Wide Open Spaces: Loft Living
At one time, loft living was restricted to struggling artists. Lofts offered a great workspace with good lighting and also served a dual purpose as a residence. Today it is an imaginative way to offer new housing and attract upscale living in downtown. Exposed pipes, air vents and brick walls give lofts an industrial atmosphere. And for homeowners, they are a blank canvas providing a myriad of opportunities to be creative.
Loft living provides easy access to city activities, and today Lynchburg is offering more and more things to do downtown. Downtown Lynchburg is experiencing a rebirth. The old and abandoned industrial and commercial buildings are being reclaimed and recycled.
According to T. Upshur, who is manager of the Riverviews Lofts, theirs was the first major revitalization project in the city and opened the door for other projects. The original plan at Riverviews was to focus on attracting artists for both studio and living spaces. As demand for loft living space grew, they broadened their scope and opened the residential space to everyone.
Jamie Rohrer has spent a good portion of her life in cities. Major metropolises like Chicago, Philadelphia, San Diego and even Paris were all Rohrer’s stomping grounds. When she accepted a position as a French professor at Randolph College, she settled within walking distance to school. Eventually she got the urge to live downtown. “I was attracted to living in a loft because downtown Lynchburg is the closest thing we have to a city,” explained Rohrer.
She chose the Riverviews Lofts for her downtown living space. The loft is simply one very large open space with exposed vents and pipes. The only separate space is a small bath. Storage is the major issue in this type of living space. Rohrer solved this dilemma quite effectively with her use of armoires, bookcases and dressers. Estate Specialists in downtown Lynchburg, along with selections from IKEA and her choice of classic lines enabled her to mix contemporary with the old to create the perfect eclectic look.
The focal point is the fabulous demilune (half-moon-shaped) windows. The building has three demilune windows and the apartment she chose has two of them.
Rohrer rearranges things often and with such an open space, redecorating can be accomplished in a jiffy. Function merges with imagination, and even decorative items must have a purpose. Open shelving serves as room dividers and also storage for a collection of colorful earthenware pottery dishes. In front of one of the windows is her workspace. A large desk, reading chair and a cowhide rug combine to become her favorite place to read and work.
Loft life encourages tenants to whittle down clothes and other belongings, leaving only the most necessary of things. Upshur points out that the benefits to loft life include the positive aspects of downsizing, living a simpler life and creating fewer footprints. Residents learn to improvise and utilize every single space for living and storage. Rohrer’s bedside tables serve as storage for some of her kitchenware. Her spices are held in an old display rack for wine.
Rohrer’s loft is perfect for her single lifestyle. The enormous windows afford lots of sunlight and a view of downtown. No curtains are necessary. Privacy is not an issue since the loft is high above surrounding buildings. “It is more important to me to look out than to have privacy inside,” she explained.
Access to downtown is the big draw for Jamie Rohrer. Restaurants, the Community Market and the open-air films at nearby Amazement Square are just a few of the main attractions. “This building is very nice and my neighbors have become my friends.” While it may be different from big cities, Rohrer points out “Lynchburg suits me real well. I like it!”
According to Upshur, there are a variety of people who choose loft living. The majority are single, yet there are some couples and even a few families. “Here in the building we have doctors, artists, a city planner, an architect, a chef and even a pizza delivery guy! Loft living is where downtown is heading.”
While some lofts are one-room affairs like Rohrer’s, others are more detailed, offering individual rooms, multiple baths and real closets. Charlotte Allen’s loft overlooking Main Street is more in tune with a sophisticated high-rise. She shares her loft space with Emily and Rachel, her two cats. Her living space has access to common areas throughout the building including an outdoor deck where Allen grows herbs.
Allen’s loft is a terrific venue for parties. The combination of the common areas and her own apartment provide a more than adequate space for the gathering of a large group. Allen takes advantage of many of the downtown Lynchburg events as focal points for her parties. Last year’s Christmas parade was the perfect backdrop for a holiday gathering. Guests watched the festivities from Allen’s living room window while they enjoyed the party atmosphere both on the street and in her loft.
Allen’s living room and dining area encompasses about a third of the loft. This area offers a view of downtown Main Street, which she points out is a major attraction for her two cats. Floors throughout her loft are polished pine. A modern kitchen features hardwood cabinets, a granite countertop and a hammered stainless steel backsplash. A laundry area in a small enclosed space provides another necessary feature for downtown living. A small powder room and two bedrooms with adjoining baths make up the rest of the space.
The majority of her furnishings come from past homes. She admits that she did have to pare down a bit, but she kept several pieces purchased long ago from Virginia furniture maker, E.A. Clore Sons. Moses Clore began making furniture in Madison, Virginia back in 1830. Even today, the family has continued making handsome pieces using walnut, cherry, oak and mahogany.
The lack of additional windows in the bedrooms is a blessing of sorts according to Allen. She points out that she can come in from outside at two in the afternoon, shut the lights and the bedroom door and it is nighttime. “What a perfect place for a nap,” she says.
Allen’s history with loft living goes back quite a while. Throughout the years she has maintained an office in Bedford where she works as an accountant. She also raised her family in town. While living in Bedford, she discovered the joys of city life when she purchased a condominium in downtown Staunton. When Allen sold her home in Bedford and moved to Forest, she kept her Staunton location and used it as a mini escape on weekends. Soon Allen realized that the commute from her home in Forest to her office in Bedford was not much shorter than a commute from Lynchburg, especially with access to the by-pass.
Now in downtown Lynchburg, she is close to movies, restaurants, theater and shopping. It seems that every week new restaurants are opening, the Academy of Arts is growing and lots of interesting stores are coming to downtown. Allen looks at downtown Lynchburg as her “own little subdivision.” She explained that she always loved the feel of New York City and “this is the next best thing!” And from Lynchburg “I can hop a train and be in Washington, DC in three and a half hours!”
Glen and Debbie Rae’s Penthouse Parlor Loft is perhaps the ultimate in loft living. Spacious at over 3,000 square feet, this contemporary living space is more like big city living. An elevator opens into the main room. A large living room with comfortable seating provides the best spot in the house as one can sit and look out four enormous windows overlooking Main Street. The style here is fashionably chic and it blends well with the couple’s lifestyle.
Each of the rooms has its distinct space yet they run together smoothly and with no obstructions. A gas burning fireplace is central to the living space. A standout feature is the metal spiral staircase that leads to a private deck with a barbecue grill and hot tub. The view from the deck boasts one of the best in downtown.
A long hall leads to a room that the Raes have converted into their game room. Here they can enjoy their hobby and bring guests in for an evening’s entertainment.
Glen Rae also has a space for his home office. Tucked away along the corridor, this small nook is fashioned out of a large closet. It provides just enough workspace without wasting an entire room. At the end of the hall is an enormous bedroom and sitting room area with a view of the river.
The kitchen features custom cabinetry and granite counters. Accompanied by the stainless steel appliances, it is ultra-modern. Multiple baths, huge walk-in closets and a laundry area are all amenities most do not expect to find in a city loft. Yes, this loft is unusual and quite spectacular!
Glen is originally from California but his business has taken him all over the country. Debbie is from Lynchburg and works as a nurse nearby. Glen explained, “When we went on the loft tour we fell in love with lofts. We sold our house on Rivermont and moved downtown.” Their home was a restored and fully furnished Victorian. “It was full of antiques and we sold everything!” he said. “We started over and wanted a New York modern style.” For a trial period they lived in another loft in town. Once the Raes realized how much they enjoyed loft living, they found the Penthouse loft. “I had never lived in a downtown city before,” said Glen. But the couple frequented downtown often for the restaurants and realized it was definitely where they wanted to be.
“We always admired the progress of downtown development and of course I was raised here,” explained Debbie. “I remember coming here as a little girl to shop.” The building where the Raes live was originally Kresge’s, a traditional five-and-dime store. Today there are new stores here that make living downtown more convenient and attractive. Market on Main, a combination upscale convenience store and eating establishment, Taste Selects, known for decadent cupcakes, and The Parlor barbershop that goes far beyond the norm, are literally right next door. More shops, including an Italian deli, are slated to open soon, giving downtown residents plenty of choices. “What would be the icing on the cake would be an upscale grocer in downtown!” commented Glen Rae.
There is no such thing as a ‘cookie-cutter’ loft. Some have rafters and pipes visible in every room while others have not a pipe or vent in sight. Many of today’s lofts offer creature comforts similar to those found in apartments with luxurious baths, gourmet kitchens, fireplaces and even outdoor space. No matter what they look like or what amenities they have, all lofts offer their inhabitants a continuous connection with their city and its vibrancy.
Each winter The Free Clinic of Central Virginia sponsors a loft tour featuring ten
downtown Lynchburg lofts.
This year’s tour is slated for February 26, 2011. The Free Clinic is dedicated to the belief that everyone should have access to health care services including primary medical, nursing, dental and pharmaceutical services. According to the director, Bob Barlow, “Every dollar we raise enables us to provide twenty dollars’ worth of health services.” For more information on The Free Clinic or February’s tour call 434-847-5866.