Shells that suit

The lofty heights of nationwide urban living
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The Independent Online
When is a loft truly a loft? Not when it's advertised as the top floor of a Victorian country house - but that just goes to show the selling power of the word. Many places bear little resemblance to the origins of apartments converted from disused industrial buildings in New York.

When is a loft truly a loft? Not when it's advertised as the top floor of a Victorian country house ­ but that just goes to show the selling power of the word. Many places bear little resemblance to the origins of apartments converted from disused industrial buildings in New York.

But in the years since the loft idea was established in UK property terminology, the concept has changed and has as much to do with lifestyle and use of space as it does with the raw materials of brick and iron girders. Raw brick, a hallmark of warehouse conversions but not the best anti-noise insulation, has given ground to high-quality finish.

Harry Handelsman, whose Manhattan Loft Corporation brought this US style of urban living to London and the then un-chic Clerkenwell, welcomes its evolution. "We are giving people the space they need but in new-build," he says.

Initially, the majority buying "shell" spaces came from the design, fashion and art worlds ­ people confident of meeting the challenge of a blank sheet. It was apparent that many more aspired to the effect, but without having to organise it themselves. A finished product has become more usual and, since lofts do not lend themselves to showhouse clutter, the focus is on the quality of fittings.

In Battersea, south London, Triangle Development has turned three Victorian buildings into 43 one- two- and three-bedroom galleried loft apartments, some with terraces. Paul Brookes, architect of the scheme named "Full Height", says that too many loft schemes have mezzanines with no headroom. "We wanted to keep the characteristic feel of the building while bringing in as much light as possible. We replaced the windows, lowered the sills and floors and raised the ceilings. Each flat is different with some wonderful variations in style. "

With mezzanines taking up about 50 per cent of the lower-floor area, the double-height, double-volume living space is a more generous measurement than a square foot calculation would suggest. The apartments are fitted out to a high specification, some with a study area. Prices start from £299,500.

Yet another Victorian school in the same area has been converted by Thirlstone Homes into 29 galleried loft apartments and two live-work units. Described as lofts with latitude, the development is called Lofthaus after the Bauhaus movement which aimed to produce modern buildings with bright, open-plan living spaces in a minimalist style. They are all fully fitted and range from £295,000 to £625,000.

For loft-style purists who want to do everything their own way, the Old Paper Bag Factory near Clapham, south London, offers eight loft houses in shell form. Parts of the original buildings have been demolished, providing an internal courtyard overlooked by the properties arranged over three floors. Their loft status is implied by the steel girders, exposed brick and emphasis on light and space. Prices range from £385,000 to £440,000.

In Birmingham, Persimmon City Developments will launch two "New York-style" show apartments next month. NewHampton Lofts is a 110-apartment development in the old Lucas factory.

Full Height: Foxtons (020-7973 2000); Lofthaus: Thirlstone Homes (01932 350900); The Old Paper Bag Factory: Wellingtons (020-7924 4400)

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