Among all the different types of apartments in New York City, there is none more quintessentially “New York” than the loft. Loft apartments are so associated with New York that these apartments have become a mainstay in virtually every television series that is based in The Big Apple, from Kurt and Rachel’s kitschy loft on Glee, to the comfy and quirky loft in New Girl. Of course, who could ever forget Serena van der Woodsen’s chic and high-end loft on Gossip Girl? Even the big screen isn’t immune to this treatment, with the movie Ghost being filmed in a loft in SoHo.
But what is a loft, and why are they associated so closely with New York living? Is a loft the apartment of your dreams?
Let’s find out!
Traditionally, a loft apartment is a unit located in a building that has been converted from commercial use to residential. Since these buildings were originally used for manufacturing or as a storage warehouse, lofts were built around features such as large open spaces, oversized windows, and high ceilings. What’s more, they would often have exposed brick walls and industrial columns, adding to the charm and uniqueness of lofts.
Many modern loft apartments have an elevated floor that is often designated as the sleeping area. This allows a sense of privacy for the renter, as it separates the bedroom from the common areas of the unit.
Historically, lofts came around during the 1960s and the 1970s, as the many parts of the city moved from its largely “blue-collar” economy towards a more “white collar” one, leaving many commercial buildings vacant. Since building owners and property managers could not find businesses that would rent the spaces for commercial purposes, they shifted to renting them as residential housing. These units became particularly popular with artists who used them as home studios. Some famous people who lived in lofts include artist Andy Warhol, photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and singer-poet Patti Smith.
As lofts rose in popularity during the time that New York emerged from a troubled economic period, they became the symbol of the city’s rebirth and reinvention into the financial powerhouse we know today. This is why the loft is such an important part of NYC culture for many who live in the city.
While the conversion of many former commercial spaces into loft apartments made it easier for many renters to find an affordable living space, it was not without its problems. Since the buildings were not originally designed to be residential, they did not conform to the city’s residential code. Furthermore, these apartments were often located in areas that were not residence zones, nor did they have a Certificate of Occupancy from the city.
Many of these apartments were deemed to be “unfit for occupancy”, as they did not have running water, a stable electrical system for residential purposes, and did not offer sufficient insulation against harsh weather conditions. As a response, the city of New York passed the Loft Law in 1982 to protect renters.
The Loft Law essentially required that all loft apartments be brought up to code and obtain a Certificate of Occupancy before they could be legally rented. The city also rezoned some buildings by creating special zoning ordinances for these buildings.
In 2017, Mayor Bill de Blasio updated the Loft Law to provide even more protection for the tenants, such as all occupants living in a loft being eligible for protection under the law even if they are not the primary leaseholder and that lofts are to be kept rent-regulated even if the tenants are bought out by the property owner.
Fittingly enough, De Blasio gave this press conference in a Williamsburg loft!
Despite the high demand for lofts because of their cultural value and roomy interior, it is actually difficult to find a loft in New York City, partly because of the issues with zoning and compliance with housing requirements. This might explain why lofts only comprise about 10% of the Manhattan rental market.
However, if you’re truly interested in finding a loft, you could start your search in the following areas:
From a spacious interior to a unique layout, here are some of the perks of living in a loft:
As most loft apartments were originally used for storage, they are spacious by default. It’s not uncommon to find lofts that are 1,000 sq. ft or more. When you consider that the average NYC apartment is around 866 sq. ft., you can see why lofts are popular with people who are looking for spacious apartments.
The presence of high ceilings cannot be stressed enough! The vaulted ceilings are usually 10 to 15 feet in height, which allows even smaller loft units to feel roomy.
Loft units also have oversized windows and are often found on higher floors. This combination lets in tons of natural light, giving you a bright, fresh, and airy environment inside the unit.
Similar to a studio layout, the only walled-off room in a loft is the bathroom. This gives you the freedom to design and style the interior according to your taste and needs.
The “industrial look” that is inherent to most loft units gives them a charm that you won’t find in other apartment types. This is perfect if you have a chic and relaxed sense of style.
Before you sign the lease, here are some things that you should know about living in a loft apartment:
If you’re looking to add more demarcation in the apartment, it would be difficult and may be expensive. The large space and high ceilings could mean that installing permanent walls would be a challenge.
Unless you’re renting a loft that was newly renovated, there is a chance that the loft has not been updated to fit the requirements under the Loft Law. When in doubt, ask for a Certificate of Occupancy from the property owner to ensure that you are going to rent a legal and safe unit.
The roomy interior and high ceilings have a tradeoff: sound is magnified! Imagine how an echo works in a cave; it would basically be the same principle that works inside a loft.
The design of many lofts doesn’t include built-in storage options such as closets, shelves, or cupboards. You might be lucky enough to find a unit that already has storage options installed, but if that is not the case, you might need to buy additional furniture to make up for the lack of storage space.
If the unit is located in an older building, this could be a problem in terms of insulation and cooling. In this case, the large windows and spacious interior work against you, and you might need to spend more to keep the ambient temperature comfortable.
As with any other type of apartment, a loft has both pros and cons. It all comes down to deciding if living in a loft meets your needs and preferences. If you love roomy apartments and the freedom to decorate, a loft is perfect.
However, if you want a unit that has clear demarcations of rooms but is still large and spacious, consider getting a 2-bedroom apartment instead. If you’re looking for an elevated space, a duplex is a better option. If you want an apartment that lets you feel “connected” to New York’s history, a classic six is the one for you.