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Loft apartment style is the epitome of the apartment living dream. Lofts have become so much more than just a type of abode – they're almost their own narrative device. In TV and film, lofts have become synonymous with the homes of the design-forward, for trendy young hipsters to the powerful and influential alike. It's no wonder that loft apartment style is so aspirational.
With an inspiring loft space to work with, you may think that when it comes to decorating an apartment, you're on easy street. But be warned that you'll also inherit a space that has unusual proportions to contend with, unlike any other sort of property.
'A loft was typically not designed to be lived in,' explains Tyson Ness, a New York-based interior designer. 'Most have the gorgeous tall ceilings, massive windows and industrial detail that is en vogue, but also tend to be dark spaces with a window at one end of the space, making the interior of the space dark.'
What a loft does have, however, is potential. 'The best part of the loft is that they are typically able to be opened up with few interior walls, so with some clever planning they can really turn into a comfortable home.'
With that in mind, we've curated some of our favorite examples of loft apartment style, along with expert advice on how to make the most of these sometimes challenging spaces. From ways to both embrace and temper their industrial features to the interior styles that suit these spaces, you'll discover how interior designers are approaching a loft apartment brief in a modern way.
The basics of modern loft apartment style, explained by the experts
1. Make use of the ceiling height
High ceilings are a common feature of loft apartments, providing equal opportunities and challenges.
'Use the double-height space to accentuate architectural features, perhaps there are existing columns which can be left exposed, or a new staircase can become a sculptural element within the double-height space and use lighting to highlight these features,' suggests architect Simon Graham of Yard Architects.
There's the potential to add in another story to your loft, making use of this extra head height. This could be achieved through a full mezzanine, or something as simple as a loft bed.
However, this shouldn't be at the expense of the rest of your space. 'Double height loft apartments tend to work best when they are open plan, so you retain as much sense of the original volume of the space as possible,' Simon advises.
This super-sized ceiling can also give you a scale problem, however. 'Choose fittings and furnishings which will not get lost in the volume of the space such as big paintings and large pendant lights,' Simon says. Also, think about how dominating color will be painted on walls in this sort of space.
2. Honor a loft's industrial features
Original, industrial features are definitely a perk of loft apartment style, but they have dominating characteristics to work with. You'll need to incorporate them into your scheme, rather than just plowing on with your design and hoping for the best.
'Take inventory of what you have (exposed brick, beams, industrial lighting) and keep in mind when pairing with furnishings,' suggests designer Tyson Ness of Studio Ness. However, this doesn't mean going all-in on an industrial-themed space.
'I think the biggest tip is to create a balance. If working with a rustic set of exposed beams, try pairing it with a glossy kitchen island and a more streamlined apartment kitchen idea; or a killer exposed brick wall can feel even more special when offset with a sinuous and plush sofa.'
3. Or hide them away completely
Exposed features aren't for everyone, and of course you don't have to remove them to create an interior scheme without those industrial references.
Boxing them in and covering exposed ceilings and walls isn't sacrilege in the same way as covering or removing some period features, especially if you make sure future caretakers of the loft have the chance to revert back if desired.
This apartment design by Jessica Schuster Design is a great example of how you can preserve the light, openness of a loft design, without relying on its industrial features. Instead, a blank canvas has been created for a more creative interior scheme, as demonstrated in this apartment living room, to take center stage.
4. Thoughtfully consider alterations
'I always try to honor the materials as much as possible without modification, but also don't be afraid of the power of paint, especially on an exposed brick or pipework,' says Tyson Ness. 'A fresh coat of paint does wonders in all spaces, even in a loft.'
This loft design by Boston-based Dane Austin Design showcases just what can be achieved. The exposed ceiling, column and pipes have been adapted into a grey living room scheme, creating a more cohesive backdrop for this interior scheme.
It elevates the most industrial features of this space, making it feel like a better match for the more luxurious tones and textures of the design.
Paint also covers a multitude of sins, making it a good fallback plan where your original features are looking a little worse for wear.
5. Create cozy, intimate areas
While the openness and high ceilings are brilliant features of a loft apartment, it also comes with a challenge of making your space feel cozy in the places you want it too.
'With open-plan apartments, it is important to delineate spaces in order to bring a sense of human scale,' says Nathan Cuttle, founder of Studio Nato. 'We like open plans because they usually mean more light in the space. However, when it comes down to actually living within the space, we gravitate towards cozy, intimate areas.'
So how can we achieve this? 'Rugs, sectionals, freestanding shelves are all tools at our disposal to add a sense of intimacy and privacy to a blank open space,' Nathan says. 'Typically, it means rethinking the traditional setup for a sectional or imagining a new shape for an area rug.'
Creating groups of furniture is an easy way to demarcate an open plan space, particularly when looking at studio apartment layout ideas. But, also consider pieces that bridge the gap between areas, helping to create flow and not create floating 'islands' of furniture. In this interior scheme created by Rebecca Robertson of RR Interiors for Alloy, a daybed backs onto the sofa in the main seating area, adding extra flexibility to this design.
6. Think about cohesiveness across the loft
Designing an open plan loft is in many respects like designing one huge room. You need to consider how different elements of the loft space work together from different angles.
'When designing a loft you have to consider that everything is visible at once, so it's important to have a cohesive palette of materials and colors as opposed to a small apartment living room, for example, where you only see one room at a time,' says New York-based architect Kimberly Peck.
Creating a throughline of colors, materials and textures is a great way to create spaces that are separate, but feel linked. Where one of these elements, such as a color, is dominant in one area of the loft, it can be incorporated more subtly in another part of the space.
7. Play with scale
Our interior designers have mentioned scale several times already in their advice on loft apartment style, but by looking to pick objects that fill the proportions of a loft, you may find yourself with a perspective problem.
Where things start to look out of balance in a loft, consider approaching scale more playfully, says Michael K Chen of MKCA. 'In large open spaces, but also in small apartments too, sometimes it's about finding an element or piece of furniture that is a little out of scale for the room so there is some hierarchy or structure that smaller, looser elements can play against,' he suggests.
This loft designed by Jesse Parris-Lamb offers food for thought, with a supersized banquette seat designed around one of the loft's supporting columns and a huge dining table anchoring the space. This creates room for smaller vignettes too, without them becoming lost in the size of the space.
8. Use room dividers to create zones
Sometimes the open nature of a loft is worth preserving, while sometimes you'll need to insert partitions to make the space more functional.
Room divider ideas come in all shapes and sizes, and don't necessarily have to mean building walls to carve up your loft.
'If rooms do need to be properly divided with partitions consider if they can be made of a transparent material or use big sliding pocket doors so you retain an open plan sense, but can also achieve some privacy,' says Simon Graham of Yard Architects.
'Furniture is also a good way to divide up spaces in a semi-permanent way which allows you to change the layout later, for example installing freestanding wardrobes might allow you to create a bedroom area behind a living room without building partitions.'
'Bathrooms always need privacy so tuck them at the back of the apartment away from the open plan space.'
9. Look for ways of dressing large windows
Another feature that often comes with loft apartments is large and plentiful windows. These flood your space with natural light, but create a bit of a conundrum when it comes to window treatments.
'Dressing windows can make or break the space, especially when it’s for larger volumes,' says New York designer Ahmad AbouZanat of PROJECT AZ. 'Window treatments should complement the overall aesthetic and in modern and minimalist spaces that means they could take the backseat sometimes or just be very subtle.'
'For taller ceilings and expansive views that we do not want to obstruct, using simple ripple fold drapes and/or roller shades of matching colors with the walls or mullions is the least intrusive. Opt for textured fabric to give it some volume and visual interest.'
10. Don't push furniture to the corners of the spaces
Where you have extra space to play with, be mindful of how you layout furniture within a space. 'I think any opportunity to avoid pushing all the furniture to the edges, or only centering it all in the middle of a room is usually interesting and worth considering,' says Michael K Chen.
Whether a loft or a studio apartment, if the furniture is all pushed against the perimeter of the room, it can create large voids in the middle of the space, while if nothing is against the walls, it creates an odd sensation that the interiors aren't grounded in the space. Striking the right balance is key.
In this design by Studio Ness, the sitting area occupies the space nicely, while a credenza behind the dining table sits against the wall, anchoring this area into this part of the room.
How is a loft different from an apartment?
'A loft, to me, is a former industrial or manufacturing structure that has been converted to a residential space,' says interior designer Tyson Ness. 'Typically found in commercialized spots of town or near the river, in the case of NYC, where goods were taken from ships and stored in warehouses before being shipped out to their final destination.'
Lofts don't all have common features – some may have double-height ceilings, while others won't. Small apartments can be created in industrial buildings, however without any presence of industrial features, large windows, high ceilings or more generous proportions, it's unlikely to be categorized by most as a loft.
While lofts may feel generously proportioned in many respects, they often have drawbacks too. 'Lofts typically don't have an appealing kitchen or bathroom location as those features are added in when the units are converted to residential,' explains Tyson.
They also generally have windows on one side, unless in a corner unit, which means that the back of the apartment is darker, and any internal rooms may not have external windows, relying on artificial lighting much more, instead.
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Hugh is the Deputy Editor of Livingetc.com. From working on a number of home, design and property publications and websites, including Grand Designs, ICON and specialist kitchen and bathroom magazines, Hugh has developed a passion for modern architecture, impactful interiors and green homes. Whether moonlighting as an interior decorator for private clients or renovating the Victorian terrace in Essex where he lives (DIYing as much of the work as possible), you’ll find that Hugh has an overarching fondness for luxurious minimalism, abstract shapes and all things beige. He’s just finished a kitchen and garden renovation, and has eyes set on a bathroom makeover for 2023.
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