Artists are tastemakers in plenty of ways, and their impact on the demand for loft living is no exception. The very first lofts can be traced back to nineteenth century Paris, when painters using larger-than-life canvases found space for them on the uppermost floors of warehouses. Fast-forward to the 1940s when abstract expressionists painters like Jackson Pollock took advantage of industrial spaces in New York City’s SoHo neighbourhood just the same.
Toronto may be trendy, but it took an entire 40 years for loft living to become popular here. It wasn’t until the 1980s that developers started to see the potential of disused buildings — mainly industrial ones — and transform them into coveted homes.
We should probably pause here to define the distinction between hard and soft lofts. The former is the type that’s just been described: the building is pre-existing, and retrofitted by developers and architects to include residential units. Soft lofts, on the other hand, are built from the ground up. These contemporary condos are designed to resemble hard lofts, by way of industrial elements like high ceilings, exposed brick and concrete, and visible pipes, ductwork, posts, and beams.
Although the most common hard lofts a renter will come across are industrial conversions, there’s still more to the equation. Lofts for rent in Toronto also come in the form of other repurposed buildings, such as renovated churches and schools. Empire Communities, for example, converted the girl’s school Loretto College into 19 hard lofts in 2010. The School House Lofts at 391 Brunswick feature high ceilings — typical for any type of loft — yet the rest of the interiors feel extremely modern as far as lofts go. As a result The Loretto is a great compromise for anyone in search of an authentic conversion without too many industrial details.
Some lofts for rent in Toronto, such as The Church Lofts at 701 Dovercourt Road, reside with formerly holy sites. We don’t blame renters who prefer the unique aesthetics that can only be found in a converted church, although this type of hard loft is small in number, and therefore quite hard to come by. The Church Lofts boasts original stained glass windows, exposed brick, and wooden beams, and some units also feature vaulted ceilings. Bernard Watt Architects was in charge of the transformation of the Neo-Gothic-style Centennial Methodist Church, and thankfully the firm was careful to preserve as much of the original structure as possible.
Thanks to their undeniable scarcity, lofts for rent in Toronto come at a premium. Not only is the high demand for this type of home paired with a low supply, but the majority of the lofts on the market tend to be for sale, rather than for rent. For whatever reason, investors buying condos to rent out are inclined to purchase identical contemporary condo units, rather than one-of-a-kind lofts. What’s more, some buildings contain just a handful of suites, only contributing more to the off-balance supply and demand when it comes to lofts for rent in the city.
Hard loft conversions also always fall within the top 20 percent of prices in a given neighbourhood. Renters attached to the idea of high ceilings and industrial aesthetics can opt for soft lofts instead, which are typically less expensive than authentic conversions. In addition to their lower prices, it’s much easier to find a long list of amenities in a soft loft than a converted building.
That said, it’s still possible to find a hard loft for rent in Toronto, especially with the help of a realtor. Renters don’t always think to hire help, perhaps because they don’t realize that the help of a realtor comes at no cost to the renter whatsoever: a realtor is compensated by the landlord after finding a renter to fill a vacancy.
Unfortunately, following Toronto’s deindustrialization in the 1980s, many warehouses and factories in the Waterfront neighbourhood were slated for demolition. While this neighbourhood is no longer home to an abundance of industrial relics, the former Tip Top Tailors office and factory at 637 Lake Shore Boulevard West was saved thanks to its heritage designation. Built in the late 1920s, the building also happens to be one of the best examples of Art Deco architecture in Toronto. Today the Tip Top Lofts is home to 256 units, meaning interested renters might actually see one appear on the market from time to time.
Case in point, lofts for rent in Toronto are rare. However, those dedicated to the hunt can increase their chances of success by looking for a loft for rent within formerly industrial neighbourhoods. St. Lawrence Market area is home to some of the oldest buildings in the city, while Queen West, King West, and Leslieville have a higher-than-average concentration of authentic hard lofts as well.
King West is a great place to start, thanks to its varied past and its current reputation as a fashionable place to live. Older buildings are, of course, harder to come by, but the hard lofts for rent in King West are quite remarkable. The Gotham Lofts at 781 King West, for example, resides within a former harness factory. Lofts for rent in the building feature wood-clad ceilings, wooden posts and beams, and exposed brick, pipes, and ductwork.
West 833 at 833 King West, on the other hand, is a hybrid building — it features both hard and soft lofts. Authentic conversions are situated inside a disused perfume factory dating back to 1930s, while a contemporary addition contains soft lofts. Not only can ceiling heights of up to 18 feet be found in the building, but residents also have access to a gym, visitor parking, a rooftop terrace, and a party room.
It doesn’t get much more historical than the lofts for rent in Toronto’s St. Lawrence Market. The St Lawrence Market Lofts, for example, occupies a building that predates Canada’s confederation. Another notable conversion in the neighbourhood is the Imperial Lofts at 80-90 Sherbourne Street. Converted by Plazacorp in 1998, the 1930s-built edifice contains 65 units that feature plenty of wooden beams, exposed brick, and massive, warehouse-style windows.