Do You Know Difference Between a Hard Loft and a Soft Loft?

updated Nov 16, 2022
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(Image credit: Monica Roy)

Like most budding writers, my childhood dream involved moving to New York City and living in an airy and oh-so-fabulous loft apartment. Little did I know at the time I’d been coveting a hard loft while looking at soft lofts and had no idea there was even a distinction. In fact, if we’re really being honest, I didn’t learn the difference between a hard loft and a soft loft until I started house hunting as an adult. Bottom line: the difference between a hard loft and a soft loft has to do with history and age of the building.

When my husband and I first began our home hunt, we had two main housing types on our radar: a beach bungalow or a downtown loft. And while we didn’t buy the latter, we swooned over the idea of one right up until we signed the closing documents on our little bungalow.

In our search for the ideal abode, though, our realtor asked a seemingly simple yet perplexing question – “Are you interested in a hard loft or a soft loft? Because that will greatly influence your price point in this area.”

After my husband and I managed to wipe the vacant, slow-blinking stares off of our faces, we admitted we had no idea what the difference was. We didn’t even know there was a difference. And thus began our education.

(Image credit: Aimée Mazzenga)

A Hard Loft vs Soft Loft

The exposed brick lofts of my childhood dreams, I found out, were likely hard lofts. Considered to be a loft in its truest form, a hard loft is defined by history – it is generally an old warehouse or industrial building that has been converted into a space for residential living.

Since hard lofts are often converted as part of neighborhood revivals in urban areas, they are also popular spaces for live/work use. Creative professionals in particular seem to gravitate to the wide open layout, aged brick walls, oversized windows, exposed duct work, and high, concrete ceilings. Not to mention they were very affordable once upon a time, which was undoubtedly another draw.

So why is it called a “hard” loft? Well, for many of those traits that give the interior so much character. You can’t get much harder than brick and concrete, right? The construction of a hard loft is typically rugged, thereby earning its nickname.

A “soft” loft then, as you’ve probably deduced, is not built using such rugged construction. Rather, soft lofts are residential buildings which have been designed to re-create loft style. Like hard lofts, they too have high cement ceilings (although often not as high as hard lofts), large windows, and brickwork. However, these elements lack the authenticity of those found in the more historic hard lofts.

On the plus side, soft lofts can feel warmer and feature more modern finishes. Also, the developers of these buildings can mimic the aesthetic appeal of hard lofts without some of the drawbacks – think of how energy-inefficient old buildings can be, for example.

You may also notice, and we certainly did when we were looking, that soft lofts boast many enticing modern amenities. Several of the soft lofts we looked at here in Charleston, South Carolina, offered luxurious community areas, gyms, and swimming pools in the building.

Developers tend to pick the trendier, more expensive parts of a city to build soft lofts. This can serve as a major selling point, particularly to people who would prefer to avoid the transitional areas in which hard lofts often live.

Clearly, there are many minor differences between hard and soft lofts. However, it ultimately all boils down to history. When you live in or buy a hard loft, you get a storied space… one whose bones have served in both industrial and residential capacities. When you live in or buy a soft loft, you get the look of a hard loft without the history.

Which type speaks to you?