Lofts originated in Paris in the mid 19th century as artists’ ateliers. The oversized paintings of the time required expansive high-ceilinged studios — the first lofts.
Loft space originally came to the United States in the early 20th century as storage warehouse lofts near shipping ports in New York and Boston.
As early as the 1940s, some of New York’s abandoned loft spaces in SoHo (South of Houston Street) were being populated by starving artists.
By the 1970s, SoHo had full-floor loft spaces that were being renovated and transformed from commercial to residential properties. Since this was technically a commercial zone, 92 percent of these residences were illegal. However, the sheer number of new residents forced the city to rezone the area and allow the buildings to be converted to apartments.
This trend spread from New York’s SoHo to other urban areas around the country over the next 20 years.
In 1980, environmental psychologist Susan Seagart queried over 2,500 workers in 53 companies and institutions in Denver. Her results revealed that there was a strong market for downtown housing among single women and men, single mothers, and unmarried couples living together.
Most major cities across the U.S. began undergoing urban revitalization in the early 1980s, with new housing being built in downtown areas and classically charming buildings being renovated. This has been aided by favorable tax treatments, zoning amendments, and public investment in large-scale projects for downtown areas.
Loft residences have popped up around the country in converted office buildings (Philadelphia, New York, Boston), warehouse lofts, factories, and stores (Atlanta, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, and Cleveland), reclaimed waterfronts (New York, Milwaukee, Cincinnati), historic areas (Charlotte, Lexington, and Chattanooga), “found” land (Des Moines, New York), and new mixed-use construction (Chicago).
The cities with the largest percentage of downtown growth in the 1990s were Miami, Boston, Atlanta, Chattanooga, San Francisco, Chicago, and Seattle.
Shows like Seinfeld, Friends, and Sex and the City have glorified urban living for 20- to 30-year-olds.