It evokes that big-city feel, that sophisticated, slightly bohemian, artsy vibe. Lofts are springing up everywhere in the city as old buildings get rehabbed. Younger people, eschewing the starter homes of the past, are moving into established neighborhoods alongside older folks who've decided to downsize from a big home that they don't need anymore.
Jeremy Connell, owner of the Manchester Pie Factory, says there's one important thing you have to consider before moving into a loft: storage.
"You're not going to have the attic space, your garage, a little outbuilding in the backyard," he says. "In the loft environment, you need to pare down and be more attentive to things. … Make sure the items you have are the items you want."
"When I moved," says designer Wendy Umanoff, of Wendy Umanoff Designs, "I took very little with me.
I wanted to keep it very minimal." What you lose in storage, however, you gain in space. "I just wanted a space where I could move," she says.
Connell has 2,400 square feet of open space in his nearly 3,000-square-foot loft — the largest in his building. It includes a living area, a dining area, a kitchen and a game room. He erected walls to create a large master suite and guest suite in the remaining 1,400 square feet. Along with all that open space, lofts also provide a lot of flexibility in how you live. "You can rearrange the way the whole house operates," says Connell.
Flexibility was essential for Umanoff.
"I saw many tiny places with too many walls. I wanted a raw space I could do anything with." When she moved in, her loft was drywall, brick and windows. With that has come a kind of freedom that a house and its floor plan couldn't provide.
However, just because a space is open, it doesn't mean it's a vast jumble of furniture.
Suellen Gregory, of Suellen Gregory Interior Design, thinks color is a good way to define space in an open setting. "I think an intense wall color works. It could be a neutral brown tone or a gray," says Gregory. "Paint is an inexpensive, effective option, and it automatically creates interest — and a backdrop."
"There's lots of different ways to create walls or to simulate walls — screens, bookshelves, old doors or windows," Umanoff says. Rugs are another way to transition from one area to another and to combat any feelings of emptiness that high ceilings and a wide expanse might engender.
"I think carpets go a long way to warming up and making a space filled up," says Gregory. "Odd sizes and mismatched shapes work [well] in a big space. Colors and patterns can play off one another … big spaces can handle pattern, and that's a good thing."
There are plenty of other advantages to a loft as well. You may not have a backyard, but in Richmond, you frequently have the river practically outside your building's front door. "You don't have outdoor maintenance," says Connell. One complaint against the planned communities of the suburbs is that because there are no sidewalks, residents are forced to drive everywhere they go. "You can walk [places]. You're closer to shopping, restaurants, the river, outdoor festivals, downtown activities."
It also can be less pricey than other residential real estate — both the purchase price (sometimes) and the upkeep (most of the time). Many spaces in the city are rentals. "Loft-living is definitely less expensive," says Gregory. "And by saving the money on living expenses, [you] can afford to accumulate things that will stay with you whether you move from loft to loft or move to a more conventional space."
Add an abundance of hardwood flooring and unusual industrial pieces like enormous steel beams or turn-of-the-century fasteners, and you can turn what was once a commercial space into a quirky home.
To Connell, the creation of residential space in Richmond's old factory and warehouse buildings is crucial to the city. "I'm a preservationist at heart and a real estate professional. … It is critically important that the tangible aspect [of old buildings] continues for historic Richmond." One way to do that is to reconfigure their original function and move people into them.
And who can argue with enormous windows and breathtaking views? "I love looking out my windows and seeing the city of Richmond," Connell says.
Umanoff agrees. "There really is no drawback. You only need to get more creative with designing your space."