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Design Concepts Magazine
Spring, 1999

Living Without Walls

Urban spaces, even newly built condos, have fewer walls than 20 years ago, less defined areas- and they present new problems for designers and their clients.

The challenge is not spatial: big open spaces, even those that verge on the cavernous tend to inspire . There is a reason that we call great ideas "lofty." But there are challenges of privacy, of defining spaces without limiting flexibility, controlling noise and light, eliminating visual clutter.

These challenges remain the same whether you are designing a loft like space in never industrialized Washington DC, or a former manufacturing space in downtown Chicago, a railside warehouse in Atlanta or barn-like customs shed in coastal California.

"Victorian buildings are committed to specific-use spaces which means you have walls everywhere," says Jim Abdo, president of Abdo development in Washington, D.C.

"I hate that. I like wide open spaces. Its more attractive to me to do a full glut. I can hen recreate the interior space I want. Sometimes we only keep the perimeter facades and the floor joists."

Abdo's urban clients want light , open spaces that feel big without being big.

"You can make a 1,200 square feet feel like a grand space, but its got to have pizzazz," he says. You've got to walk in and immediately get this feeling of openness."

Developers do this by removing walls , rehanging windows and exposing ceilings, duct work, sprinkler systems and all.

Once walls are removed, however, there comes the difficulty of privacy. Even a childless couple needs to go their separate ways sometimes. This is one reason that more and more designers and loft developers are encouraging clients to create a true master bedroom in the build-out, one with a door and walls that reach the ceiling. This space is most often carpeted and may have sound board in addition to dry wall between it and the rest of the space.

Bathrooms are comfortable, not to mention quieter with dropped ceilings. They retain heat, feel cozier, and are easier to light. In general with the popularity of lofts increasing over the last five years, conversions are more upscale, better finished and offer units with discrete systems.

excerpt from "Living Without Walls" from Design Concepts Magazine Spring 1999.