does residential “loft” mean something different in California housing?

paging Inigo Montoya*

In today’s Home and Garden section of the New York Times, a Great Homes and Destinations feature (Riding in Tandem), a California couple who built a brand new “empty nest” on a half acre on the outskirts of Mill Valley is profiled. (That it is “4,000 sq ft” of empty is just one [unintended] irony of the whole thing.) The wife designed the place, as “
[f]or a decade[,] she had been envisioning their empty nest as an urban loft, an industrial backdrop for her growing art collection”. I get it that she meant “like” an urban loft, as this half acre on the edge of town is hardly “urban”; what I don’t get is what makes this space “loft-like”. Times writer Sandy Keenan seems to have bought into this notion of loft-like, as did the caption writer for the main photo accompanying the article (“loft-like space”).

You have to go to the slide show (“Empty Nest As Urban Loft”; ha!) to get a good sense of the house. I see a lot of corrugated steel walls, one wall that is “a patchwork of unfinished steel plate”, a “dramatic corrugated zinc wall”, and what might be concrete (or some composite) flooring (not hardwood; see, especially pic #3 and #6). I read all the materials (including the glass and steel) and the strong horizontal lines as “modern house”, a la Philip Johnson, rather than as “urban loft”, especially as the element that most gives a sense of “volume” is the incorporation of the outdoors, in:
The design they came up with centers on an open living area that flows directly into a courtyard with a solar-powered lap pool, making the 4,000-square-foot house seem even larger.
In fact, this house seems (to me) to be the epitome of California Modern. Spectacular, in its way, for sure for sure. You show me a “4,000 sq ft” Manhattan loft and I guarantee it will show ‘volume’ in a vastly different way, particularly if it has only 3 bedrooms, as this house seems to. (Yes, I know the ghost of Philip Johnson designed an Urban Glass House [330 Spring Street], and that there’s a “4,256 sq ft” penthouse on top, with 10 rooms and 2 terraces; it sold for over $11mm back in the day with surviving public marketing [of that “apartment”] that lacks multiple photos or a floor plan. I will leave for another day the rant that the non-penthouse spaces in the building are not very loft-y [to a snob like me], though they are often marketed as such. For today, I will continue to believe that the penthouse is a lot more loft-y than the Mill Valley, California modern masterpiece.)
This lady has probably been in different urban lofts than I have. And, if an urban loft aesthetic was her inspiration and she and her husband believe she achieved it, then god bless ‘em. I hope they enjoy it. (And the adult “boys” when they visit.)
just ‘cuz you are paranoid does not mean they are not out to get you
This is the second time this week I have had the feeling the New York Times is baiting me (see my August 3, New York Times explains “how to land a loft”). Sandy Keenan writes a nice piece about a nice couple who built their dream empty nest. (Wait … what is her first name??) The couple has a nice story, in fact (“domestique” is brilliant) and their house is awfully nice. The fact that it does not fit my idea of an “urban loft” is not anything they should care about; but it is something a Manhattan Loft Guy can blog about.
*Even if you are not a Princess Bride fan, this may sound familiar: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
© Sandy Mattingly 2013
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