We’ve all seen those trendy loft apartments in the movies. The actors open a freight elevator door and enter a spacious bohemian paradise that’s effortlessly cool.
Of course, it isn’t always so effortless.
Making good use of the open space in a loft can be hard, but there are ways to get it just right.
The term “loft apartment” gets tossed around a lot. Some apartment complexes use it to make any open-plan apartment seem trendier. A true loft apartment is characterized by being in a re-purposed building with massive windows and an open floor plan. Because they’re in repurposed buildings, they often have an industrial design, with exposed brick walls and ventilation ducts along high ceilings.
Divide and Conquer
One of the biggest challenges with decorating a loft is making the big, open space feel livable.
“You have to use your furniture to delineate the ‘rooms,’ ” says Carrie Jenkins, 32, the property manager of the Foundry Lofts in the Yards development (301 Tingey St. SE; 866-205-5860, Foundryloftsdc
.com) and a loft apartment renter. “I think area rugs are a great way to mark open spaces into specific areas.”
Furniture and rugs aren’t the only ways to parcel out specific areas of a room, says Mark Mlakar with M2 Real Estate (Msqrealty.com), who helps sell and rent D.C.-area lofts.
“You can focus on a specific color in an area, and then another in another area,” Mlakar says. “I use big pieces of art to establish a color.”
Of course, you don’t have to be quite so subtle about it. Ron Cheli, a 35-year-old nursing home administrator who rents at the Foundry Lofts, had a more direct strategy for room division.
“I didn’t want the office clashing with the room’s style so I set up a divider,” Cheli says. “That looks cool and fits with the overall style.”
It isn’t just horizontal space that should be divided up cleanly. Bring the cavernous ceiling to a human scale by hanging pictures at the right height, getting some eye-catching furniture and placing lamps at the level at which you live, says interior designer Andy Staszak of Andy Staszak Design (Andystaszakinteriordesign.com).
Most lofts keep their building’s former rugged look alive, but that means getting the right style can be tricky. Trying to match your furniture to the industrial look can feel sterile, but move too far in a contrasting direction and your whole apartment will clash.
Cheli chose to decorate and furnish his apartment in a very modern style, the crisp lines and angles of the furniture complementing the pared down look of the building.
“It’s an industrial/modern look that works really well in that kind of space,” he says.
The key to decorating lofts may be to let the space dictate what you add to it.
“For your design to be successful you have to listen to the architecture,” Staszak says. “Add in a few antique accents, but put in clean-lined furnishings that are modern.”
Those accents — whether it’s a gilded mirror or antique chair — can blunt the harder edges of the industrial look.
“There are a lot more gritty elements like exposed ceilings, pipes and support beams [in lofts],” Mlakar says. “You want to try to soften them with the furniture and colors.”
Let There Be Light
The two most notable features of a loft apartment are often the exposed brick walls and the large windows that allow light to flood in. Both can be a blessing and a curse.
For example, brick walls in older buildings may not hold decorations as well as their modern counterparts, Jenkins says.
“They used to use a lot more sand and mortar in brick,” she says. “It means hanging things on the walls can be really difficult. We don’t encourage it.”
Big windows look gorgeous, but sun streaming in nonstop can ruin your sleep, cause constant squinting and make TV watching difficult. Cheli says he loves the light that comes blasting through his large windows. He hasn’t put up any blinds, but for those who need a little shade, window treatments are a must.
“If you want a black-out, you need fitted curtains, but those can be expensive to order,” Staszak says. Instead, he suggests that you buy some light fabric and a few dowel rods and make your own curtains that will filter the light and give the apartment a warm look.
Warm is the look many loft renters are going for, transforming a cold industrial space into a home.
Now that Cheli has his apartment perfectly planned, he can’t find a flaw. “To me, there are no drawbacks to loft apartments,” he says. MATT RAZAK (FOR EXPRESS)
Lofts? What Lofts?
So you’ve been looking for a loft apartment in the D.C. area and not finding much? You’re not alone. Traditional loft spaces are few and far between in the District. That’s because D.C. was never a major industrial town, says Mark Washburn, a loft expert at DC Condo Boutique. The few industrial buildings in the city (such as those once in Foggy Bottom) were torn down long before loft spaces were in style. Plus, lofts take up a lot of space, so converting an old building into rental lofts instead of smaller units doesn’t always make the most sense for a developer. So where can you find lofts in the District? Inside old car dealerships in the Church Street and 14th Street areas and, more recently, inside old school buildings around town that aren’t being used anymore. If you’re desperate for a true loft apartment, keep your eyes open for loft owners who might privately rent theirs out. M.R.