Author Archives: Pat Curry


Reduce Allergies and Asthma with Home Improvements

Take these small steps to help allergy and asthma sufferers breathe easier.

Reduce Allergies and Asthma

. Photo: crystalinks.com

One in four Americans suffer from allergies or asthma, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. A large number of allergens live and thrive within the walls of your home, with the list led by dust mites, mold, pet dander, and droppings from cockroaches and mice. Many allergens, such as pollen, are outside the home and float inside through window screens and cracks in the walls.

The impact on allergy and asthma sufferers can be significant. The academy reports that asthma alone causes 5,000 emergency room visits every day in the U.S; allergies and asthma together account for tens of millions of missed days of work and school.

Fortunately, there are solutions to reduce the impact of allergies and asthma in homes. These can be broken into four main categories: ridding the places where allergens can be found, sealing the house against outdoor allergens, controlling the growth of mold, and filtering the air inside the house.

Eliminating Places Where Allergens Live
Getting rid of carpet is one of the most cost-effective and easiest ways to control allergies. That’s because mold spores and dust mites, which are a natural part of the environment, live by the millions in carpet, as well as in bedding, drapes, upholstered furniture, or anything else that’s “nice, warm, and fuzzy,” says Frank Hammes, president of California-based IQAir North America, a manufacturer of air filtration systems. Replace your carpet with hard-surface flooring, such as wood or wood laminate, tile, vinyl, linoleum, or even concrete. Luckily, houses without carpet are considered upscale these days so not only will your house be healthier for your allergies, it will also be stylish.

Sealing Up the House
Better Living Now, a medical supply company in Hauppauge, NY., that works with insurers to help patients with asthma control their symptoms, visits homes to find problem areas that will trigger symptoms. Among the most powerful tools in their fight against allergens are caulk, weatherstripping and screening. “We stress simple things,” says Todd Rynecki, a pharmacist and vice president of sales for Better Living Now. “They’re very inexpensive materials.”

Caulk is used to seal small cracks and holes in the walls and floors, weatherstripping seals spaces around doors and windows, and screening covers kitchen, laundry room and bathroom vents that go to the outside. These solutions aim to help keep mice and cockroaches—a big problem for people with allergies and asthma—out of the home, Rynecki says. Droppings from rodents and cockroaches become airborne easily and are powerful respiratory irritants.

Filtering the Air
If you’re building a new house or upgrading your heating and cooling system, that’s a perfect time to improve your indoor air quality, especially if you have outdoor allergies, such as grass or ragweed.

“We recommend that people with significant outdoor allergies run their air conditioner or heat 24 hours a day and keep the doors and windows closed,” Dr. Doshi says. “That minimizes the introduction of outdoor pollen into the home. Having a very good ventilation system is vital; we recommend ones with built-in air filtration.”

You don’t have to put in a new air conditioning system to get cleaner air in your house, though. You may be able to tie a whole-house air filtration system into your existing system, says Randy Scott, vice president of product systems management for Tyler, TX-based Trane. Their CleanEffect air filtration system removes up to 99.98% of particles and allergens from a home’s air compared to the one percent removed by the standard, one-inch filters that most people use — and rarely change. “If a consumer is replacing a heating and cooling system, it can be installed with a system change-out,” Scott says. “If they’ve purchased a system in the last few years, it can be added where there’s enough space.”

Two other ideas to consider if you’re building a new house or doing a major remodeling job are installing a gas fireplace, which doesn’t produce irritating smoke, and a central vacuuming system. “A central vacuuming system is a great idea when you’re building a house,” Hammes says. “For $2,000 to $3,000, you have something to transport allergens out of the central area.”


Flipping: Remodeling for Resale

If you’re in the market to buy a house to rehabilitate for profit — also known as “flipping” — you’ll need to play it smart. Here are some common errors as well as the best approach.

Photo: unitedhomeinvestments.com

With a glut of distressed properties on the market now, people are eager to make deals. But there’s little room for error. You have to be smart about the houses you buy and the repairs you make. You also have to be prepared to hold your property for the long-term, or you could wind up with a house you can’t sell and a mortgage payment you can’t afford. But if you’re going to try to flip houses, here are some things you have to know.

Finding the Right House
Real estate investors live and die by the numbers. You have to fall in love with the deal, not the house. And great deals aren’t going to jump out at you. Experienced investors spend time every day looking for distressed property and have a network of people scouting deals for them.

Some investors make a point of taking a different route home from work to look for possible deals. Others, like Sid Davis, a real estate investor and the author of Home Makeovers that Sell: Quick and Easy Ways to Get the Highest Possible Price, recommend picking out a particular neighborhood and driving through it regularly. “Look for the best deal in the best neighborhood,” Davis says. “Even in the best areas, there are always people who need to sell quick. Pick a target area you want and make up flyers that say, ‘I can close in a week’ or ‘Cash up front.’ There are a lot of people in trouble. ”

Look for is a house that’s priced far below market value, experts say. That’s the only way to make money in today’s market.

Finding Financing
Even when mortgage underwriting was loose, bankers were tougher on investors than on owner occupants, requiring more money down and charging higher interest rates and fees. Today lenders are tighter than ever when it comes to lending money for real estate investment.

For rehabbers who own a home, it may be easier to get a home equity line of credit and use that money for the required down payment. But understand what you’re doing: You’re putting your own home at risk if you can’t sell the property and fall behind on the payments.

Thinking Long-Term
Many professional real estate investors view flipping as a shortsighted approach to the business. Virtually the only advantage, Jones-Cox says, is a quick profit, but the capital gains taxes eat a big chunk of that — and the current market conditions aren’t conducive to a speedy sale. Plus, rehab projects are notorious for taking longer and costing more money than anticipated. It’s far better to hold the house and enjoy the long-term benefits.

Davis, who has flipped seven houses in one year, agrees, saying, “I made $10,000 to $12,000 per house and thought I was pretty hot stuff. It was the dumbest thing I ever did. If I’d kept them as rentals, I’d have $1.5 million in equity by now.”

Perhaps the smartest way to approach flipping right now, especially for the new investor, is to buy a house as an owner occupant, live in it for two or three years while fixing it up, and then sell it for a profit. You’ll get a better interest rate on the financing, eliminate the larger down payments required of investors and the hefty capital gains tax that flippers pay on the houses that they buy and sell quickly, and give the house time to appreciate. “That’s a pretty spectacular strategy to make $50,000 or $100,000 and not pay taxes on it,” says Vena Jones-Cox, a Cincinnati -based real estate investor and past president of the National Real Estate Investors Association.

Making the Right Renovations
Once you find the house, you need to make a renovation and repair budget. The first step is establishing an approximate sale price. That’s accomplished by running a comparative market analysis of houses similar to the one you’re selling in location, age, square footage, bedroom and bathroom count, age, and features. Look at the prices of the houses that are selling — as well as those that have been sitting for months, recommends Dean Graziosi, a Tempe, AZ-based real estate investor and the author of The Real Estate Millionaire. That will give you a good idea of what to include in your rehab.

Then deduct how much you paid for the house, your other expenses (such as a real estate agent’s commission), and the profit you’d like to make. “That will tell you how much you can spend,” he says. The repair rules for rehabs are quite similar to those recommended to home buyers getting their own house ready to sell: First impressions are critical, so pay close attention to the front yard, the exterior of the house, and the entryway; kitchens and master baths sell the house; don’t impose your decorating style on the buyers; and keep colors in a neutral palette so buyers can make it their own.

The biggest mistake Jones-Cox sees investors make in their rehabs is spending money on upgrades that don’t add value and aren’t appropriate for the neighborhood. “They get into these properties, fall in love with them, and think it would be great to put a hot tub in the bathroom of a $125,000 house,” she says. “They’re not reasonable about what should be done, go way overboard, and never get their investment back.”

Diane Saatchi, a senior vice president of the Corcoran Group who is based in East Hampton, NY, sees the same thing in multimillion-dollar rehabs. “Sometimes people overspend in ways that are not that important,” Saatchi says. “Someone will put in an expensive generator and not have enough closet space or storage space for the size of the house. Or they’ll do something that doesn’t suit a neighborhood. If it’s a neighborhood where all the houses have garages and you turn the garage into an exercise room, that’s stupid.”

If you think like a successful real estate investor and consider flipping or rehabbing as a longer-term investment, you’re more likely to succeed.

There are dozens of ways to botch a remodeling job done for resale. At the top of the list are:

  • Not doing your homework. There are so many houses on the market for sale today, the competition for buyers is fierce. Check out the competition before you start knocking out walls. The easiest way to do that is to visit open houses in the same price range.
  • Going overboard. You want your house to stand out but not like a sore thumb. Make yours a little better than the competition but maintain consistency with the neighborhood.
  • Ignoring the yard. Some rehabbers spend all their time on the interior and forget about the exterior. The lawn needs to be in the best possible shape.
  • Cutting corners. There’s a big difference between doing things as inexpensively as possible and turning a blind eye to major problems to save a buck. Don’t just clean and paint when something should be repaired or replaced.
  • Hiring unlicensed contractors. Problems with the structural integrity of the house or its major systems — heating and cooling, plumbing, and electricity — need to be repaired by licensed, insured professionals.
  • Trying to do it all yourself. If you haven’t done some of the trickier home improvement jobs that you have lined up for your house — such as electrical or plumbing work — now is probably not the time to attempt it. You’ll get frustrated and perhaps even injured. Hire a professional and ensure that you allocate that cost in your repair budget.
  • Underestimating the time frame. You should probably pad the time allotment for completing the job — especially if you can’t pay an extra month or two on the mortgage. If you’re holding two mortgages, establishing a realistic time line is critical.

How To: Make Your Home Storm-Resistant

The right materials and proper installation can strengthen your home against the most severe weather.

Photo: Flickr

No matter where you live, chances are there is some kind of weather or geologic condition, such as hurricanes and high winds, wildfires and floods, that requires extra attention in your home’s construction.
 The two areas that can make the biggest difference in making your home storm-resistant are the roof and the windows. That’s great news for homeowners because they can be addressed during both new construction and renovation.

Top-Down Protection
“We usually start at the roof [to make a home storm-resistant],” says Tim Reinhold, director of engineering and vice president of the Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS), a Tampa, FL-based nonprofit organization sponsored by insurance companies to promote hazard-resistant construction. “When you have enough damage to have a claim, 90 percent of homes have roof damage.”

Whether you’re in a high-wind or earthquake-prone area, the Institute recommends attaching roof sheathing to the trusses with ring-shank nails, which have a spiral feature in the shank and can increase the holding power of the nail by 50 to 100 percent. As with any construction materials, they only work if they’re installed correctly. Space the nails six inches apart, Reinhold says. Over the roof decking, you need a strong underlayment so that if the top layer of roofing material (typically shingles or tiles) comes off, you still have a layer of protection. Whether you use shingles, tile, or metal for the top layer, pay careful attention to installation. Otherwise, tiles and metal sheets can become dangerous missiles. Shingles can tear off, leaving the roof exposed to further damage.

“We use individual concrete tile that is foamed in, mortared in, and screwed in,” says Marieanne Khoury-Vogt, town architect for Alys Beach, a coastal town in the Florida Panhandle that has constructed every building to IBHS’s “Fortified for Safer Living” standards, which exceed Florida’s rigorous code for building in coastal areas. “Then we have another very thin layer of grout that fills in between the tiles, a cementitious film, and paint on top of that.”

With an architectural style inspired by the island homes in Bermuda, the buildings in Alys Beach are masonry, which offers significant strength against wind and water. The roofs of the Alys Beach buildings all have very shallow eaves, which gives hurricane winds little to pull against. Finished floors are two feet above grade to reduce the risk of flooding.

The decision to build an all-masonry community happened before the devastating 2004 hurricane season, she says, but it “made a difference in people wanting to invest here. It’s a huge relief to people. We do feel very, very good about the ‘Fortified’ standards.”

Windows and Doors
The use of impact-rated windows and doors—designed to meet weather conditions in high-velocity hurricane zones—relieves owners from having to board up windows and doors, “and you get the same insurance breaks” as owners who have hurricane shutters, Khoury-Vogt says.

If impact-rated windows and doors are beyond your budget, Reinhold says, a less expensive alternative is to combine windows and doors that meet the local design pressure rating with a protective system, such as hurricane shutters.

“Old standard windows are rated at 30 to 35 pounds per square foot,” he says. “That’s good for the middle of the country, but not hurricane zones. Closer to the coast, the rating will be 40 to 45 pounds per square foot. In a taller building sitting on the coast, it could be pushing 80 pounds per square foot.”

Fires and Floods
Cement tile, clay tile, and slate roofs, along with stucco and brick exteriors, are not only great for protecting a house from wind-driven rain and storm debris; they’re also excellent fire-retardant materials. In California, the annual Santa Ana winds can gust to hurricane force and contribute to the area’s other major risk: wildfires. While no house is fireproof, those fire-retardant materials play a key role in reducing the risk, says builder-remodeler Gordon Gibson, president of Gordon Gibson Construction in Santa Monica, CA.

For fire protection, homeowners must also pay close attention to the types of plants used in landscaping and how far they’re situated from the houses. Landscaping and site grading are also important for preventing damage during floods that can race through the canyons in southern California, Gibson says. The grade should slope away from the house, and the finished floor of the house should be six inches higher than any adjacent grade. When landscaping is planted too close to the house, growth over time can bring the grade above the level of the house. To help prevent water intrusion, Gibson also uses a waterproof membrane that extends from the foundation to the wood frame.

“Keep trees planted away from the house; keep the tree canopy two feet from the house; and don’t let any vegetation touch the house,” Gibson says. “That’s the best way to prevent a lot of damage that happens.”

For more tips on making your home as safe as possible before a storm disaster hits, visit the IBHS Web site, DisasterSafety.org. For an interactive guide to protecting your home from wildfires, visit www.firewise.org.

Some products are designed to be used only when danger is threatening. Here are a few to check out:

Hurricane shutters
Shutters can run the gamut from sheets of plywood to sophisticated, motorized systems. The Disaster Safety web site has instructions on how to make and install your own.

The DoorDam
Sandbags are the traditional method of keeping floodwater out of a house. The DoorDam, made by Presray Corp., is an expanding mechanism inside a neoprene sheath that extends across doorways to block flood waters as high as 32 inches. It weighs about the same as one sand bag, and you can reuse it year after year. Visit the DoorDam web site for details.

Garage door bracing systems
Many garage doors can buckle during high-wind conditions. Check with your garage door manufacturer to see it if offers a vertical bracing system, or ask your home builder to recommend one. Generic kits also are available at many home improvement stores. Or, you can make your own wood columns. Instructions are on the DisasterSafety.org web site.

Portable water pumps
These pumps are designed to draw water from a swimming pool to spray on your roof and exterior walls, which gives a fire less fuel to burn.

Home generators
Helpful for all types of severe weather situations, generators are widely available. They should always be used outdoors to avoid the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in the home.


Protect Your Home from Job Site Theft

A remodeling project can leave you uniquely vulnerable, so follow these guidelines to help protect your home from job site theft.

Preventing Job Site Theft

Photo: shutterstock.com

Job site theft is a rampant and growing problem that costs the construction industry more than $1 billion a year, according to the National Association of Home Builders and the National Equipment Register. But the problem isn’t limited to new houses under construction — a home remodeling job is just as vulnerable. Here are some ways to secure your job site.

Every item on your job site is on a thief’s shopping list. Matt Dunston, developer of The Preserve at Walden, an 86-lot subdivision near Colorado Springs, CO, knows from experience. Over several months in 2007, six builders in his subdivision lost roughly $50,000 worth of tools and material—everything from tools and appliances to air conditioners and pallets of cultured stone—before he hired a private investigator to track down the thieves. The stone was a bit of a head-scratcher for Dunston, given its weight. “You have to be a very motivated thief to steal cultured stone,” he says.

With the rising fees paid by recyclers for copper, the theft of copper wiring and pipe is especially prevalent. It’s such a serious problem that more than 20 states have passed legislation regulating its sale to recycling centers. In Knoxville, TN, the police department has even created a special task force, the Metal Theft Unit. And not surprisingly, thieves aren’t very considerate about the damage they cause. Police reports show they’ll rip a wall apart to get to the copper wiring or pipes behind it, to say nothing of destroying air conditioners, furnaces, or water heaters. In Knoxville, a local television station reported that thieves did $25,000 worth of damage to a condominium project that was under construction to steal about $200 worth of copper.

Like most burglaries, job site theft typically is a crime of opportunity. Here are five strategies recommended by law enforcement, security experts, construction professionals, and insurance claims adjusters that you can use to make your job site more secure and less attractive to thieves.

1. Let there be lightand lots of it. Darkness is a thief’s best friend; a well-lit job site makes it much more difficult for a thief to arrive and leave unseen. The goal is to provide adequate and even lighting that eliminates shadows. Flood lights with motion detectors mounted on the eaves of the house, just like most homeowners have on the corners of their homes, are a great first line of defense.

2. Secure your tools and materials. If you leave your tools and materials sitting out at the end of the day, you might as well put a ‘Steal Me’ sign in the window. “A lot of thefts are at a job where the site is vulnerable,” Dunston says. “There’s lumber laying around or tools are not locked up securely.”

“I was on a job site last week — there was more stuff lying around than I’d seen in better hardware stores,” says Greg Wessling, chairman and CEO of Charlotte, NC-based HouseRaising, a third-party manager for custom home builders. “That’s unintelligent.” At the end of each workday, put everything in a secure location, such as a locking toolbox on a truck, a room with a deadbolt, or a storage shed with a padlock. And spend the money on a good lock, Wessling says.

3. Practice just-in-time delivery. The National Association of Home Builders Research Center recommends that you plan out your material deliveries carefully, with the materials delivered in the proper sequence (don’t have the windows delivered before the walls are up, for instance) and only take delivery of what you can install in one day. Additionally, some contractors never take delivery of materials on a Friday — and with good reason. The Tempe, AZ, police department reports that 90 percent of all job site equipment thefts occur between 6 p.m. Friday and 6 a.m. Monday, followed by holidays and weeknights. You don’t want stacks of valuable materials sitting around in boxes or on pallets. If you must take delivery early (to take advantage of a sale, for instance), lock materials up until you’re ready to install them.

4. Set a watch. Enlist the eyes and ears of your neighbors to keep an eye on the job site when you can’t be there. Let them know you’re working on a remodeling project. Give them your phone number. Tell them if they see anything suspicious, like a van that rolls up while all the lights at your house are off, they should call you immediately. When the job is finished, give them a small token of appreciation.

5. Mark and photograph your equipment and record the serial numbers. If you do have a theft, this is going to provide critical information for both a police report and an insurance claim. Etch your tools in two places — one obvious and one hidden — with your driver’s license number; it’s a number that’s tracked in all 50 states. (Don’t use your Social Security number; that would be as valuable to a thief as your property.) The serial number can be a tremendous help to police officers who often have searchable databases of the serial numbers of items taken to pawn shops.

Durwin Sauer, owner of Cutting Edge Carpentry in Des Moines, IA, adopted nearly all of these practices after thieves cleaned out his tools and equipment in two separate burglaries in the summer of 2007. He now uses job site lock boxes to secure his tools and a locked job site trailer with a hitch lock to store larger equipment, such as air compressors and ladders. He also makes sure the house is locked at the end of each day, keeps the keys in lock boxes, and changes the location of the keys “pretty frequently,” he says. Plus, he organizes his tools and materials by the phase of construction and has a list of the serial numbers of all his tools. He also lets neighbors know he’s working on a house and asks them to keep an eye on things when he’s not there. “I can’t believe how bold these guys are,” he says. “It blows my mind.”

The painful truth is that no job site is completely safe from a thief who is determined to take what doesn’t belong to him. But most thieves don’t want to work very hard. If you take the time and effort to make it tougher for them, they’ll look somewhere else.


Loft Living

Once strictly industrial spaces converted to housing in major urban areas, lofts are changing. They’re showing up in smaller cities, in new construction—and some of them even come with walls.

Photo: flickr.com

Who wants to live in one, big room? You might be surprised. The market for loft apartments remains steady and strong, even during real estate downturns. And while they’ve traditionally been located in major cities such as New York, Chicago;, Washington DC, and Atlanta, they’re also showing up in markets outside the nation’s urban cores. One of the newest rental options in York, PA, a city 40 miles outside of Baltimore, is Codo, a 1910 building that has been a grocery warehouse, a roller rink, and an auto parts warehouse over the years and now has two new, decidedly contemporary buildings, thanks to developers.

“The project just works,” says Bill Swartz, co-developer of Codo, which rented 23 of its 35 apartments in four weeks. “It’s a metaphor of what’s happening in York. There are new people coming here and new developers, taking this old town and making it relevant to a whole new generation.”

A Creative History
Loft apartments made their debut in the 1800s in Paris, where they were occupied by artists who saw the potential of old warehouses and other commercial buildings as places where they could live and work cheaply. The large, open spaces and high ceilings made it easy to set up a studio; the large windows let in an abundance of light; and there were no neighbors to bother as the artists worked through the night.

The U.S. “loft movement”—identified as such by its proponents—grew out of SoHo in New York, says John McIlwain, senior fellow for housing at the Urban Land Institute. Today, they’re an integral part of a renewed interest in urban living that’s been underway for several years, according to a recent study by the Environmental Protection Agency. “It’s a great way to reuse old buildings,” McIlwain says.

Changing Definitions
While a true loft is a warehouse or other commercial building that has been converted to residential space, today’s loft options include new construction, featuring the elements that define loft spaces, such as high ceilings, exposed pipes, and ductwork, and wood or concrete floors, says Tom Eubanks, editor-in-chief of Loft Life, a magazine devoted to the loft lifestyle. They also may be what is known as “soft lofts,” which have walls to define separate rooms in the unit.

“Lofts are becoming so popular as a housing choice,” says Kara Reinsel, editor of AOL Real Estate. “They fit in better with the urban way of life. I’ve heard of Baby Boomers who don’t want a big single family house anymore. They don’t want to take care of a yard and want to be able to walk to work.”

That was the case for McIlwain. He and his wife live in a 1,000-square-foot loft that is significantly smaller than their previous homes but feels much larger because of the 14-foot ceilings. At 65, he says they wanted to downsize. “I don’t want to rumble around in a big space,” he says. “It’s worked out well for us. We like the design, the sense of windows. Baby Boomers have matured enough to point where they appreciate the old as well as the new.”

They also like the diverse group of people in their neighborhood, which he describes as a “new, evolving part of Washington, DC. You’ve got young people, young professionals, artists, empty-nesters.”

Continued Popularity
There’s no data on the popularity of loft apartments specifically; they’re not categorized separately from traditional apartments or condominiums. Anecdotally, however, “there’s a whole lot of activity in lofts,” says staff vice president for research at the National Association of Home Builders, Gopal Ahluwalia. “It’s a big trend. Young people like them. I really don’t understand it; it takes more to heat and cool the space, but this is what we are observing.”

Kermit Baker, chief economist for the American Institute of Architects, says the interest is part of a larger trend of people moving back to the urban areas, close to jobs, activities, and a sense of community.

“There’s always a segment of the population that is looking for this,” he says. “There are some longer-term demographics behind this. We’ve got a lot of people entering the market who are 30 and younger; they’re not going to be looking for the big house in the suburbs right away. Their first choice will be rental or a condo, and if they don’t have children, an urban feel would be desirable. I don’t know if it’s a change in housing preferences; it’s just where we are in the business cycle.”

Real estate agent David Kean has lived in a loft in downtown Los Angeles for several years and can’t ever see himself moving. He’s close to all the downtown attractions and has great views and says his neighbors have essentially become his family. “I have so many good friends here,” he says. “It’s like living in Mayberry in a building.”

Pros and Cons of Loft Living
Like any housing option, lofts have their positives and negatives. Here are five of each to consider:

Pros:

  • Wide open spaces. You have infinite choices in how to arrange the space—and you can rearrange to your heart’s content.
  • Unique look. Lofts tend to be very unique, based on the building’s former use. You’ll have a look that no one else has.
  • Great light. Large windows are a hallmark of loft spaces.
  • Room to be bold. Large pieces of furniture and art that would overwhelm most rooms look great in a loft.
  • Convenience. Lofts typically are in downtown areas, close to jobs, services, and public transportation.

Cons:

  • Lack of storage. Many lofts don’t have closets, so you have to create your own.
  • Noise. Sound ricochets off the high ceilings and bare floors.
  • High ceilings. Changing light bulbs can be tricky with a 20-foot ceiling.
  • Energy costs. Heating and cooling can be more expensive than in a traditional apartment.
  • Dicey neighborhoods. Since lofts typically are former industrial spaces, crime may be a problem.

How To: Decorate a Loft

Wide open spaces in lofts offer extensive opportunities—and unique challenges—for expressing your creativity. Designers and loft owners share their tips for space planning, storage, sound, scale, and privacy.

Loft Design

Photo: trendir.com

There’s no question that lofts are unique. But the qualities that make them appealing can also create significant challenges. Here are the most common decorating issues that loft dwellers face with tips from designers and loft owners on how to affordably address them.

Space Planning
Many people are stumped about the lack of walls in a loft. The first step toward making a loft feel like a home instead of a warehouse is to establish the various spaces that are common to all houses, such as a living room, dining area, and bedrooms. Area rugs are the easiest way to achieve this, says Manhattan-based interior designer David Anthony Harris. You’ll want a rug that’s bigger than the seating area to clearly show the boundaries of the space, which “creates a room,” he says. “It’s like a house within a house.”

You can also define spaces with pieces of furniture such as bookcases, credenzas, and buffets with plants or by building simple platforms, says Wanda Colon, a Los Angeles-based interior designer. Other strategies include screens, hanging fabric or beaded panels from the ceiling, or using patterned or alternating hard flooring, such as hardwood floors or tile. “You can create inset patterns such as rectangles or ovals and run the material in different directions for different functional areas,” says Brenda Be, a Boston-based interior designer.

Storage
Lack of closet space is one of the top complaints from loft dwellers—all that big, open space and nowhere to hang up your clothes, stack your linens, or hide your clutter. Take a lesson from our forefathers, whose homes typically lacked closets, and choose furniture with storage, such as buffets, wardrobes, china cabinets, and platform beds. There are inexpensive options as well. Colon suggests building shelves or buying square storage blocks and putting a focal point, such as an old fireplace mantle, in the middle. Fabric skirts can cover shelves or bins beneath a pedestal sink, and colorful fabric or murals can hide a set of shelves on the wall. “It’s amazing how you can create a lot of storage,” she says.

Sound
Long-time New York loft dweller Bob Weinstein says there have been times when people he was talking with on the phone asked if he was traveling. “They thought I was in an airport hangar,” he says. “It’s a little disconcerting.” With high ceilings, no walls, and no carpet, sound bounces around a loft like a Ping-Pong ball. What you need to slow it down and soak it up is fabric in the form of plush rugs, window coverings, upholstered furniture, bedding, and accents such as pillows and fabric wall hangings. If the problem is severe, consider making upholstered panels for the walls or installing sound-control matting (that’s what they use in recording studios) behind canvas art or wall hangings, Be suggests. “It’s not that inexpensive, but it’s well worth it if you own the condo and plan to stay awhile,” she says.

Scale
As in any home, you want the size of your furnishings to match the volume of the space. Gorgeous soaring ceilings in a loft can make a lot of furniture look like it’s from a dollhouse. This is one space in which you don’t have to worry about how big the furniture or artwork is—it’s going to fit right in. Colon tells her clients to embrace the height. She shops at salvage yards for large pieces and once created a seating area with an iron gate. “Because of the height, you can use architectural columns,” she says. “I saw this amazing fountain [once]. The sky really is the limit.”

Harris agrees but cautions that a room full of large pieces needs balance. When people move into a loft, he says, “they think they can put in a gigantic grand piano, and you can, but that doesn’t create an intimate family area. Most people don’t want to live in a museum. You can do that huge sofa or the dining table that is ten feet long, but you also need to put in elements like table lamps and throw pillows.”

Los Angeles loft dweller and real estate broker David Kean points out that big pieces of furniture don’t need to cost a fortune. In fact, they’re often available at substantial discounts because so few people have places big enough to put them. “The only thing is, God help you when you have to move,” he says. “Make sure it will fit in a freight elevator or you can take it apart.”

Privacy
Lofts don’t have public spaces and private spaces like traditional homes. It’s not uncommon to have only a single interior door—the one to the bathroom. “When you’re living in a loft, you have to make the decision that every morning, you’re going to make your bed,” Colon says. “You can’t just shut the door. It’s an open space. You have to plan for that.”

A great way to create private spaces in a loft, Be says, is to create the effect of alcoves, “so people can be both together in the same space and yet individual and participate in their own activities,” she says. This can be done with furniture, knee walls that are about 40 inches tall, or higher divider walls that come out just a few feet into the space.

Other options include using folding screens or screens or curtains that hang from the ceiling or slide on tracks. “Interesting screens can be made from unconventional materials such as architectural salvage doors,” Be says, “or frames covered in metal, such as copper or galvanized steel. Or you can simply use fabric or Japanese Washi paper.”

The range of options for materials and styles is one of the great things about loft living, Harris says. “You could have a plastic louvered wall that lets light through but gives you more privacy. You’re not held to traditional decorating ideas.”

Do’s and Don’ts of Loft Decorating
Do:

  • Incorporate the height. Use large pieces of furniture, artwork groupings, or murals for dramatic impact.
  • Create private spaces where you can feel cozy, despite the open floor plan.
  • Embrace the original materials of the space, such as brick walls, concrete floors, and exposed ductwork.
  • Remember that no walls means no outlets to plug in lamps. For new construction or remodeling, install floor outlets. In rentals, invest in flat cord covers.

Don’t:

  • Install wall-to-wall carpet. It doesn’t fit with the character of a loft.
  • Cover up the windows with heavy drapes. Fabulous natural light is one of the hallmarks of loft spaces. Take advantage of it.
  • Give in to clutter. Just because lofts are short on closets doesn’t mean you should just stack things in piles.
  • Think you have to limit your decor to modern or industrial styles. Lofts are a blank canvas ideal for expressing your unique style.