Can The Interior Design Of A Loft Apartment Be Child Friendly?
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Can The Interior Design Of A Loft Apartment Be Child Friendly?

A smart reno blends the hard industrial elements of a former factory space and the comfort of a family home.

By Lauren Joseph
Fri, Jan 14, 2022 11:26amGrey Clock 4 min

IN NEW YORK designer Lucy Harris’s experience, Manhattanites tend to ask for “refined and upscale” décor, a description that suggests the sort of formal, adults-only living room children must resentfully eye from a distance. The couple who came to her for help when renovating this West Village loft, however, wanted a refined, upscale home that they and their children, ages 5 and 8, would nevertheless find familial and cozy. Said Ms. Harris, who pulled together the interior design with a colleague, senior designer Kelley Roach, “They very much wanted a grown-up space, but they did not want it to be precious.”

Traces of the space’s former life as the floor of a factory building—wrapped beams, a concrete pillar, great, gridded windows—contribute a sophisticated hipness. To keep the aesthetic spare, Ms. Harris installed a tightly edited collection of contemporary furnishings in a limited, muted palette. To a basic scheme of black, white and gray, she added earthy tones of sandy brown and blush, and the occasional jolt of saturated colour for a note of childlike playfulness and adult artiness.

Instead of the “typical synthetic outdoor fabrics” most people use to childproof residences, the designers favoured natural materials. “There’s nothing to me more homemaking than wood and wool,” not to mention durable, said Ms. Harris. To coax “the warmth and sense of safety you get from nature” into the space, she drafted a slew of swishy houseplants and furnishings that curve and slope. Here, a tour of the loft’s elegant yet approachable rooms, and guidance on how to achieve the same visual balance yourself.

PHOTO: HULYA KOLABAS
Unify with colour

When an entryway isn’t clearly delineated, as in most converted lofts, grouping elements that share one colour can make an area around the front door feel “more defined,” said Ms. Harris. Here, she chose a bluish-grey, tying together Eskayel’s Nairutya wallpaper, the console’s leather fronts and the blobby ceramics by Los Angeles artist Pilar Wily. The wallcovering’s easygoing “hippie tie-dye” pattern lightens the effect of dressier details such as the agate-baubled Talisman sconce from Apparatus and the glamorous peach mirror. The owners wanted an “eye-catching introduction to the home,” Ms. Harris said, and a warm welcome. The shearling chair is particularly inviting—and aligns with her plan to dress the home, wherever possible, in natural fibres that age well and are somewhat stain and bacteria-resistant.

PHOTO: HULYA KOLABAS
Choose furnishings that hug like a human

The only overtly practical elements in the living room? The built-in storage and performance-fabric upholstery of the blocky sofa. Beyond that, family-friendliness comes via the chubby, swirly and rounded furniture. “Circles just feel very comforting,” explained Ms. Harris of the cushy stools and the custom coffee table. Curvilinear shapes—also seen in the Gestalt armchairs and the Fitzhugh Karol sculpture—add a “holding,” humanlike feel to the room along with grace. “They’re almost like a hip, or an arm, or a leg,” said Ms. Harris.

PHOTO: HULYA KOLABAS
Crayon the kitchen

An otherwise briskly modern kitchen got hits of homeyness with organic elements: blackened-elm cabinets from New York kitchen specialists Urban Homes, pale ash stool legs and a pleasing mishmash of plants, wicker and nobby dishware. Metal shelves jibe with industrial-chic vestiges of the once-commercial space, such as the structural pillar and metal pipes. Meanwhile the stools—with their Crayola-red appeal and cosseting curved backs—make primo seats for kids. The poppy chairs also connect to the couple’s psychedelic prints. That kind of chromatic synchronicity, said Ms. Harris, cuts down on visual clutter.

PHOTO: HULYA KOLABAS
Find your marbles

The dining room called for something a bit more elevated than the rest of the home, said Ms. Harris—hence the table of nero marquina marble and steel by Croft House to complement the lean black-stone fireplace. While the room, with that rigid linearity and relatively high-maintenance marble, is mostly for dinner parties, it still needed to connect with the otherwise child-friendly apartment. The set of 1960s Italian chairs, each with a low-slung, wide seat and inviting little lip of fabric that peeks over the top of the slick table, added “a soft element,” said Ms. Harris, as does the whimsical pendant light from Matter.

PHOTO: HULYA KOLABAS
Admit a quilt

In the primary bedroom, Ms. Harris called on the soothingly restrained ticking pattern of Rebecca Atwood’s Dashes wallpaper to create a refuge. “It shrinks your world a little bit,” she said. Napped textiles—the cabinlike alpaca bouclé of the headboard, the velvet throw pillows and chair—add to the room’s coddling effect. The quilt, from Thompson Street Studio, might blend and disappear amid traditional décor. But in the context of a bare industrial window and the simple globe of a Noguchi lantern, the bedcover that Ms. Harris selected for its “handmade feel and earth tones” is both unexpected and inviting.

PHOTO: HULYA KOLABAS
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Investor buying of homes tumbled 30% in the third quarter, a sign that the rise in borrowing rates and high home prices that pushed traditional buyers to the sidelines are causing these firms to pull back, too.

Companies bought around 66,000 homes in the 40 markets tracked by real-estate brokerage Redfin during the third quarter, compared with 94,000 homes during the same quarter a year ago. The percentage decline in investor purchases was the largest in a quarter since the subprime crisis, save for the second quarter of 2020 when the pandemic shut down most home buying.

The investor pullback represents a turnaround from months ago when their purchases were still rising fast. These firms bought homes in record numbers last year and earlier this year, helping to supercharge the housing market.

Now, investors are reducing their buying activity in line with the decline in overall home sales, which have slumped with mortgage rates rising fast. But with investors’ large cash positions, and with big firms such as JPMorgan Chase & Co. planning to increase its exposure to the home-buying business, investors are poised to resume more aggressive buying when rates or home prices begin to ease.

These firms have seized on a pandemic-driven rise in demand for houses in suburban areas. These owners rented out the homes and increased rents on homes by double-digit percentages. By the first quarter of 2022, investors accounted for one in every five home purchases nationally.

But ballooning borrowing costs have kept investors from buying as much recently, said John Pawlowski, an analyst at Green Street. Buyers and sellers are also agreeing less often on pricing, stifling sales.

“It leads to a lot of people just putting down the pen,” Mr. Pawlowski said.

Rent growth has also begun to slow. Rents for single-family homes rose 10.1% year over year in September, down from 13.9% in April, according to housing data firm CoreLogic.

That rate of growth is still very high by historical standards, however, and much stronger than in the apartment market. Multifamily rent increases are now much lower by most measures. Near record-high rental prices are failing to attract as many new tenants, and demand in the third quarter fell to its lowest level in 13 years.

Demand for rental houses has held up better, in part because many of these homes are leased to relatively high-earning people who have found the for-sale market too expensive to buy, some analysts say.

That rent growth for single-family owners hasn’t translated into stock-market gains this year. Investors have lumped these owners in with home builders and sold many of them. Shares for the three largest publicly traded owners, Invitation Homes, American Homes 4 Rent and Tricon Residential, are each down more than 25% year to date, underperforming the S&P 500 over that period.

Rental landlords also face headwinds from rising property tax assessments that have come alongside enormous increases in home-price appreciation.

At the same time, large rental landlords are coming under greater scrutiny from federal and local governments. Congressional Democrats have hosted a series of hearings focused on eviction practices and rent increases. Three Congress members from California this month introduced a bill called the “Stop Wall Street Landlords Act,” which proposes levying new taxes on single-family landlords. It would prevent government-sponsored enterprises like Freddie Mac from acquiring and securitising their debt.

Many of the places where investors have eased purchasing are the same cities where they had counted for an outsize share of total sales. That includes Las Vegas and Phoenix, where investor sales dropped more than 44% in the third quarter compared with a year ago.

Fewer purchases by online house-flippers, or iBuyers, may have contributed to those declines, according to Redfin. Redfin decided to close its own home-flipping business, RedfinNow, earlier this month.

Nationally, investors still accounted for 17.5% of all home sales in the third quarter, a higher share than they held at any time before the pandemic, by Redfin’s count.

That share seems likely to rise again. Builders with unsold homes due to widespread cancellations by traditional buyers have been looking to sell in bulk to rental landlords.

Meanwhile, some institutional investors are now readying large funds to snap up homes. J.P. Morgan’s asset-management business said this month it had formed a joint venture with rental landlord Haven Realty Capital to purchase and develop $1 billion in houses. A unit of real-estate firm JLL’s LaSalle Investment Management, in partnership with the landlord Amherst Group, said it plans to buy $500 million of homes over the next two years.

Tricon has nearly $3 billion it plans to tap to buy and build homes. “We will lean in and deploy that capital when the time is right,” Tricon’s Chief Executive Gary Berman said on a November earnings call.

While a recession could bring down borrowing rates, it would likely be accompanied by higher unemployment, making it difficult for traditional buyers to take advantage, said Daryl Fairweather, Redfin’s chief economist. For investors, however, that could offer an opportunity to acquire homes at favourable prices.

“An investor may have more resources to jump in at exactly the moment when rates decline,” Ms. Fairweather said.

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