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how to: live with urban grit

During the the Industrial Revolution of the late 1800s early 1900s, many of the country’s biggest cities —such as New York, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh—experienced wild and rapid growth. Inherent in these environments is a mix of industry—not to mention the grit of industrial production—heavy, yet detailed older architecture, and small housing units for factory workers and their extended families.

As large factory and warehouse structures became ripe for renovations—with high ceilings, extra-large windows, exposed brick walls, shop-worn wood floors—many of these architectural and textural elements remained key to urban living and defined ‘lofts’. And the horsepower-gauged factory tools that easily did heavy lifting, or hand tools invented by necessity, were basic, raw, and highly functional—like pulleys, casters and rails.

As we return to these urban environments, one or more of these architectural or industrial elements can build a bridge between the past and the present while creating livable, unique, modern spaces.

1. Start with the architectural space—the bones—and highlight its details. For example, a rough brick wall can be a work of art in itself so shed some CFL or exposed filament bulbs on it.

2. Enhance existing spaces with industrial elements—such as room dividers or cabinet doors on rails.

3. Take privacy issues into consideration, then let in natural light by keeping windows free of window treatments. At the very least use sheer, ceiling-to-floor textiles for maximum effect.

4. Lighting is where form and function collide to help deliver massive amounts of attitude. A statement piece means selecting a fixture that speaks to you while it says a lot about the look your working to create—then giving it a staged setting to receive all the attention it deserves.

5. Loft living was born out of low-rent necessity for many up-and-coming artists. So if exposed brick walls aren’t available, stretch artistic muscles by creating textured walls with layers of plaster or paint.

6. Flooring is a major project but the pay off is a major benefit—and there are many options shown here from raw concrete or plywood to reclaimed woods or tiles—but cleaning up or roughing up what’s already in place is usually the least expensive option.

7. Acknowledge and celebrate the diversity of urban environments by mixing elements found globally.

8. Introducing even the smallest touches of metal—such as mesh metal storage, or as large as a riveted moveable wall—can create references to sparks flying in a metals workshop.

9. Balance rough hewn textures—whether metal, wood or concrete—with softer textures like linen bedding and wool rugs.

10. Large warehouse lofts, which were not originally intended for everyday living, require creative floor planning and multi-purpose furniture pieces—they help compensate for the lack of walls which create specific rooms and offer storage solutions. So furniture that looks good all around can be placed anywhere, to create the intention of use for an area, and they can be used to store just about anything.

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