It was the 1960s in Soho, New York. On pieces of industrial wasteland, groups of artists moved into the idle factories and warehouses, and turned them into studios. With limited budgets, they simply retained what was there before, while still instilling a bit of their artsy touch. And this is how the urban loft style originated.
"A New York-style loft usually comes a bit raw and with an open plan," says Jason Yung, an award-winning interior designer and the co-founder of Jason Caroline Design. "Besides a high ceiling, there are also abundant exposed structures like beams and pipes because there wasn't much touch-up. The idea is to use whatever is there. Also, you won't see too many partitions. Instead, furniture is used to divide the wide space."
In modern-day context, according to Yung, a loft simply refers to any "diaphanous and flexible space that alludes to an industrial aesthetic". Steel, alongside other industrial materials like iron and metal mesh, have a strong presence in most loft designs to maintain traces of the past. Exposed brickwork and structures persist, and the retro-rustic feeling is enhanced by the use of natural oak and raw concrete. Adding to that, heavy-duty rough finishes and 1930s- to '60s-era furniture will work best to complete the look.
Despite its industrial ties, loft style is by no means dull or boring, so it is highly sought-after. "The whole idea of a loft is to provide a shell to display your collection - it is free and is perfect to show off your character," Yung says. "So there isn't a particular way to do this. The only thing is, don't treat loft-style design as if it is minimalist - it is the exact opposite of it. Loft design is very eclectic and requires lots of attention on detail design, because you want to expose all details at every corner."
The only big "no", according to Yung, goes to using fake materials such as brick-like tile instead of real brick. "Be bold and be rough, and don't do 70 per cent of that style and hesitate [with] the rest."
Taking a look at the scene in Hong Kong, Swedish interior designer Helen Lindman's recent takes on two old walk-up buildings at Upper Station Street and 55 Tung Street have drawn attention with their loft-inspired designs - airy layouts and big cast-iron windows which let in plenty of sunlight.
"A loft design, as what I envision, is a personal style thing," she says, adding that this vision goes on to affect all facets of the design. "Speaking of the perfect colour palette, if you opt for the classic lofty feeling, grey, black and white would be good. But still you can make a fantastic loft by just keeping a few colours but playing with shades."
Simple colour combinations also work some design magic to create a spacious feel. Indeed, space may be the greatest concern for Asian homeowners considering a New York-style design. However, Lindman thinks a loft-like feel can still be achieved in small abodes.
"The golden rule to get that feel is not to overfurnish it. I will take time to find that right piece of furniture which everyone needs, like a bed or a sofa, and make it a feature. Also, a big piece of art can make the apartment personal." She also recommends homeowners add dimmer switches to boost variability, and find good storage options such as a storage loft bed and multipurpose bookshelves.
Overseeing the trends in Asia, Yung admits that loft style has been a long-time favourite, but never an easy-to-follow trend. "For families with children, they may be uncertain with the raw style, because in reality there will be sharp edges, rough surfaces and exposed structures that are difficult to clean.
"But in recent years, more people are having their second home as weekend houses. Those will make better loft spaces with the greater flexibility permitted.
"In order to make a good loft, a true spirit must be there within the house."
Trained as an architect in the United States, Yung teamed up with Caroline Ma to form Jason Caroline Design in 2001. This award-winning duo devote their efforts to diminutive projects, hoping to challenge the boundaries of defined interior spaces.
Lindman is a Swedish lawyer who moved to Hong Kong 10 years ago. As her interest in interior design took over, she began to purchase and renovate old buildings for resale, with designs integrating Scandinavian minimalism and Asian influence.