Decorating a Loft

Loft living is a unique experience. They offer open floor plans, tall, dramatic windows and walls as well as a flood of light in the daytime and perhaps a spectacular city view by night. In keeping with the modern, industrial feel, many lofts have exposed pipes and ductwork and concrete floors and/or walls. Originally coveted by artists, more and more people in recent years have embraced loft living. However, a common challenge confronting many new owners is how to decorate. Without many dividing walls, one task area or 'room' flows into another and the boxy shape can be visually overwhelming. Lofts require a far different approach to decorating than would be used for the average house or apartment.

First determine what you need from your floor space. Do you need an office? Do you wish to have a separate dining area or will you use bar stools around a kitchen counter or a table in the living area? If there is more than one person in the space, is privacy important? If you have a loft bedroom with a partial wall, will you need to find a way to block out the morning light or noise from the living area below?

If you wish to create a sense of separate rooms in the open living area, create clusters of different but complimentary furniture and accessories. For example, you can delineate the 'dining room' by using the same type of wood or metal for the table, chairs, and other furniture items. In the 'living room' area, choose furniture in a similar style and colour but use a completely different colour scheme for the fabric on the couches and chairs as well as the rugs and accessories.

Furniture placement is another way to delineate different living areas. Using four basic layouts: square, rectangular, oval and circular, you can create imaginary walls. For example, position your living area furniture to create a circular cluster to exclude another area of your home such as the dining area. Couches, tables and other large pieces of furniture can become tools to mark off one area from another.

Flooring can also be used to create visual breaks in large open areas. You may decide to use tile in the kitchen area, hardwood or laminate in the dining area, and a plush carpet in the living area. Area rugs in different shades and textures can also work well. A raised platform is another solution.

The vertical space in a loft is a wonderful opportunity to flex your creative muscles and be bold. A wall that is 5 metres (16 feet) high practically demands a piece of art that makes a statement. In a typical family home, you would never consider choosing a painting that is as tall as you are but in a loft, it may be perfect. If your budget prevents you from purchasing artwork, consider creating your own abstract art. Purchase one large canvas or try putting three equally-sized canvasses next to each other for a modern arrangement. Using paints that compliment your furnishings, brushes and maybe even some stencils, you can create a unique piece of art that is sure to be a conversation piece.

The height of most lofts also makes standard ceiling lighting obsolete. A globe light perched two stories above you will not provide much in the way of usable light. Table lamps are more practical for reading and desk work. Wall sconces will provide diffuse light. Embracing the unique characteristics of loft living, you may wish to take advantage of the vertical space with a chandelier suspended on a long chain above the dining table or a cluster of a few small pendant lamps hanging asymmetrically by varying lengths of cord.

If you require a private space for working but your loft does not include a separate office, it can be challenging. Consider whether there is room for a desk in the loft sleeping area. If like many lofts, the upper floor has a partial wall you may be able to use shutters or drapery to fill in the wall in order to block out sound. A more permanent solution would be to install glass blocks or drywall to complete the wall although you should consult your strata/building rules before doing so.

The age and style of a loft is also a very important consideration when decorating. There are two basic types of lofts: older buildings such as warehouses which have been converted to housing, and new lofts. Lofts in old buildings often have exposed brick walls, thick, solid timbers, and wood plank flooring that may be several decades old. These elements add character, warmth, and a sense of history. In new lofts, which are built solely for the purpose of loft living (or live/work studios), the building materials are often concrete, metal and glass with accents of wood. If you like a completely modern look, a new loft may be your best choice. If you fell in love with the amenities of a new loft space but wish to add some warmth, you have many options.

A simple way to soften the effect of industrial materials is by using natural materials. Try wood or bamboo floating floors over the concrete slab. Carpeting will certainly add warmth to the space along with another important benefit-it will reduce the sound reverberation that occurs in large open spaces. If new flooring is out of your price range, consider painting your concrete floor (check with your strata/building rules first). Use area rugs for added comfort and visual interest. Select natural fabrics such as wool, linen and cotton for your furniture.

For those who enjoy loft living, the wide open spaces are not deterrents; they are part of what makes the space so attractive. With some small adjustments you can create a roomy, modern space that still feels like home.