What is a Loft? Definition of a Loft Apartment


By Jenn Greenleaf

Sep 28, 2021

When it comes to types of apartments, a loft is not as intuitively named as a 1-bedroom or 2-bedroom apartment. In fact, there is some nuance in the definition of a loft apartment that renters should know about it. In this article, we’ll answer the question, what's a loft? But that’s not all. We’ll cover the history of the loft, its characteristics, pros and cons, how it differs from a studio, and more.

What is a Loft?

In the most traditional sense, a loft is an apartment found in a former industrial building converted for residential use that retains certain characteristics from its past life, such as high ceilings, large windows, open floor plans, cement floors, as well as exposed pipes, beams, and brick walls.

Historically, loft spaces originated in Paris during the 19th century as artists’ studios when oversized paintings required high ceilings. Fast forward to the early 20th century, and loft living found its way to the United States, primarily in warehouses near Boston and New York ports. By the 1980s, loft apartments could be found throughout New York City, including downtown Manhattan, and especially in Brooklyn, SOHO, and Tribeca. From there, lofts became a hallmark of TV and movie characters living in NYC, thereby cementing the popularity of loft living among audiences everywhere.

Today, in addition to traditional loft apartments converted from former industrial buildings, newly constructed loft buildings incorporating industrial design elements are being built to meet the demand for this popular apartment style. And, herein lies the difference between a hard loft and a soft loft.

What is the Difference Between a Hard Loft and a Soft Loft?

Hard lofts are lofts in their truest original form; they are found in former industrial buildings and warehouses turned residential spaces characterized by hard materials such as brick, concrete, and the like.

Soft lofts are designed to look like hard lofts but are found in new buildings rather than converted industrial ones. Soft lofts boast the characteristics of a loft, sometimes right down to hard materials. However, one thing sets them apart. They are newly built.

4 Characteristics of a Loft

Whether you’re renting a traditional loft (a.k.a. hard loft) or a newly constructed soft loft, here are the 4 key characteristics of a loft apartment.

1. Wide Open Space
Loft apartments are known for their open floor plans with limited interior walls. With one large living area, lofts do not feature separate spaces for a bedroom or living room. However, some lofts use frosted or printed glass partitions to create division without limiting light.

2. High Ceilings
Loft apartments go hand in hand with high ceilings. And, with high ceilings comes the ability to accommodate large windows. Thanks to those windows, loft apartments contain a significant amount of natural light.

3. Exposed Brick
Many loft apartments contain exposed brick walls. But, exposed brick is not a requirement for a unit to be considered a loft. If you see exposed brick, it could be a carryover from a building’s industrial past. However, to make matters more confusing, brick and other hard materials may just as likely be found in a newly constructed loft designed to look industrial despite its age (or lack thereof).

4. Industrial Feel
For renters who favor an industrial-meets-modern aesthetic, loft apartments are ideal. Contemporary design pairs well with the industrial feel of exposed brick, beams, pipes, and ductwork, as well as cement flooring.

What’s the Difference Between a Studio and a Loft Apartment?

While a studio apartment and loft apartment both feature an open floor plan and no internal walls, there are some notable differences.

  • Square Footage
    Lofts are typically larger than studios.
  • Location
    Lofts are more commonly found in urban areas, while studios are found in all areas, urban, suburban, you name it.
  • Ceilings
    While lofts are characterized by high ceilings, studios can have any type of ceiling.
  • Economics
    Due to the larger size of lofts compared to studios (which often come with smaller appliances), the cost of heating, cooling, and electricity in lofts tends to be more expensive.

What is a Loft Space vs a Loft Apartment?

While loft space and loft apartment are often used interchangeably in real estate listings, there are differences between the two.

A loft space (also referred to as a loft area) features an open level you can find in an apartment or home above its main living area. You can access a loft space using stairs or a ladder, meaning the space overlooks the mezzanine level. Residents typically use a loft space for sleeping, an extra living area, or a work-from-home office.

You can find a loft space in any style of apartment, no matter its type or size, but the presence of a loft space is not synonymous with a loft apartment.

5 Pros of Loft Living

There are many advantages of loft apartments. Here are 5 pros of loft living:

1. Expansive Feel
Loft apartments feature generous square footage that feels even more expansive thanks to high ceilings and large windows with natural light.

2. Open-Concept / Flexibility
Open floor plans offer flexible furniture placement and don’t require as much to fill the space.

3. Configurability
If you cannot afford a 2-bedroom apartment with a separate workspace, the open space in a loft allows you to configure work areas, reading nooks, and other areas with ease.

4. Character
Industrial materials add personality and visual interest to any décor.

5. Modern Aesthetic
Simple, clean lines, high ceilings, and natural light give lofts a contemporary feel.

5 Cons of Loft Living

While there’s plenty to love about loft apartments, there are also some disadvantages to consider. Here are 5 cons of loft living.

1. Lack of Separation
Because the living spaces feature less distinct areas, they’re not optimal for those who prefer separate spaces for eating, a living room, sleeping, and working from home.

2. Lack of Privacy
If you live with a roommate, loft apartments lack privacy, there’s nowhere to get away, and they can be noisy.

3. Lack of Storage
Because loft living means not as many closets, there’s a distinct lack of storage that can translate into the need for more armoires, dressers, shelves, and other storage essentials.

4. Lack of Insulation
In traditional loft apartments found in older buildings, the insulation might not be all that great, contributing to heating and cooling costs. Meanwhile, higher ceilings and more square footage can also result in higher utility bills.

5. Lack of Amenities
Hard loft apartments might also lack amenities commonly found in newer apartment complexes (including soft loft buildings), like club rooms, fitness rooms, storage areas, and other communal spaces.

The Bottom Line

If you’re interested in renting a loft, your best bet is to start your rental search in urban industrial areas that have been converted for residential use. You may also find newly constructed loft apartments in other parts of cities. While lofts are popular among many renters, availability can be limited when searching beyond the city limits.

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