Talk of the Town - Maximum head room December 02 2000

Loft dwellers abandon cushy comforts for raw spaces

Loft projects have been popping up around the Atlanta area like mushrooms after a summer rain. Open floor plans, exposed brick and floor-to-ceiling windows are sought-after attributes, and top-notch amenities, once priorities, are shunned for the raw feel of concrete floors and exposed air ducts. The loft craze began in the early 1990s when the city of Atlanta was populated by decrepit industrial buildings housing adventurous artists and architects looking for cutting-edge homes. But today, the development boom has made loft living an option for every home buyer — both urban and suburban.
The run-down warehouses on Marietta Street just west of downtown were among the first to be converted to living space. Real estate developers David and Rhodes Perdue were pioneers of sorts, purchasing the Hastings’s Seed building in 1993 with a vague notion of turning the neglected warehouse into lofts. “Our purchase of the building was purely subjective and emotional,” says David Perdue. “We saw the building and knew we had to have it.”
The brothers converted their much-loved warehouse into 18 rental lofts, which were recently sold as loft condominiums. Like most lofts, Hastings’s Seed features 18-foot ceilings, huge factory windows and poured concrete floors. What they do not have are the traditional amenities associated with apartment living. They don’t have a weight room, swimming pool or nature trails. “The amenities are secure parking and a rooftop deck — but people don’t come here looking for typical amenities,” Perdue explains. “The amenity is the space.”
After the Perdue brothers’ success on Marietta Street, they purchased the old Western Electric telephone factory in another neglected Atlanta neighborhood on Ralph McGill Boulevard near the Carter Center. Again the Perdue brothers recognized that the loft dwellers they were marketing to were not looking for beautiful landscaping or a vibrant neighborhood. “People are not moving here for the neighborhood, and they are not moving for the landscaping, they are moving for the building — 90 percent of the appeal is inside.”
The space inside the Telephone Factory is, well, sparse. Concrete floors and giant mushroom columns are the only features in most lofts. Resident Sarah Rosenberg has lived in her loft for four years and loves the openness of the floor plan. Sarah believes that the Spartan space of the Telephone Factory appeals to people who “don’t need walls to tell them where to put things — people who can create space.”
The Perdue brothers wanted to attract artists to enliven the austere space. To do this, they set the building’s rents relatively low and marketed the few rent-controlled lofts, provided for in a government program, to artists. The result is a culturally vibrant atmosphere. “I know it sounds Pollyanna cheesy,” says Rosenberg, “but most of what I love here is the people.”
In the heart of Atlanta’s downtown business district, a neighborhood of loft dwellers is quickly growing amongst the formerly forlorn skyscrapers. The previous headquarters of the Retail Credit Company is now an upscale loft high-rise called 90 Fairlie. Scott Fourtney moved from his Decatur bungalow to this high-rise abode about a year ago. For Fourtney, drastically redefining his living space took some adjustment. “I sat in the space for about four months to figure out what needed to be done,” he explains. Finally, to create the uncluttered aesthetic his loft required, he got rid of three-quarters of all he owned. Fourtney doesn’t miss his old stuff, and is at home in his new neighborhood. Philips Arena, the Rialto Theatre, CNN Center, Centennial Park and Woodruff Park are all within walking distance. Dashing around the block for coffee or downstairs to the cleaners saves him time. “I am living in a truly urban environment,” he says.
Gail Collins, Executive Director of the Fairlie-Poplar Task Force, knows the importance of the loft dwellers to downtown. Although much of downtown is still oriented toward the nine-to-five office crowd, the influx of residents with plenty of disposable income is changing the face of the neighborhood. With more than 500 new housing units in the Fairlie-Poplar district, she is well on her way to creating what she describes as “Atlanta’s signature urban historic district.”
Not every loft project is a conversion in a formerly forbidding area of downtown. In 1996, Aderhold Properties turned the Brumby Chair Factory in Marietta into 166 rental loft units. Louis Brown, president of Aderhold Properties and a well-established loft developer in Atlanta, took a risk with his first foray into suburban loft development. According to Brown, most people, including his bankers, said it wouldn’t work. He says most lenders were at ease with lofts intown, but were “not so comfortable with lofts in the suburbs.”
Brown believes that his loft project in Marietta works because suburban residents also desire a distinctive living space. “I think these are people who would be in the suburbs anyway,” he says. “These are a sub-set of people who, given a choice between a white box and a loft with 18-foot windows, choose the loft.”
Andy Freeman, a resident of Brumby Lofts, owns his own printing business. He loves the idea of a loft, but a downtown location is not practical for him. “My business revolves around the Marietta area,” he says. “I am only seven minutes away from most of my clients.” Unlike traditional urban loft developments, the Brumby Lofts have amenities such as a full weight room, a pool, a courtyard for grilling and a rooftop deck with a remarkable view of Marietta square. But even without these perks, Andy would have chosen this location because what he loves most, he says, is the “historic feel” of the building.
Marietta isn’t the only suburban area that’s seen a rise in loft development. The Liberty Lofts and Townhomes project currently under construction in Roswell will feature 72 loft condominiums in the old Roswell High School building, and Aderhold Properties continues its streak of success outside of the perimeter with the Canton Mill Lofts. The former textile mill now includes one- and two-bedroom lofts and flats.