2005. I know people are scared to buy right now, but I say buy, buy, buy! Things will never come back if you don’t buy, and you will never make any money if you aren’t willing to do it now.”
Whether you’re currently looking for a loft, or simply entertaining the idea of purchasing, there’s no better time than now to consider your options.
While some lofts are generous in square footage, others can present problems when it comes to storage space. Patricia Paulk, owner of Patricia Paulk Interiors, and Mollie Chalk, designer and project manager at Pineapple House Interior Design, offer the following tips to make the most of limited storage space.
• Purchase a large armoire to store clothes and linens if you don’t have any closet space.
• Use furniture items that function as seating and storage, such as ottomans, banquettes and benches.• Use metal storage units with shelving to house your kitchen appliances, cutlery and dishware.
• Maximize every inch of counter and cabinet space by using hanging hooks to store pots and pans in the kitchen.• For the bathroom, attach a series of shelves to the wall to achieve a unique visual treatment as well as to store linens, medicine bottles, pretty soaps, mouthwash, etc.• Utilize any space below staircases for shelving or custom built-in cabinets. This space can house books, movies, a television and more.
• Use a swivel bracket to attach flat-screen TVs to the wall, avoiding the need for a bulky entertainment piece.
While many loft dwellers are drawn to their spaces’ industrial-style interiors, some find it challenging to make their new place feel like home. Patricia Paulk, owner of Patricia Paulk Interiors, suggests trying some of these tips to banish that cold, warehouse feel and cozy up your space.
• Use velvet or chenille fabrics to achieve the “snuggle” factor with your sofa, chairs and drapery treatments.
• Purchase large ceramic pots with oxygen-producing plants.
• Rather than using glass and chrome furniture, choose items made from recycled wood to soften the edges of your tables and chairs.
• Create pools of light to warm your home by using up-lights, floor lamps and pendant lights positioned over the kitchen island. There are many contemporary-style lights that set the tone for a loft: Japanese lanterns, clear Lucite lamps with funky shades and floor lamps with sweeping arms.
• Use oversized artwork to add a touch of whimsy to your eclectic home.
• Anchor your living space by using an area rug, which will also help with sound reduction.
• Incorporate texture and some industrial sheen into your kitchen and baths by using metallic glass tile for the backsplash or shower stall.
Think before you buy
You’ve found the perfect loft for the right price, but have you considered the following?
Fees – Consider how homeowners association (HOA) dues and property taxes will affect your monthly budget.
Amenities – If you want a private courtyard, swimming pool, fitness center or other luxuries, consider a newly constructed loft, as most authentic ones don’t offer these amenities. Recently constructed units and added amenities usually mean higher HOA dues.
Neighbors – Look at the cohesiveness of the neighborhood and community activism. Check crime rates and security efforts in the area. Introduce yourself to your direct neighbors and ask questions.
Parking – Is secure, covered parking available, or will you have to park on the street? If covered parking is an option, is it associated with an additional fee?
Codes – If you’re purchasing a conversion loft, check with the HOA to find out if there are any renovation codes. Also ask whether the HOA permits property rental. Some associations prohibit owners from renting out their units unless they meet specific requirements.
—Jerry Miller, Fabric Developers LLC; Pete Hargrave, CoBroker Real Estate, AllAtlantaLofts.com; and Chrys Martin, Digs Atlanta Real Estate