Adventures in space

A photographer took a loft and let it evolve. Adam Jacques has a look at the most authentic example of über-urban living in London
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The Independent Online

When it comes to loft living, size matters. But original loft-size spaces not only cost money these days, they also very rarely come on the market. Rocketing property prices have left little room for the original Manhattan vision of space and style, with even classic examples succumbing to commercial pressures and being ruthlessly carved up to create smaller apartments.

When it comes to loft living, size matters. But original loft-size spaces not only cost money these days, they also very rarely come on the market. Rocketing property prices have left little room for the original Manhattan vision of space and style, with even classic examples succumbing to commercial pressures and being ruthlessly carved up to create smaller apartments.

The real McCoys, then, are rarer than gold dust, which is why this astonishing apartment, in one of the definitive London loft developments of the past decade, is such a find. It's truly vast, with 80ft of exposed brickwork and original polished-timber flooring forming the open-plan living space, leaving even multi-seater sofas floating in a sea of glorious emptiness. The kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and rooftop spaces ooze individuality and flair.

Developed six years ago by Urban Edge and The Manhattan Loft Corporation, The Factory on London's Shoreditch and Clerkenwell borders was originally an industrial storage complex of nine redbrick buildings, which cast an imposing presence over the Old Street skyline. Architects Bushow Henley were brought in to integrate the separate blocks, creating central walkways to link the 50 or so newly created apartments around an inner courtyard. But the apartments themselves remained shells, providing a blank canvas for owners to stamp their individual style upon the unrefined interiors.

The present owner of Apartment 18, a photographer, bought it as an empty shell four years ago from a vendor who had found the prospect of doing up more than 3,000sq ft of space too daunting a task. "Initially, my only plan was to develop a space where I could shoot and live; the rest evolved," he says. Armed with a simple vision - and an eye for dimensions - he project-managed the apartment's refurbishment. And it wasn't a simple task, requiring part of the street to be closed off while hired cranes brought in heavy materials via the roof.

"We wanted the kitchen to be in the centre of the living space, as we do a lot of entertaining," the owner says. The idea for the stunning Brazilian-marble worktops (one suspended by steel joists, another placed directly underneath a hanging, marble-clad beam) came straight from a magazine and was copied by a gifted local builder. But the glass bricks sealing off one end of the kitchen space were the owner's idea. They ensure that visitors arriving at the penthouse apartment from the glass lifts have a clear view of that sweeping main living space as they enter.

Five huge, steel-framed windows ensure the living space is light-filled, and insightful touches elevate the space into something a bit special. Uplighting was inserted into the floor, balancing the brick, timber and plasterboard interior and infusing the brickwork with warmth. Dimmer spotlighting was also installed, so at night the massive space can be broken down into different zones, making more intimate areas. The room's curved corners give the space a more natural feel, while improving the acoustics (the apartment is, of course, fully wired for sound).

The main bedroom (tucked discreetly into one corner behind a curved plaster partition) is in a darker boudoir style with theatrical touches such as the custom-made velvet blinds and bordelloesque lighting. Adjacent is its own bathing space - a Chinese-slate wet-room.

Two sets of stairs lead to the roof area, where the owner has carried out impressive changes. Other top-floor residences in the complex have either left the space empty, or used it simply as a landscaped garden. In Apartment 18, the owner had bigger ideas, and built two rooftop rooms, one at each end of the roof, bringing in Urban Jungles to landscape the space between. The office room at one end originally served as the main bedroom, but its oversize skylight (now covered by a magnificent white sail) encouraged the owners to relocate downstairs. Privacy has been carefully taken care of with the teak-clad rooftop surrounded by fully grown bamboo plants, eucalyptus and silver birch set in galvanised-steel troughs which allow long soaks in the resplendent rooftop bathroom (decked out in Chinese slate and with a stunning Boffi bath) away from prying eyes.

Both upstairs rooms are open to the connecting stairs from the living space beneath, making the whole apartment very much open-plan living. But the owner says this is not a problem. "If you're a couple, it's actually very liberating," he says. Clearly the apartment in its present configuration would not suit family living, though Steve Chesterfield of selling agents Stirling Ackroyd points out that the space is extremely versatile.

"The current set-up needn't stay the same," Chesterfield says. The rooftop rooms could be joined to form further separate rooms on a second floor with enough floor space to house a family of six. Downstairs, all the areas off the main living space are constructed from moveable plasterboard, allowing for an easy total rejig.

The economic pressure to do this, and more, is certainly there - properties in the complex, which has underground parking, have virtually trebled in value since the original development. "It would be the easiest thing to put a wall down the centre and split it into two (or even three) apartments," the owner points out. "But that would ruin it - it's all about open living."

His uncompromising attitude has brought lesser financial rewards. True loft spaces are few and far between so, like many of the apartments in The Factory, the apartment's huge open space and great lighting has landed it in countless photo shoots. With regulars such as GQ magazine and M&S alongside Budweiser ads and even a Big Brotheresque show, the owner admits the earning potential is significant (and proportionate to your willingness to have strangers tramping in and out all day long).

Apartment 18 in The Factory, Nile Street, London N1 is for sale for £1.65m via Stirling Ackroyd (020-7749 3838)

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