WITH its utter uniqueness and frenetic charm, New York City holds its own among the world's great cities.
A neat grid layout of streets and avenues connects its boroughs while skyscrapers and red-bricked apartment buildings stud its landscape and form a part of its evolving identity.
Loft living, a stylish urban trend originating from Manhattan, is very much sought after among city-dwellers around the world.
The loft is an American creation that started in the 1940s when manufacturing industries moved to larger complexes out of town and left the huge, bare buildings they occupied empty.
|These days, it is common to see more buildings with lofts for rent, such as this one in Williamsburg, a neighbourhood in Brooklyn popular with artists.
The once-prosperous financial district of So- Ho declined, cut off from the new centres in Wall Street and Greenwich Village. But the availability of large spaces at low rents caught the eye of students and artists looking for space, even though it was illegal to live in industrial buildings then.
These lofts, whether empty attics or derelict warehouses, had large fluid spaces that appealed to artists.
Architect Josep Minguet, who wrote a book titled Lofts - New Dimensions, says the lack of partitions and massive beams supporting a cast-iron building facade gave designers the "possibility to play with their singular surface areas" and allowed them to personalise the building interior in many ways.
Author Felicia Molar, who has written many books on urban living, adds: "The appeal of loft living is instantly apparent. Lofts are romantic places. Banks of windows and towering ceilings speak of unusual heights, intense luminosity, open spaces and personal freedom in cramped city environments."
With this growth in popularity has come a rise in value.
According to Manhattan Lofts Inc, a residential real estate brokerage firm specialising in the sale of loft property, an average-sized unit in the Manhattan downtown district has a floor area of about 1,200 to 1,500 sq ft and commands a price of more than US$1,200 (S$1,633) per square foot.
|JUST LIKE HOME: The loft-style East Village Bed & Coffee owned by Ms Anne Edris is in a 105-year-old building and comes with a kitchen that is well-stocked with an espresso machine and drinks.
Renting such a loft would cost more than US$5,000 a month.
These numbers mean that the loft lifestyle is no longer exclusive to the arty types.
Lofts are also popular with small families and young professionals looking for premises different from conventional housing.
Some owners, such as Ms Anne Edris, even converted their units to provide budget, alternative accommodation for tourists wanting a more authentic New York experience.
The 42-year-old runs the East Village Bed & Coffee in a fascinating bohemian neighbourhood. The 105-year-old building, which used to be a Jewish eatery, has received much praise in travel guides.
When the artist and former architect first saw it, she confesses she was "salivating".
"It was a dream come true to have my own empty space which I could design from scratch," she says.
Walking into her threestorey loft is like popping by your neighbour's home. Having spent about US$90,000 in renovation work over the last five years, her effort shows.
All 10 guestrooms are designed with quirky themes such as Zen, Mexico (the country) or, simply, tree houses.
The common area on each level is filled with charming old recycled furniture and travel artefacts. Bottled light bulbs hang from the ceiling and an entire wall mural filled with pages from her grandmother's travel journals invites guests to have a peek at her family history.
It's easy to get comfortable in this creative, unassuming environment. And a large kitchen well stocked with tea and snacks doesn't hurt either.
"I like that my home shows who I am," she says. "Even better when I get to share it with people who come from all parts of the world to live with me."
Want to taste that loft-in feeling?
|THE WORLD UNDER ONE ROOF: One of the guestrooms at East Village Bed & Coffee is name The Afghani as she used to sell Afghani textiles and jewellery.
AVOID the run-of-the-mill hotels and check into these lofts for a real NYC experience:
East Village Bed & Coffee 110 Avenue C New York, New York 10009, Tel: 917-816-0071 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.bedandcoffee.com
Room in SoHo Loft 153 Lafayette Street, Manhattan NY 10013, Tel: 917-783-5737 E-mail: email@example.com for reservations Website: www.livingwithartusa.com
The Mercer Hotel 147 Mercer Street New York, NY 10012, Tel: 212-966-6060 Website: www.mercerhotel.com
The Soho Loft 85 Fifth Avenue, 7th floor, New York, NY 10003, Tel: 866-929-3559 Website: www.thesoholoft.com