I decided to write this article because my clients always seem interested in the history of a particular building, but I’ve never been asked about the history of lofts altogether. When I tell my clients, they always seem fascinated. So… here is a quick history lesson for anyone interested!
Lofts have grown up considerably, from their decidedly un-glamourous origins to the high-end living spaces they have become today. It should be noted that owning a loft is the same as owning a condo: they both come with property management, maintenance fees and sometimes amenities (depending on the building). Lofts are simply a different style of condo, but with a much more colourful and romantic history.
From spacious ateliers to poverty and back
In mid-nineteenth century Paris, artists took advantage of loft spaces in buildings because they were spacious enough for them to create the over-sized paintings popular at the time, and few other dwellings offered such high ceilings. This trend continued with New York artists and bohemians through the 1940s and 1950s in SoHo – but these lofts were somewhat less desirable for most, as these destitute lofters were considered squatters and living in the loft space rent-free was illegal.
Lofts continued to be illegal because of their prevalence in commercially-zoned areas through the 1970s in New York, but their immense popularity forced the city of New York to re-zone many of these buildings.
Eventually – in a city that seemed beyond cluttered with too many small, carbon-copy apartments stacked on top of one another – lofts became legit real estate as developers began to find the concept of loft living an attractive possibility.
Lofts in Toronto
In Canada, lofts originated in the Bloor West neighbourhood in Toronto during the early 1980s. From there, they took off across the city, revitalizing many older buildings.
In the mid-1990s, older buildings that could be transformed into hard lofts (genuine lofts converted from older historic buildings) were becoming scarce – after all, there are only so many old warehouses and factories that can be retrofitted into residential spaces in the city. So developers answered the high demand for loft living with soft lofts, which are new condominiums that are specifically designed to replicate the spacious feel and aesthetic of a traditional loft.
Hard lofts may be unconventionally shaped and historic, while soft lofts are spacious yet modern with plenty of amenities. Choosing between these two types of lofts or a regular condo is a matter of personal taste, but there is plenty to choose from. Even if you only have the vaguest idea of what you’d like, feel free to contact me if you’d like my view on which lofts would be the best suited to your taste, lifestyle and budget.
Robert Van Rhijn