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Loft style adapts to smaller homes

December 06, 2008

By CHRISTINE BRUN

Creators Syndicate

Most city dwellers are familiar with the concept of loft living, a style in which one's home is a wide-open space. Today, remodel plans for small older homes can benefit hugely by adopting loft style.

Based on few or no divisions of space, loft living defies the traditional boxed-in aesthetic of the 1960s and '70s. Generally, lofts separate out only the bathrooms - for obvious reasons.

Single-space floor plans work well in older industrial-style buildings because the floors above and below are supported by huge beams or consistent pier supports, eliminating the need for load-bearing walls.

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Consequently, the first thing anyone wanting to adopt loft style for his or her home should do is consult a structural engineer. This professional can tell you what changes, if any, will be necessary should you want to eliminate interior walls from your home.

Do not fear the cost involved: Engineers charge by the hour much like architects do. You can expect to be charged $75 to $150 per hour for the consultation. Most engineers who accept smaller projects will give you an estimate for the hours involved to prepare the required drawings.

It is important to do your remodel by the book. Safety requires maintaining the structural integrity of you home when removing of walls. Secondly, if you ever wish to sell your home, you will benefit from having proof that your remodel complied with all building codes and structural standards.

Nowhere is loft style seen more than in modern kitchens. Today's homes tend to feature a single open space that includes kitchen, dining and living rooms into what is often called a "great room."

The example in the photo demonstrates the appeal of sleek lower cabinets that run the length of a wall in a loft-style great room. What is lost by removing traditional upper cabinets is recouped in a longer run of low, easy-to-reach storage.

Imagine this living room if the wall between it and the kitchen were solid: The kitchen would be unbearably dark, and the living space would be cramped.

European manufacturers have long presented kitchen and bath cabinets in styles that more resemble furniture pieces. IKEA sells moderately price European-style cabinetry, and offers professional kitchen and bathroom planning assistance.

For similar ideas, look at manufacturers such as Scavolini, Poliform, Snaidero and ALNO, which is represented in the photo by a new introduction called ALNOSTAR. This collection features a continuous case channel in the same finish color as the door fronts - allowing for a seamless-furniture look thanks to the absence of door handles.

European-style cabinets are easily identified in a showroom as those without face frames or wasted inches below the counter surface. They generally feature warmer finishes to choose from, such as wood veneers in beech, teak, rosewood or alder.

Often, an objection to the minimalist look depicted here is that it is too modern and sterile. This can be overcome if one plans carefully.

The space in the photo is warmed by the simple addition of an area rug. Imagine that the lounge chair and ottoman were instead a wingback chair and ottoman. A very delicious combination often results when traditional furniture is paired with more minimalist structure.

Given our current economic situation, many homeowners are postponing plans to move up into a bigger or more expensive home. Instead, many are planning, researching and dreaming about ways to make more out of what they already have.

Some or your neighbors might have already done the research necessary for the kind of structural change you desire. Neighbors are generally happy and proud to show off their successful remodel.

Take your consultant to your neighbor's home and save valuable hours of design time. If you have the same model home as your neighbor, it is a good bet that your home is constructed in the same way.

Christine Brun, ASID, is a San Diego-based interior designer and the author of "Big Ideas for Small Spaces." Send questions and comments to her by e-mail at christinebrun@sbcglobal.net.

Copyright 2008 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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