Brooklyn Design Challenge: The Loft

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Curves and color in a Coleman design.

A few months ago we started the Brooklyn Design Challenge series, wherein we ask local designers to give us tips on how to make the most of the different types of apartments most commonly found in Brooklyn. First we tackled the railroad apartment, walkthrough rooms, lack of closets and all. Today, we bring you advice on how to improve your loft-style living.

The loft apartment, that symbol of the urban bohemian, conjures up images of artists taking over industrial spaces and carving homes out old factories using found materials. In truth, lofts are just studio apartments with more space. While some may have rooms or lofted sleeping areas built out, many lofts are just one large space with a separate bathroom, and closets–if you’re lucky.

Breaking up the space into distinct areas, finding enough storage, clutter avoidance (which goes hand in hand with storage solutions) and privacy, particularly when it comes to the sleeping area, are the major design challenges lofts present. We spoke with interior designers Christopher Coleman of Christopher Coleman Interior Design and to John Loecke of John Loecke Interior design for inspiration.

Breaking up the space: The large amount of space is often what attracts people to lofts, but it can also feel overwhelming, unstructured and messy. Christopher Coleman is a fan of using tracking, which can be suspended from or mounted directly to the ceiling (many lofts have exposed pipes or uneven ceilings making suspension a better choice), to hold fabric, plastic panels, or practically any aesthetically-pleasing material, to form partitions. Tracking, including ripplefold tracking, which allows the partitions to curve, can be purchased at upholstery and drapery stores around the city. On a budget, he suggests creating hanging panels using canvas stretchers from the art supply store. “You can use canvas or go to the garment district and buy fabric that you love and then make the panels double-sided with a staple gun,” he says.

Investment: Another way to divide the space is to use furniture–armoires, entertainment units, bookshelves, couches. In more traditional spaces furniture, with the exception of dining tables, is generally placed against a wall. In a loft, you’ll likely want to float some pieces–placing them on their own so they can be seen from all sides.

An uncluttered space by Loecke.

Loecke suggests spending your money an item that defines a room. “A really good sectional helps anchor the  space and creates a visual boundary,” he says. “In a loft, you generally have a lot of space and a sectional couch will visually fill that up.” On a similar note, he suggests defining the bedroom area with a large, bold headboard. On the more expensive side of the spectrum he likes Mitchell Gold‘s room defining pieces. On the budget end, Loecke is an Ikea advocate. “If the pieces are properly assembled, they’re not as throwaway as everyone thinks,” he says.

Adding color: Many loft spaces were in fact, once factories and many have unfinished elements like exposed brick walls, concrete floors or drop ceilings. Because there are fewer walls, there are fewer opportunities to add color with paint–one of the most surefire inexpensive ways to transform a space. Coleman suggests using large round rugs to bring pops of color to a space and to create an interesting visual dynamic. “I just get bored to death with square rugs,” he says. “I love to float furniture on a round rug, I think it makes the eye spin around much more than a rectangular rug in a rectangular room.”

If you have a wall that makes sense to paint, Coleman recommends a bold color for a feature wall. “It’s less expensive if you don’t have money for art,” he says. He also likes to use paint–or colored duct tape–to make outlines on the floor, delineating “rooms” and adding interest. “Duct tape comes in all these colors–I’ve used the orange quite a bit,” he says.

Low cost tips: Ikea and the Container Store both have great storage solutions on a budget. Using tracking, or suspending metal rods from the ceiling, you can divide your space with almost any material at low cost, then upgrade or switch it out when you get bored–or a raise.

Special challenge: Clutter. In large open spaces with few closets your stuff tends to drift and gather into piles. Loecke recommends taking a long hard look at your belongings and figuring out what you need storage help with, whether it’s clothing, books or craft supplies. Using your armoire or bookshelves to makes boundaries solves two problems at once by providing storage and dividing your space. If you have a lot of stuff to declutter, go big. “If you build a whole wall of shelves it comes a design element,” says Loecke. “It’s not like clutter spread throughout your home.”

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