Just a few decades ago, hearing the terms “loft” and “studio” conjured two distinct images in the minds of discerning renters and buyers hunting for a distinctive twist on living quarters. But because the current definition of loft is based more on the floor plan than the structure it’s housed in, the differentiation between the two seemingly modern alternatives really comes down to square footage, airiness and atmosphere.
The Hard Loft and the Soft Loft
Think of hard lofts and soft lofts in terms of edges. Hard lofts – living or work spaces housed in former industrial buildings in urban areas lacking verdant backdrops and not a block party in sight – are rougher around the edges. They usually boast such original features as vaulted ceilings, sizable windows, concrete flooring, and exposed bricks, timber and ductwork. Because amenities are essentially for occupants to create, hard lofts are a dream project for loft purists who thrive on tailoring spaces to suit their needs.
For people less interested in gussying up quarters originally intended for manufacturing, there are soft lofts. These occupy newly constructed buildings designed for stylish and comfortable living. Although they often retain the hard loft’s open floor plan, soft lofts may feature carpeting or other attractive floor treatments, walls dividing the space and a complete absence of industrial features. Recent building development terms like “new hard loft,” essentially an energy-efficient reproduction of a hard loft in a residential property, make the selection process even more challenging.
The Single-room Studio
Whereas you can easily find a loft large enough to house a small family with wiggle room to fit guests come party time, the studio, by definition, is a single room with a kitchen or kitchenette and a private bathroom that can’t accommodate more than one person or a very close couple and their small pet. These days some studios do have partitioned kitchens, but considering studios run an average of 500 to 600 square feet, they’re less a place to entertain than a place to eat, sleep or work, if acquired for business purposes.
The studio does have its perks, however. Like a loft, it’s ideal for city dwellers and has an open floor plan conducive to a variety of tastes and needs. Conversion possibilities are limited, but there are plenty of ways to divide the space with furniture and screens – especially with the help of today’s space-spacing engineering.
Difference Comes Down the Price
Studios remain the most cost-effective rental option, whether in the city or surburbia. Remember, though, that the term cost-effective is relative. A Brooklyn, New York, studio goes for between $1,500 and $3,000 per month, but between $350 and $500 in Columbia, Missouri. Often, but not always, utilities are included. If they aren’t, they’re considerably lower than the monthly utility bill for sustaining an acceptable level of comfort in a loft without energy-efficient upgrades.
The cost to rent or buy a loft varies widely, depending on age, conversion method, square footage and location. A swank 2,200-square-foot hard loft in San Francisco’s South Beach may list for well over $2 million, while the rent for a two-bedroom, two-bathroom soft loft in Chicago runs upwards of $2,500.
Lofts Have the Trend Quotient
If you haven’t already guessed, trendy and lofts go hand in hand. Hip artists inhabit them, swanky parties are thrown in them and real estate agents use “loft-style living” as a selling point for properties that don’t quite meet the true definition of the architectural term. The phenomenon isn’t new; loft living has been a staple of literature and film for decades, and it won’t soon go away. But as the number of buildings suitable for conversion decreases and the demand for these rare gems increases, expect rents and listing prices to follow suit.
Michelle R. Prather is a writer and editor who began her career in 1997, profiling business owners for "Entrepreneur" magazine. She also has authored gift books and guided journals for Avalanche Publishing, edited novels at TOKYOPOP and writes reviews for Cinema Sentries. Prather holds an M.A. in history and a B.A. in film studies.