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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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
- 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.
- 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.