Loft living growing more popular in the Lowcountry

By Kathleen Dayton
Staff Writer

When it comes to architecture, Charleston is all about columns, dormer windows and crown moldings. Or at least it has been in the past.


Today there is a new contender in residential architecture popping up on city streets, laying claim to new construction as well as renovation projects. Loft living in the Lowcountry may still be new, but it has made friends quickly with both developers and home buyers looking for something with an urban edge in a historic setting.


“A loft is more than a space,” said Kristopher King, a project manager with Wecco of Charleston, a developer specializing in mixed-use projects. “You’re selling
aesthetic, you’re selling a lifestyle. They’re sort of edgy. They’re urban.”


They can also be less expensive than traditional construction. There is a void of pricey millwork, framing, doors and other features that can drive up construction costs.


“You’re creating a design aesthetic that attracts the buyer but you’re also spending less money to do so,” King said. “Instead of doing a terrace that might cost $10,000, $15,000 per unit, you do one roof deck. You help spread out the amenities through the density of the unit.”


Wecco is building a 57-unit loft complex with a commercial component on the ground floor off upper Meeting Street on Cool Blow Street. The project, called One Cool Blow, has presold all but 10 units, with prices ranging from $240,000 for a 785-square-foot unit to $340,000 for a 1,125-square-foot-unit. Fifteen percent of the project is designated as work force housing, which will sell to eligible applicants for $179,000.


Efficient use of space

“The project is urban and has very flexible floor plans,” King said. “I think that’s what separates the loft from traditional construction. It’s a more efficient space.”


Katye Rhett is leaving her suburban James Island rental home for a 785-square-foot loft at One Cool Blow and plans to move in at the end of June.


“It’s a lot bigger where I’m moving from, but that doesn’t matter to me,’ Rhett said. “I spend most of my time with friends downtown and I work downtown. I want to live where I work and play.”


Even though the loft is small, its high ceilings, large windows and natural light make the space seem bigger, Rhett said. She will be buying a top floor unit near the rooftop deck.


“The immediate access to the outside is very appealing and not something that’s offered in a lot of condos,” she said.


Sense of modernity

Bee Street Lofts off Lockwood Drive near the Ashley River Bridges is another new construction project that has brought big-city style to the city’s hospital district and is attracting young professionals and medical students.


“It gives you a modern feel,” said new resident Megan O’Brien. “I enjoy the architecture and the open space.”


Jay Motley, a resident in anesthesia at the Medical University of South Carolina, said he was interested in the style and location of Bee Street Lofts and moved in the first day the building opened to occupants.


“It’s night and day compared to where I was before,” Motley said. “I do think it’s a little bit unique. My sister was actually living in a loft at the same time in Washington, D.C., and I loved the place where she lived and thought it had a nice feel. For me, I like all the exposed ductwork and the loft style.”


The loft concept has migrated from urban areas where they often were carved out of old warehouses in low-rent neighborhoods, providing living and studio space for artists, students and others living on a budget.


“I do think it allows a lot of flexibility for people and it doesn’t really cause much alteration to the interior of a building,” said Eddie Bello, director of the city’s Architecture and Preservation division. “I think it’s a great use and they attract the younger, more vital crowd. I think that’s always good to have that in the city. They allow a higher density. A lot of times they can allow for houses to be a little more affordable.”


So what took loft living so long to reach the Lowcountry?


“I think the market just hasn’t been perceived as being ready for it,’ Bello said.

While One Cool Blow and Bee Street Lofts are new construction, the city lacks a supply of old industrial buildings that often have been converted to loft space. One exception is the old Cigar Factory on East Bay Street near the foot of the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.


New people, new ideas

“It’s been very well received, I think, especially being so new here in Charleston,” said The Cigar Factory’s sales manager Clint Kelly. “Part of it has to do with so many people moving here. When people move, they bring new ideas.”


The Cigar Factory, which dates to the late 19th century, is undergoing interior demolition and will be retrofitted with new windows and contemporary kitchen cabinetry from Germany. It was purchased last year for $22 million by Atlanta real estate company The Simpson Organization Inc. and 20% of the 66 units are reserved. The project is about 18 months from completion.


Lofts are finding their way into other renovation projects and are a component of a project at 292 King St. called High Society Condominiums. Two end units in the nine-unit complex contain loft bedrooms above an open living and kitchen area. The only walls in the units are in the bathrooms.


John David Madison, whose investment company, Mad Investors, has fueled a number of residential and commercial projects in downtown Charleston, including Gents Barberspa on East Bay Street, said his company spent about $115,000 on average to renovate the units in the King Street building.


“If you want a one- or two-bedroom in downtown Charleston and you’re looking for modern amenities, there isn’t a lot available,” Madison said. “Downtown Charleston space is extremely limited and our density basically has to increase. In other markets, lofts have been there awhile and have done very well. In Charleston, sometimes things go a little slower, but it’s now hitting Charleston. I don’t want to use a cliché, but it’s kind of hip and open, an entertainment-type lifestyle.”