The history of lofts in Toronto is simple: first came industry, then came deindustrialization, and finally there were lofts. As straightforward as this process sounds, it was in fact a lengthy one. While agricultural manufacturing occupied much of King West around the turn of the 20th century, it wasn’t until the 1980s that residential lofts for sale in Toronto really won the hearts of mainstream buyers.
Then-Leslieville was also sprawling with light industry around the same time, while one quarter of all the spirits in the country was churned out from the 1860s onward in the soon-to-be Distillery District. Queen West may have been home to engine and machinery manufacturing plants owned by John Abell, however two notable lofts in this neighbourhood had a much sweeter past: the Chocolate Company Lofts and The Candy Factory Lofts were formerly chocolate and candy factories, respectively.
Gradually, industrial activity left the downtown core, with many factories and warehouses now located in York and Peel. As a result, developers would take whatever opportunities they could to purchase and preserve these historical buildings by converting them into residential properties. This, however, is only the case for hard lofts — residential buildings that once functioned as something else.
Soft lofts, on the other hand, were first created by developers who noticed an intense demand for hard lofts. This type of loft is characterized by high ceilings, exposed brick walls, massive windows, exposed concrete — or any combination of the elements typically found in authentic conversions. While soft lofts lack the history that comes along with purchasing a hard loft, buying a soft loft in Toronto means having access to all the amenities a typical modern condo might contain.
Today, lofts for sale in Toronto might take the form of a contemporary condo with industrial aesthetics, industrial conversions, or hard lofts converted from any other type of disused building. Even rarer than industrial hard lofts are church and school conversions, and what’s great about this option is that they’re found all over the city. The Loretto at 385 Brunswick, for example, was converted in 2007 by Context Development from the Loretto Abbey Day School. Built in 1914, this heritage building contains just 50 units, some of which span up to 4,500 square feet.
Those interested in lofts for sale in Toronto can be sure of one thing: they’re harder on the budget than a typical modern condo. Hard lofts come at a premium simply because there’s too much demand for the little supply that exists in this city. It doesn’t help, either, that some buildings have less than 10 suites, such as The Bartlett Lofts. Prospective buyers need not be discouraged, though: some outstanding hard loft conversions contain hundreds of homes, such as The Merchandise Lofts at 155 Dalhousie Street.
Ultimately, buying a loft in Toronto requires a flexible budget and some patience: in any given neighbourhood, hard loft conversions tend to sit in the top 20 percent of prices. Soft lofts make for great alternatives to pricey and rare hard lofts, as they’re slightly less expensive and definitely more abundant.
Yet another thing to consider when choosing between various lofts for sale in Toronto is amenities. Due to their size and their age, many hard lofts simply don’t have the capacity to hold copious facilities like indoor pools and gyms. Those who don’t want to leave the building in order to work out should concentrate their efforts by looking at larger conversions or soft lofts. That said, with less amenities typically comes lower maintenance fees, yet another factor to think about when buying a loft in Toronto.
While industrial hard lofts are typically concentrated in formerly industrial areas of Toronto, soft lofts as well as church and school conversions are scattered throughout the city. Another great place to look for authentic conversions is the St. Lawrence Market area, since this neighbourhood is home to a large number of the oldest existing buildings in the city.
Aptly named, the building that houses the St Lawrence Market Lofts has been standing at 81A Front Street East since before Confederation. While history lovers will be attracted to this building for its heritage, prospective buyers and renters are likely to pay more attention to details like exposed red brick and original wooden posts and beams.
The Queen West and King West neighbourhoods also have a long history of industrial activity, and therefore plenty of lofts for sale in Toronto. The Massey Harris Manufacturing Company occupied much of King Street around the turn of the 20th century, with numerous factories churning out agricultural equipment. Today, the Massey Harris Lofts is situated in the only remaining structure from the company’s former manufacturing complex. Converted in 2003, the heritage-designated building at 915 King West was divided into 45 homes by Canderel Stoneridge. Residents living here are reminded of the building’s past every time they catch a glimpse of the exposed red brick, wooden columns, and stained glass.
Toronto's east end, once home to light industry of all sorts, is now a sought-after area for all sorts of prospective residents — especially those seeking out a loft for sale in Toronto. A little less busy, and slightly quirkier than the downtown core, the east end’s industrial past means there are plenty of lofts to be found here. For example, the 1911-built structure at 525 Logan Avenue was converted into the Printers Row Lofts by Bob Mitchell in 2001. Today, the 1911-built structure contains just 12 homes containing soaring ceiling heights, massive windows, and mezzanine-style layouts.
Leslieville is yet another east-end neighbourhood with plenty of lofts for sale. On Carlaw Street alone there’s the Wrigley Lofts, the Garment Factory Lofts, The Printing Factory — all formerly industrial buildings — as well as the Work Lofts, a contemporary soft loft built in 2012 by Lamb Development Corp. Even more unique is the I-Zone Live Worklofts at 326 Carlaw, which (as the name implies) cater to those looking for spaces in which they can both live and work. With ceiling heights reaching to 30 feet in some of the units, the sky’s really the limit when living at the I-Zone Live Work Lofts.