Loft living today is a far cry from its origins in the 1960s and ’70s, when scrappy creative types occupied former manufacturing spaces not zoned for residential living, and got by without heat and hot water. The renegade spirit of loft living, of course, introduced a new typology to our contemporary architectural lexicon that has become the benchmark of urban chic. What was adventurous back then has become mainstream, with buildings now designed to specifically mimic lofts. The sheer ubiquity of them has made it challenging for designers to find approaches to these spaces that feel fresh and new.
That was designer Dan Rak’s task when a couple who he had worked with on other projects bought a 3,100-square-foot, three-bedroom apartment in Chicago’s West Loop, a former industrial area that in recent years has become an uber-hip foodie mecca. The loft typology was, of course, completely appropriate to this setting. “It has a lot more of an edge, so they wanted something consistent with the architecture of the neighborhood,” says Rak of his clients – Ted, a 41-year-old dermatologist, and Chelsy, a 32-year-old physician assistant.
Rak’s strategy was, to a great extent, one of working against type. That meant introducing color, luxurious textures and softening elements like yard upon yard of curtains. “Without plenty of texture to make it feel homey,” believes Rak, “it would have felt cold.” This approach gave the spaces a more traditionally residential demeanor without negating industrial details, such as the apartment’s steel windows. Rak also included industrial references of his own (i.e., metal lighting fixtures in the dining and family lounging areas and, in the kitchen, an antiqued bronze hood set into a subway tile wall, as well as zinc countertops).
Rak’s program, however, required some persuasion. “It took me a little while to come around to that much drapery and the boldness of the colors he chose,” admits Ted. Even Chelsy, who likes soft warm tones, was initially reticent about some of Rak’s choices. “Dan’s good at taking us farther than our comfort zone,” she says. “Like all the wallpaper! The patterns were more out there.”
To wit: The “Snowdrops” wallpaper from U.K.-based MissPrint on either side of the living room fireplace, which, Rak explains, “Took an awkward sheetrock wall and treated it like a piece of art.” Ironically, this area in the open plan – made cozy with the wallcovering, bookshelves, comfortable seating of human (rather than oversized) proportions, and traditionally referenced furnishings like a gilt mirror and a vaguely Portuguese colonial desk – turns out to be Chelsy’s favorite spot.
Living, dining and family lounging regions are segregated within the wide-open main room in two ways: anchored on plush Loloi rugs that establish individual, yet interrelated, palettes for each; or by a variation in flooring (herringbone rather than straight planks in the dining space). Textures ramp up a sense of tactility that also warms the urban loft vibe: thick velvet on the curtains paired with linen sheers, family area sofa’s sage green velvet, grasscloth in the entry, kitchen barstools with rope backs, cerused wood on a master bedroom chest.
The opposite of raw and unfinished, one thing is certain: original loft dwellers would not recognize this hybridized evolution. Rak, however, dares them not to like it.
Photography by Ryan McDonald.
For more like this Chicago loft, be sure to check out this boldly reimagined Brooklyn home.
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