Dear Urbaneer: What Is The Difference Between A Hard Loft And A Soft Loft?

Dear Urbaneer, Real Estate


Welcome to this month’s installment of Dear Urbaneer, where our clients put our real estate knowledge to the test with some of their housing questions. This month, we help one of our clients compare and contrast an element that has become an integral part of the Toronto property landscape over the past three decades: the loft.



Dear Urbaneer:

We love the aesthetic appeal, unique design, and open-concept space plans that lofts provide. In our search, we’re discovering that not all lofts are equal, often defined by the terms ‘hard loft’ and ‘soft loft’? What are the factors of this market, and which kinds of lofts are more desirable?

Lofty Aspirations



Here’s my response:

Dear Lofty:

Traditionally, the original loft spaces were created by converting existing factory buildings into residential or live/work use. Essentially, the adaptive reuse of a structure – typically one constructed last century for commercial or industrial production, and built of brick and wood beam timbers or poured concrete – represents the historical roots of the loft market. Featuring open spaces with soaring ceilings and large factory windows, sweeping volumes provided a lofty quality to the units (hence the name) with more light and air flowing freely. The phenomenon began in New York and Paris, arriving in Toronto in the 1980s with the conversion of a handful of small factory buildings in residential neighbourhoods in the central core of the city. ‘Hard loft’ spaces like this remain rare today, as there are only around 60 converted buildings, housing anywhere from a handful to several hundred units.

As demand for innovative spaces grew, developers in the 1990s began constructing condominium ‘lofts’. Incorporating high ceilings and large windows – to varying degrees of success – developers eagerly commodified the loft aesthetic, which has resulted in the creation of 60 ‘soft loft’ condominiums, thus far. Being newly constructed, these buildings do not have the vintage qualities of the original loft conversions, but for those who gravitate toward a clean-lined minimalist aesthetic, they offer their own opportunities for modern living.



The Loft and Your Housing Identity

In considering what a hard loft is versus a soft loft, it is interesting to consider the relationship that owners have with their ‘homes’, as the loft space seems to serve a particular purpose in that regard.

Lofts originally were a haven for artists and creative souls, in part because of the way in which they permit the flow of light and air and are amenable to creative tasks, but also because they represent the non-conformist identity. They represent a unique opportunity for self-expression, both within the space and because of the space. Lofts also have a uniquely urban vibe, being primarily situated in once-industrial areas that might have been considered ‘fringe’. This was immensely appealing to a cross-section of demographics who did not consider themselves traditionalists.

In the early 1990s, as part of my graduate research in Housing & Identity, I studied the residents of the first 20 loft condominium conversions in Toronto to examine how their physical homes were a reflection of their personalities, and how they valued the space of their home as a means of self-expression in differing ways.

Surveying the residents of Toronto’s first 250 lofts to determine who they were, what they did, and their psychographic profiles, I discovered that around one third of the respondents living in these buildings (situated in what were considered to be marginal locations at the time) could be classified as Artists engaged in photography, sculpture, and painting; another third were creative professionals operating in the fields of media, design,and fashion, and the final third were white collar professionals occupied in education, health care, finance, and technology. To my surprise, the points of view by which each of these groups reconciled their living environments were surprisingly different.

I discovered the Artists living in their lofts were less invested in the appearance of their homes, and much more concerned with the spatial capacity to create their art. Their spaces were less adorned, fitted in basic finishes, and in habitable condition (think: concrete floors, a simple laminate kitchen, and a white 3-piece bath). Whereas their art was the vehicle for self-expression, the space was about utility and function.

It was the mirror opposite for the second third of my research, who were the creative professionals. This segment of owners were highly absorbed and engaged in their ability to design and modify the space to reflect who they were creatively. This group invested a significant portion of their time, income, and skills in customizing their lofts to reflect their identity. Their one-of-a-kind lofts (think: chef’s kitchens featuring a Garland gas range, floating mezzanine bedrooms, and glass block washrooms) were physical incubators of progressive, liberated self-expression; their homes were their personal masterpieces.

The white collar professionals, who appreciated high design, shared a commitment to self-expression similar to the creative professionals. However, lacking the skills to create it, they preferred to purchase their lofts ready-made and demonstrate their identity through its contents. They either hired designers to create their mise-en-scene or they shopped for the latest objets and contemporary art (think: high-end electronic media equipment, pool tables, humidors, and framed cell animation) to serve as status-markers and to showcase their cultivated commitment to trends and styles. This group chose loft living to symbolize both their subscription to modern living and their rejection of traditional housing forms. The more affluent the occupant, the more likely their loft was of a quality and calibre worthy of a magazine feature.

These market segments – the framework for the original ‘loft lifestyle’ – underscores how individual a property search can be today, and how the same space can afford not only different purposes, but different meanings. Here is an informative past post on how to construct your own property matrix when on the house hunt: How To Search For Your Next Property Purchase.

So – how do you spot the differences between hard and soft lofts in order to slide their criteria into your matrix? Read on!



The Hard Loft

The hard loft is essentially the original, authentic loft, achieved through the conversion of commercial or industrial space. One key definer (aside from super-high ceilings, far taller than other types of residences) is the presence of specific building materials that lend the space a bit of industrial ‘grit’. Elements like exposed brick walls, exposed ductwork, wooden beams and posts, and original hardwood flooring are tell-tale features. (The photos above are of my own loft in The Button Factory).

The other identifier is how a hard loft’s layout and design elements all combine to amplify the overall sense of space. It’s amazing how height, as opposed to width, directly increases the perception of available space. Drawing the eye up, and opening space to the potential of light and air, creates a pleasant illusion that enhances comfort and livability.

There are a few potential drawbacks to the hard loft. First, typically, the age of the buildings hinder energy efficiency, which is a problem compounded by the high ceilings; there is a lot of extra space to heat and cool, and, when the lofts are two stories, air circulation and comfort can be inconsistent. Hard lofts can also be challenged in terms of sound separation, since the brick and wood beam construction has multiple gaps that allow for noise transmission. Furthermore, hard lofts tend not to have outdoor living space – like a balcony or garden – with the exception of some of the smaller complexes. And, being factories, their locations can sometimes be marginal, while at other times they’re in the very heart of the downtown core. Keep in mind that the city’s own cycle of gentrification has seen areas like The Fashion District and Liberty Village transition from ‘edge’ to ‘chic’ relatively quickly. Really, it comes down to what it is on the top of your housing wish list.

Through the 1990s and 00’s, I was engaged in the concept, sales, and marketing of several adaptive reuse conversions in the City of Toronto – including The Button Factory at 200 Clinton, The Banquet Hall at 62 Claremont, The Wellington Worx Building at 436 Wellington, the Baseball Globe Factory at One Columbus, and The Movie House at 394 Euclid. Most of these hard lofts are in century-old buildings and were developed at a time where customization was part of the development program. In addition to their unique qualities, hard lofts are highly-desirable, in part because of their ‘grit’ and undeniable aesthetic appeal, but also because of the simple fact that they are in short supply.



The Soft Loft

A soft loft embraces many of the same design qualities that a hard loft does (e.g. high ceilings, wide open space plan, decidedly urban finishes like exposed concrete floors and walls, and expansive floor-to-ceiling windows), but are new condominium constructs. Be careful: you may see design elements like exposed brickwork or ductwork, but those are contrived features used to imitate the hard loft aesthetic, and are not original by-products of function.

From a design perspective, a soft loft is essentially fashioned to mimic many of the desirable qualities of the hard loft. Although imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, admittedly, soft lofts may lack some of the character and ambience provided by the unique design elements of the hard loft; by virtue of their young age and their intended purpose at time of construction, they lack the history and authenticity of a hard loft. That said, there is no question that the soft loft offers a wonderful relationship with space, and is well-suited to those who like a pared-down, minimalist look.

One big bonus of the soft loft is that they typically offer a number of sought-after amenities in the building, whereas hard lofts tend to be thin in the amenity department. After all, soft lofts are constructed to meet the design tastes of those who favour loft space, but also to meet today’s expectation of onsite amenities that enhance quality of life through convenience. For example, you’re more likely to find a soft loft with underground parking and deeded lockers, or a state-of-the-art fitness facility.

The construction of soft lofts also created more product with second-storey mezzanines. Typically, the main floor contains the common living spaces, while the second floor has a bedroom(s) overlooking the area below. This configuration allows owners to still benefit from a portion of two-storey vaulted ceilings. Developers also frequently offer private outdoor spaces as part of their construction program, so you’re more likely to see a soft loft with a balcony or terrace.

One further point to consider with soft versus hard lofts is location. Because the growth of the soft loft marketplace has occurred in the past 20 years, they’re situated in areas that are more central and, frankly, in areas where factories never existed. You’ll find significantly more soft lofts north of Bloor than you will hard loft conversions, as the centres of industry and production in Toronto were closer to Lake Ontario and the rail corridor. Newer soft lofts can be found at Yonge & Eglinton and in The Beach, for example, meaning there’s more neighbourhood choice with this architectural style. However, with the proliferation of construction, you also run the risk of having a ‘loft’ which is more ubiquitous and potentially contrived.


A word to the wise in your loft hunt: it’s becoming increasingly common for developers to use the ‘loft’ moniker as a marketing tool. While these units do incorporate some of the design elements, a space with 9-foot ceilings and a bit of exposed concrete or reclaimed brick does not make it a loft. For me, a soft or hard loft is all about ceiling heights of at least 10 feet high, architectural elements that celebrate natural materials (whether that be wood, brick, or exposed concrete), and design elements that are either factory-authentic or modern and minimalist. For me, a ‘faux loft’ of trendy design elements and conventional ceiling heights is a loft fail.

Which is better – the hard or soft loft? That really depends on what you like and what you value the most when seeking your dream home. They are two similar, but different, residence styles that ultimately offer homeowners the opportunity to live in sleek, urban style. 



Do you adore an urban dwell that possesses a rich, storied past and arresting architecture? If so, you’ll be head over heels for this 1bed/1bath hard loft in a heritage building, which we just debuted for sale!

We call it: A Heritage Hard Loft In The Heart Of Historic St. Lawrence Market, offered at $599,000!

This loft has a fantastic, efficient layout; we always prefer having private zones tucked away from an open-plan entertainment space. But more than that, this intelligently designed suite – with its careful preservation of original details – is a great example of scale and proportion, allowing you flexibility and fun in tailoring it to your liking. Blonde laminate wood floors ground and unify this one-bedroom suite, and you can’t help but be drawn in by the aged brick, wood beams, and south-facing windows that glow with natural light.

If you’re a ‘make-it-happen’ millennial looking for a swag pad in one of Toronto’s most historic neighbourhoods, a busy professional couple who doesn’t have time for the maintenance of a house with a yard, or a downsizing Zoomer seeking turn-key swish in proximity to your downtown-dwelling kids (and grandkids), these dare-to-dream downtown digs are definitely worthy of your consideration!



Questions? Interested in a private viewing? Contact James Ormston ( or Steven Fudge (!



Here are some other exceptional lofts we’ve sold that you’ll love!

Welcome to Loft 105 in Riverdale’s Printers Row; it’s the epitome of stylish urban living! Wrapped in the roots of history while boasting the conveniences of modern living, this elegant voluminous space has 979 square feet spread over 2 levels inside, and an exceptional 175 square foot south-facing terrace with gas barbecue hook-up, electrical outlets and water line!

This place is special – and we’re so grateful to have had the privilege to List and SELL it to an excited new owner!  A Sun-Kissed Contemporary Loft In Riverdale’s Printers Row



Here are some other delicious digs you’ll love!

A Fresh Factory Redux In The Historic Art Deco Forest Hill Lofts  – NOW SOLD



A Heavenly Sanctuary In A Converted Riverdale Church – NOW SOLD!

This was executed by the Father of Toronto’s Loft Conversions – Bob Mitchell!



There’s real magic in this A Brick & Beam Loft with Courtyard Garden in Toronto’s Button Factory we SOLD!

(This is in the first conversion I steered the Sales & Marketing Program in the mid 1990s!)



Here is Concrete ‘N Cool In River City, Corktown – NOW SOLD!



Are you evaluating your options in your house hunt, and could use some guidance in matching property type to your needs? As a pioneer in the hard loft movement in Toronto, I can offer unparalleled advice in this particular search. My team and I are here to help!



Want to have someone on your side?

Since 1989, I’ve steered my career through a real estate market crash and burn; survived a slow painful cross-country recession; completed an M.E.S. graduate degree from York University called ‘Planning Housing Environments’; executed the concept, sales & marketing of multiple new condo and vintage loft conversions; and guided hundreds of clients through the purchase and sale of hundreds of freehold and condominium dwellings across the original City of Toronto. From a gritty port industrial city into a glittering post-industrial global centre, I’ve navigated the ebbs and flows of a property market as a consistent Top Producer. And I remain as passionate about it today as when I started.

Consider contacting me at 416-845-9905 or email me at It would be my pleasure to personally introduce our services.

We’d love to introduce our services to you.

Serving first and second-time Buyers, relocations, renovators, and those building their long-term property portfolios, our mandate is to help clients choose the property that will realize the highest future return on their investment while ensuring the property best serves their practical needs and their dream of “Home” during their ownership.

Are you considering selling? We welcome providing you with a comprehensive assessment free of charge, including determining your Buyer profile, ways to optimize your return on investment, and tailoring the listing process to suit your circumstances. Check out How Urbaneer’s Custom Marketing Program Sold This Authentic Broadview Loft In Riverside to learn more about what we do!

Consider letting Urbaneer guide you through your Buying or Selling process, without pressure, or hassle.

We are here to help!



Thanks for reading!


-The Urbaneer Team

Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage – (416) 322-800


– we’re here to earn your trust, then your business –

Celebrating Thirty-Four Years As A Top-Producing Toronto Realtor


*Did you know we were recently listed as one of The Top 25 Toronto Real Estate Agents To Follow On Twitter! – The Top 50 Blogs On Toronto – and The Top 100 Real Estate Blogs In Canada? Consider signing up in the box below to receive our FREE monthly e-newsletter on housing, culture, and design including our love for unique urban homes and other Toronto real estate!

*Love Canadian Housing? Check out Steve’s University Student Mentorship site called Canadian Real Estate, Housing & Home which focuses on architecture, landscape, design, products, and real estate in Canada!

Previous Post
Yup! Toronto’s Spring 2019 Real Estate Market Means Bidding Wars
Next Post
Bosley Real Estate Market Insight For The Second Week Of March 2019