Japanese architect Tadao Ando believes design has the power to change us: “to change the dwelling is to change the city and to reform society”. Our living spaces inspire the way we live our lives.
Being just a little smitten with the Manhattan loft, I’m always looking for ways to justify my move to an uber-chic converted cheese warehouse with polished concrete floors. A quick scan through my fave fictional loft-dwellers reveals that living it loft-style means existing outside the rules. This applies to style as much as philosophy. From Holly Golightly to Don Draper, Carrie Bradshaw and the Beat poets, it’s all about unbridled* self-expression. Bold design invites bold living.
*Disclaimer: budget may bridle you slightly.
My love affair with the Manhattan loft began whilst reading Lanford Wilson’s Burn This at drama school. The play is set in downtown New York. In the wake of a friend’s death, dancer-choreographer Anna falls into the arms of Pale, a volatile restaurateur with a penchant for the white powder. Joan Allen played opposite a rakish young John Malkovich in its debut production.
It’s hard to know what I coveted most: Allen’s frail beauty, her fiery affair with Malkovich, or the oversized loft apartment in lower Manhattan where all the reckless action takes place. It’s a converted cast-iron warehouse complete with factory windows, exposed pipes and a huge sloping skylight. There’s a sprawling lounge, open kitchen, dining nook, and, wait for it, an exercise barre down one mirrored wall (I could finally learn pointe!).
To die for.
The play’s stark emotional honesty is driven forward on an undercurrent of lust. At its climax the lovers are drawn toward each other almost against their wills. “This isn’t opera, this is life,” Wilson writes. “Why should love always be tragic?” Yes!!!! Bold design = bold living.
Admittedly not all of us have the luxury of space – it’s so often connected to many $$$. Carrie Bradshaw’s chic one-bed/one-bath brownstone apartment on the Upper East Side is estimated at a mere US$2400 per month, making her single weekly column one sweet job.
However you can inject a loft-inspired vibe into your interiors with statement pieces and décor accents. Clean lines and open frames imbue a spacious aesthetic. From gritty urban to rustic country house, retro-inspired man cave and more, the interpretation is yours.
In Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Holly Golightly’s apartment leans toward Parisian flea-market glam. Capote’s Holly Golightly is the Carrie Bradshaw of the 1940s. Holly is will incarnate. She’d be an argument for self-definition if she didn’t leave you with such a feeling of tristesse.
While her personal style is flawless, her decor is dependent on thrift shop finds and the charity of others. Holly has no job. She lives off the gifts and good will of her gentleman callers.
In the flush of newly minted love, she restyles her quirky suitcase-furnished apartment. Channeling neo-classic design dressed up with eclectic gems, I see statement sofas, maybe even a chaise longue, and easy chairs with an emphasis on comfort. This is loft-style living infused with femininity, bright pops of colour and decadent prints. The emphasis is on accents.
At the other end of the spectrum are the Beat Poets. These boys clutching their opium pipes were veritable starving artists bunking down in their man caves. On my first trip to New York I trawled the streets of Greenwich Village, searching out the brownstone walk-ups where Ginsberg, Kerouac and Burroughs penned their pages: those “angelheaded hipsters… who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz”. (Allen Ginsberg)
When I picture their apartments I see upcycled furniture, a touch of steampunk, raw artisanal flair, and a fusion of distressed metal and reclaimed timber. Distressed metal coffee tables and dining tables with piped legs, and reclaimed boat timber furniture. Delicious.
In conclusion I leave you with one more literary reference that has nothing to do with lofts (I did warn you about the rules) but everything to do with living life to the full. When Reverend Arthur Beebe hears Lucy’s impassioned performance at the piano in A Room with a View he says, “If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays, it will be very exciting both for us and for her.” Live large. Decorate fearlessly.