Creating the perfect New York style loft: Lessons from The Block

The four couples competing in the first episodes of The Block: Fans v Faves received a great design brief – set up a downtown Manhattan style loft.

With increasing demand for housing and the departure of manufacturers from Australia’s capital cities, warehouse conversions and multi-use spaces are more popular than they’ve ever been. As more residents move into former industrial spaces, we can look to New York’s lofts – and our Blockheads – for inspiration.

Lesson one: Make use of the building’s natural features.

When renovating a former industrial or storage space, capitalise on the features that make them unique.

Both winning Fan couples – Chantelle and Steven, and Kyal and Kara - made use of the graffiti that covered one of their walls. Kyal and Kara built a framing wall around the centre of the art work, while the Chantelle and Steven lit the wall to make it a feature of the room.

Take a look at this loft-style multi-level apartment currently available to rent in Clifton Hill.

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There’s a strong contrast between the wooden and iron cross beams, a healthy dose of exposed brick, and the solid industrial sliding door to the laundry has been painted an eye popping green – transforming it from an anomaly to a feature.

Use the industrial characteristics of the space to your advantage, but don’t try to force it. The judges appreciated Jesse and Kenny’s haphazard wood panelling behind their mounted television, but to us at Property Observer it seemed redundant and gauche. Attempting to shoehorn in “industrial” detailing where it doesn’t belong can seem as unappealing as, say, three burnt orange walls.


Lesson two: Art is everything

The couples competing in the season’s first episode, Kyal and Kara and Jesse and Kenny, both used the vintage posters gifted to them by Scott to great effect. Pascale and Chris, who were eliminated in the second episode, were the only couple to not use the designer piece provided to them. Instead, their standout feature was a lacklustre bedspread.

New York lofts were originally favoured by the city’s artists – with lots of room, few amenities to pay for and low rents, they were the perfect live-in studios before gentrification hit. Part of the enduring appeal of lofts is their association with major New York art movements – use that to your advantage.

While we might not all have a beautiful pre-existing piece of street art in our homes, it’s worth splashing out on a combination of art pieces that you love. The vintage posters used in the first Fan v Faves episode can be found at The Block’s store, while Third Drawer Down has plenty of great design pieces.


Lesson three: More is more

Pascale and Chris, who pushed the “young professional” décor line when decking out their loft, ended up with a space that was more budget Scandinavian minimalism than Manhattan bohemian. Think of all the best lofts of cinema – Julianne Moore’s in The Big Lebowski, or Tom Hanks’s in Big – they’re all unapologetically filled with stuff.

Books, art, or furniture – don’t be afraid to put your favourite items on show. Stay away from sterility (Pascale and Chris’s bar spot lights) and steer towards warmth (Kyal and Kara’s amber pendant lights).

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Lesson four: Play with scale

As Belle magazine editor in chief and The Block judge Neale Whitaker pointed out in both Fan elimination episodes – a loft is all about scale. When faced with a big blank space, be bold – upscale your rugs, your mirrors or your art; playing with proportion will inject liveliness into an open area.

Pascale and Chris’s cowhide rug was good – but wouldn’t it have been better if it were the giant rug rolled out in Billy Crystal’s New York loft in When Harry Met Sally? (Perhaps our preoccupation with décor on film is showing).


Lesson five: Divide the space

With open plan spaces, zoning will make all the difference. Kyal’s “speed wall” allowed the winning couple to break their room into bedroom, dining and living spaces. When there’s little privacy to be had, quick solutions like modesty screens or a row of indoor plants to divide the space can make all the difference.

Without the aid of any dividing walls, Chantelle and Steve also managed to designate zones within their space. A simple designer chair in one corner and their ingenious suspended copper pipe clothes rack communicated that there were three spaces in one – a sleeping area, a living area, and storage.

When space is at a premium, the under-the-bed manoeuvre is always a solution - but why not make your clothes a feature? Kyal and Kara did the same thing with their “random knobs” (clothes hooks) that they scattered over the speed wall. While the winning couples transformed their rooms into multi-use areas – the essence of loft living – both losing couples reduced their “lofts” to single rooms.


The New York loft style provides a lot of opportunities to put your personality into your space. Proceed with abandon.


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