The Loft Look for Lots Less
When I first starting putting this article together, it was to show how people could get the popular “loft” look at home for less money. As I kept delving however, I realized there was a whole other way to look at it. The loft look itself can also cost a lot less overall than other popular design trends. I’ve broken things down into four major categories, each with supporting strategies and suggestions, that can save you money and move you further along your desired financial path.
I have to tell you, this article has taken longer to write than I ever expected. While I started out thinking I was writing a cool piece on loft style decorating advice, I quickly realized it was more than that. With multiple reasons for choosing the look, numerous categories of savings opportunities, and various power strategies for going forward with the purchase and design of a loft space . . . let’s just say there was more to cover than I initially realized. And this doesn’t even address the various decorating tips necessary for a loft, or the various choices within the category itself, such as industrial, architectural, modern, etc. Those will have to be covered in an entirely separate article.
It was also very important to me to show how incredibly powerful this strategy can be for freedom of lifestyle choice, money saving, maintenance issues and business development. This is more than just a fun look to try. Embracing lofts, even tangentially, can really help catapult you up your personal financial ladder. With all that said, let’s take a look at the various categories of consideration.
Obviously, geographical location plays a huge role in the price of acquiring your dream loft. If New York City is out of your price range (hey, join the club), consider going with a more rural location with a less expensive property market. If you don’t have the luxury of a career or income source not dependent upon an urban market, at least consider a city with a shorter commuting distance to the country side. You’ll pay less for land here if you want to try out the shipping container design trend or custom build a more modern structure, and less for some of the alternative loft structures mentioned below.
- Another issue many fail to consider is the location within the actual home. By this, I mean that even a more traditional home could benefit from extra useable spaces in the basement, attic or over the garage. No realtor or design professional is going to recommend putting a modern industrial style loft right next to your formal Victorian dining room. Not exactly good for resale value, right? But consider the use of the loft look as a money saving strategy for the makeover of a basement into a work out space or an attic into a family game room or teen space. These areas don’t really integrate with the rest of the house, and at least a more affordable rough finishing with track lighting, MDF board, or spray painted concrete foundation walls will get things started. You can always get more detailed later, if you want.
- The type of structure you choose can also save you major bucks compared to the traditional city loft locations. If you want to try the loft style of design and decorating, but prefer a more rural lifestyle, consider renovating a barn, old church, potato house, giant grain silo, antique school house or abandoned old time train station. Tug boats, barges and ferries also work well for those water loving nomads who want to eliminate overhead. Want to be a little closer to at least a smaller town? While an old fabric mill may be out of your financial range, many smaller towns have charming historic down town sections with brick row buildings for sale. As you’ll see when I cover the hybrid use technique, even old gas stations and similar commercial properties can have major potential.
TARGETED STRATEGIES FOR USE:
- The loft look is a great cash-stretching strategy for business start ups. Art galleries, bars, health clubs, wine cellars, design firms and coffee houses are all places I’ve seen use this look successfully.
- As a transitional strategy during renovation, building, or income property acquisition phases where you might want to live in the basement of your duplex while renting out the top two units. Even if this look isn’t your dream design choice, you can always upgrade later and save the rolling industrial shelves for a workshop, pantry or future retail space.
- Consider this a way to make calculated long term cutbacks on maintenance costs. OK, if you are going with the recycled antique wood floors and historic salvaged pieces as part of your design theme, this may be slightly less effective. But consider the industrial elements that are often included in lofts such as steel stairways, cable railings, and factory style metal walkways. Pretty hard to beat those things up. Also, concrete tends to acquire more of an “urban chic patina” with high traffic and the inevitable extra abuse that comes with having children and pets in the house. Tired of having to rip into walls whenever you need plumbing and electrical work done? The exposed look popular with lofts eliminates this concern almost entirely!
- An unexpected choice in a more traditional style of home, the loft style can help you tap currently unused spaces for high traffic, high abuse, or hobby areas. I know I touched on this above under the “location within the actual home” section, but I feel it’s important enough to mention again under the targeted strategies suggestion for numerous reasons. Not the least of which is unexpected family crisis situations or expansions. Sarah touched on a related issue in her recent article on stretching family monies to the max. If you have areas of your home available and untapped, this strategy can help accommodate an unexpected move in of a family member, surprise pregnancies (and possible multiple births), the need for physical therapy space for accident recuperation and more. Or, if you were planning a more elaborate basement or attic remodel and an unexpected situation comes up, this is a way to have your cake and eat it too. It’s also a way to pursue other goals, hobbies, family priorities and dreams while still having a functional quality home that meets your needs.
- The loft look also allows rapid maximum use of hybrid real estate opportunities. Many buildings have multiple purposes and spaces which can allow you to pursue personal and business goals at the same time. For example, one of the coolest bars my husband and I have ever been to is this place in Bangkok called The Station. During the day, it isn’t even open and basically looks like your typical urban gas station. However, at night this place really comes alive. It has tons of edgy urban atmosphere and had to have cost next to nothing to throw together. Large potted plants around the outside perimeter, metal chairs and card tables painted the same peeling yellow as the old station colors, steel bucket citronella candles, cool tunes and frozen drinks by the bucket for cheap. All of the stereo and cooler equipment get hauled out of a shipping container at night. The entire bar is outside. I can’t help but think this would be a great seasonal business and living combo opportunity for those with semi-nomadic tendencies. Movie going Queen Latifa fans will already be familiar with garage and living area combo techniques. Picture an empty gas station with a great location and decent sized front area. If this building happens to be in a town with some decent summer tourist traffic, you can open in the evenings with minimal fuss and have a place to drive your car into and lock up while traveling for the winter. Got a chance to pick up a great three story brick building in the historic district of a great little town? Go for a wine bar in the basement, retail space at street level, apartments or offices on the second floor and carve out a cool penthouse with rooftop garden and conservatory for yourself. Need to do it on the cheap? Buy a distressed one, live in the basement for a while, and renovate from the ground up, grabbing tenants as you go.
SAVING MONEY ON THE ACTUAL DESIGN ITSELF:
By using the design flexibility this style has to offer, you can save major bucks. Because the eclectic look is basically expected with this design choice, you can feel free to make do with any affordable source of items you can find. Salvage yards, industrial sources, auctions and more can all be used to get you started with the design of your loft space. Raw, unfinished details and mismatched furniture are part of the game. Celebrate it and save yourself some cash. If it doesn’t work for you long term, it can still be a way to get by until you are able to select the pieces and finishing details you want.
Go as vertical as possible, particularly with a smaller loft. Rolling library ladders are a really cool way to access items stored up high. Stylish too.
Consider incorporating clip frames and DIY art as part of your décor. Clip frames are dirt cheap (especially at Ikea) and really scream “loft”. Fill with family photos and personal travel pics. DIY projects for larger modern art pieces are fun to try, and you can even make a party out of it. Another way to save money is through general DIY framing. We picked up several antique advertising and travel themed calendars and cut the sections out for matting and framing. I’ve seen my favorite beer elf and pasta clown prints at various mall stores for over a hundred dollars a piece. Our kitchen in Italy had a whole wall of these prints (very dramatic) for less than six bucks a piece, including framing costs. For one of the cheapest art display ideas I've ever seen, check this article on binder clip uses.
As simple as it sounds, don’t underestimate the power of taking your time. Because this look is still chic with exposed pipes and temporary materials, you have all the time you need to make upgrades and purchases on a time table that suits your personal or family financial goals and situation. Technically, you have all the time you need anyway, but let’s face it. In certain corporate circles, it’s expected to entertain and how your home looks can be quite political in certain situations. It isn’t fair or right, but is the case sometimes. If you are feeling the pressure of “the game”, this is a way to make it work for you and not give in.
It’s been covered before, but using oops paint and trying your own hand at custom painting techniques can be a significant money saver.
Place a priority on functional, multi purpose room dividers. The smaller your loft space, the more important this becomes. A wall of old repainted double level school lockers can make a great kitchen pantry or entry way with child-specific after school storage cubbies. Open clamp shelves (Ikea) between basement support jacks are another dirt cheap way to go and gain storage at the same time.
- You can get much more long term bang for your decorating buck if you combine quality investment pieces (love that Boltz furniture line) with pieces from thrift stores, salvage yards, dumpster diving and yard sales. I’ve seen crystal chandeliers and Persian carpets paired with torn sofas on castor wheels, and metal footlockers. This goes back to the design flexibility issue again. Since the combination of these items is expected to some degree, use it as a way to enjoy the functionality of a more beat up piece while you save for a more elaborate replacement or an updated heating system.
- Before you start, check out the literature and other resources on the market. Cruise the libraries and book stores for inspiration. You’ll be amazed at the idea combinations out there, and it’s not just us broke folks that are using them. One great resource I discovered over the past few years is Dwell Magazine. Check out some back issues to see if a subscription is for you, but I’ve seen some really cool ideas in there that were dirt cheap to implement and provided tons of style.
- Using an attic for a teen space. Finishing off the walls and floor with MDF and peg board, using denim furniture and including hanging industrial cage lights along with track lighting keep things sort of edgy and fun, sort of like Old Navy’s retail design scheme. Throw in a pool table, a large dumpster found armoire turned TV cabinet you let the kids paint themselves, and a few bean bags. You’ll have a cheap place for the kids to hang out with their friends while you hang on to your sanity in the main area of the house. We all need a break from the loud music and constant giggling at some point, and they need a break for worrying about every scratch on the table. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, but want your kids to have the home option rather than hanging out on the street making inappropriate or dangerous choices, this might be the best of both worlds.
- How about a barn renovated into a rural health club or spa space for agricultural tourism? Picture an indoor pool on the downstairs level with locker rooms, sauna, hot tub and juice bar, and an upstairs level with bikes, treadmills and free weights.
- Consider a basement redo in the form of an industrial style wine cellar or dance studio. Spray painting the concrete walls and exposed ceiling / pipes in a bold uniform color, using track lighting, and incorporating raw edged mirrors on the wall for a dance studio, or rolling steel shelves for a wine bar, and you are in business. With the dance studio option, you may need to consider an upgraded flooring option, but that is really the most expensive element. With the wine bar, a stain and sealing treatment on the concrete floor should do it. Want a workshop instead? Peg boards, a few workbenches and some lighting should get you started with a place to organize your tools or artist supplies.
- Renovating an old church and its basement to have your own combination of a living space and independent entertainment venue. Think folk artists, traveling theater groups, modern dance troupes, etc.
As I hope you’ve seen, this design choice provides loads of options and the opportunity for numerous precision purchase choices to take control over your financial future. Mixing and matching is more than OK here, with decorating choices as well as targeted use strategies. Got a unique idea or resource for using the loft look to your financial advantage? Please share.