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Ask A Realtor: Hard Lofts vs. Soft Lofts

A hard loft restoration project by designer Allison Petty.

In this week’s edition of “Ask A Realtor”, we address a commonly asked question regarding the differences between hard lofts + soft lofts. 

‘Hard’ lofts vs. ‘soft’ lofts. This is a hot topic in our sizzling Toronto real estate market, and it addresses a very trendy manner of living.

Originally popular for their versatility and affordability amongst artistic and bohemian circles, the term loft pretty much describes a large open concept living space with high ceilings and large windows.

Hard Loft - Djordie Stevanovic
A hard loft restoration design by Djordie Stevanovic.

With a ‘hard’ loft, you’re looking at a building that’s been converted from an industrial or commercial space. Think hundred-year-old factories and manufacturing warehouses, like the Printing Factory in Leslieville, which was constructed in 1912. Or the Toy Factory in Liberty Village, built by Irwin Toys in the early 1900s. In my opinion, ‘hard’ lofts are the real deal as far this dialogue goes. Not only do you get character, but heritage and history too, with an aesthetic that traditionally showcases everything from exposed brick walls to massive (and marvelous) windows to brilliant timber beams to uncovered electrical, plumbing, and ductwork.

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A soft loft Penthouse in Tribeca, New York City. By Rogers Marvel Architects.

In the case of a ‘soft’ loft, the buildings are new, purposely constructed for housing, and although they tend to mimic the ‘hard’ loft appearance, they are just that: softer. For example, in a ‘soft’ loft, you’ll typically observe that standard drywall encases pipes and ducts, as well as hardwood or broadloom floors replacing concrete, and so forth. While big windows and an open concept layout are still paramount, ‘soft’ loft units are distinctly built in a more traditional condo style. Not just via the material they utilize either, but their facilities too.

‘Hard’ lofts don’t offer much in the way of amenities, whereas ‘soft’ ones are being designed with all the features of a regular condo, including a gym, pool, common area, etc.

It may sound like standard salesman talk, but I truly don’t think you can go too wrong with either. It’s simply a matter of your own tastes. That isn’t to say though that I don’t think ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ loft living come without their share of drawbacks. One recurring issue I often find with ‘hard’ loft units is that balconies are a rarity. After all, these are industrial conversions where a patio or balustrade would have had no function in their original use, plus been too expensive to add during the transformation so the space is typically enclosed. ‘Hard’ lofts also aren’t the most energy efficient buildings due to their age.

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A hard loft conversion design by SHED Architecture & Design.

On the flip side, ‘soft’ lofts are easy to build and are often branded as “LOFT LIVING!!!”. They’ve become ubiquitous and, in many respects, a sales tactic – just slap some concrete on the ceiling and put in a beam, and boom; you’ve got something you can call a loft and sell at a premium. Plus, ‘soft’ lofts have become so common that you’re finding more and more articles like these that have to explain the difference between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ ones in the first place.

But these are minor quibbles and, again, it comes down to your own taste. My opinion however is that ‘hard’ lofts are the way to go. Besides the authenticity, you’ve got real estate that is only going to continue to appreciate in value. As more and more big glass boxes in the sky—not to mention omnipresent ‘soft’ lofts—are put up in this city, demand will keep on growing for something unique and genuine. ‘Hard’ lofts offer heritage and character that cannot be duplicated.

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A new construction “soft loft” Penthouse located in Kiev.