East London loft apartments: some of our favourite buildings

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Paul Travers

Paul Travers

Go back 30 years, and who would’ve thought that the ultimate in hot property would be East London loft apartments?

Once London’s pulsing heart of industry, manufacturing and commerce, the decline of London’s East End and Docklands was the loft lover’s gain. A vast legacy of disused printing works, breweries, warehouses and factories was sitting there waiting for a new life. When it came, it took the city by storm, transforming how we live and setting the template for urban lifestyles.

Shoreditch and Clerkenwell did it first in the years after the early 90s recession. A wave of Young British Artists took up cavernous spaces in which to create, followed by a swathe of entrepreneurs. The bars, shops, restaurants and cafes they opened laid the foundations of today’s enormous and thrilling startup scene. Word got out, and suddenly everyone wanted a piece of it and still does. The storm swept north and east, unearthing disused buildings in Hackney, Dalston, Clapton, Bow and, more recently, Whitechapel. Today, this part of London is enshrined as the ultimate destination for committed loft dwellers.

Limehouse Cut E14

Remembers the Halifax CardCash commercial from 1987 with the ‘Easy Like Sunday Morning” soundtrack? Well, this cluster of factory buildings on the canal in Limehouse – formerly the UK’s first plant for tinned pet food – kinda sums up the whole feel of the ad. Idyllic waterside living in a classic London loft.

Originally converted into shell spaces by a bunch of enterprising artists in the 1980s, the buildings have since become home to a varied and sociable mix of creatives and city types seeking seclusion and neighbourliness. The spaces inside are huge, raw and thoroughly authentic, while the community spirit is refreshingly buoyant.

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Minerva Street E2

Once a handbag distribution factory, this small collection of lofts manages to be raw and slick at the same time. Plenty of grit-blasted brickwork, bare cement and oversized industrial windows sit nicely alongside new oak floors, and smart kitchens and bathrooms. The set-back penthouse floor gets big roof terraces as well.

This lovely building with beautiful red bricks above its black-painted street level is a change from the usually much larger warehouse and factory conversions with many more apartments. A boutique development, if you will, that’s less than 10 minutes’ walk from Broadway Market, Columbia Road and Bethnal Green.

East London loft apartments minerva street

 

Port East Apartments, Hertsmere Road E14

Hardly anyone associates Manhattan Loft Corporation with Canary Wharf, but back in 1997, they turned a series of warehouses at West India Quay into 107 signature lofts. The finished product includes retail units inside and a strip of restaurants facing the water.

Connected by a modern bridge across the dock to the shops, bars and skyscrapers of Canada Square, this outstanding heritage building, a 200-year-old masonry and timber warehouse, was reputably built by French prisoners of war. To our mind, if you’re going to live in Canary Wharf, Port East Apartments has the most atmospheric living spaces in the neighbourhood.

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Olivers Wharf, Waping High Street E1

Perhaps London’s very first loft development? Converted in 1973, Olivers Wharf in Wapping is perhaps the unacknowledged trailblazer of the UK’s loft movement. The building remains a jewel in London’s loft crown with an epic location on the River Thames and apartments that are relentlessly authentic and awe-inducing.

Unceremoniously usurped by Shoreditch and Clerkenwell as London’s loft HQ, Wapping has since regained much of its ground. Today, it’s seen as a more refined alternative to the push and shove of the City Fringe, and rightly so. The cobbled streets, historic pubs and incredible collection of wharves and warehouses are a vivid reminder of the heyday of London’s docks.

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Shoreditch High Street EC2

The “Wells & Company Commercial Iron Works” inscription on the mosaic fascia of these Gothic and Moorish-inspired buildings is an unforgettable picture of Shoreditch High Street. Designed by architects Fowler & Hill, this grouping of showrooms, shops and a factory was constructed in 1877 with a façade of red brickwork interrupted by immensely wide arches, cusped pointed windows and even portholes in the gables.

Among the very first Shoreditch buildings to be converted into lofts, the gargantuan spaces inside represent a time long before everyone jumped on the Shoreditch bandwagon. This was a risky, edgy, grimy inner city that is hard to imagine when walking around today.

What did people do for a soya latte back then?

shoreditch high street

 

Telfords Yard, The Highway E1

This five-storey warehouse was originally built in 1882 for Gooch & Cousens and was big enough to store 30,000 bales of wool. Its conversion in 1985 was named after Thomas Telford, who designed nearby St Katherine Docks. The development belongs to the legacy of CZWG – the G is Piers Gough, the Z Roger Zogolowitch – perhaps the most important architectural practice of the loft movement in London.

The warehouse is now home to 71 apartments and 14 commercial units constructed around a revamped central courtyard. The manner of the conversion and the retention of warehouse windows and cranes have kept Telfords Yard keep pace with other East London loft apartments for over 30 years.

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City Lofts, Tabernacle Street EC2

Only a complete curmudgeon could fail to fall in love when looking up at City Lofts, which is, in fact, a pair of stately five-storey warehouses from the end of the 1800s. It’s an elegant and arresting affair, easily among the finest in Shoreditch, with perhaps the world’s most self-explanatory building name.

On top of its original structure is a set-back rooftop extension almost invisible from the street. It provides double-height voids to the penthouses and sheltered balconies with views across the nearby rooftops. There are 29 apartments, all unique and aided most efficiently by heaps of original warehouse character with plenty of exposed brick and timber.

East London loft apartments City Lofts tabernacle street

 

Spectacle Works, Jedburgh Road E13

The humorous optician-inspired signage at this converted spectacle factory in Plaistow is a nice opener to the light-hearted living environment on offer. Also used as a tram depot and sweet factory, the building was converted into lofts in 1999. Yes, Plaistow was turning out East London loft apartments way back then!

The interiors are very generous, particularly the living rooms, but it’s when you hit the top floor that things get really interesting with roof terraces and some beautiful living areas reaching up into the roof space with its exposed iron framework. The development also has secure parking in a rear courtyard.

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Warner House, Warner Street EC1

Warner Lofts is one of the most archetypal loft buildings in London and has remained high in the charts of desirability since its conversion into 19 shell lofts and penthouses by Rivercrest back in 1996. It’s been setting record prices in the neighbourhood ever since and is one of the finest examples of  East London loft apartments.

Chunky exposed concrete rules the roost here with a diagrid floor system that requires no internal support and makes for some very fine ceilings. The flying buttress steelwork at the top of the building is not original, but instead, a eureka moment that created the five penthouses: a great addition that looks like it’s always been there and, along with the bright white render that covers the original brickwork, adds a touch of Hollywood-era pizzazz.

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Epworth Street EC2

The wonderful pocket south of Old Street Roundabout, where the streets connect City Road to Great Eastern Street, is full of splendid warehouse buildings of the tall and narrow variety. Their slender exterior forms – a little bit Amsterdam in their own special way – are met inside with fat iron columns and large industrial windows.

These are for anyone searching for a smaller community away from the sprawl and scale of larger warehouse conversions. Living here feels somewhat more individualistic, helped by London’s creative scene swirling around you the minute you hit the street.
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New Inn Broadway EC2

Lovely sandy bricks, a ruby red entrance gate and battleship grey sash windows give this handsome square-jawed beast a strong and uniform presence, pretty much dead centre in the Shoreditch Triangle.

Behind its hefty doorway lies a group of buildings around a hidden courtyard overlooked by the balconies of a tasty assemblage of lofts. New Inn Broadway has a singular style with basic breeze block walls, naked concrete ceilings and polished resin floors that give the apartments a raw industrial aesthetic completed by colourful kitchens, iron radiators and exposed galvanised conduit. Smashing.

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Temple Court, Rectory Square E1

Synagogues don’t make many appearances in the directory of buildings converted into lofts, but we’ve found one that does. Temple Court (see what they did there?) was converted in the late 1980s, making it a grand old dame in the litany of East London loft apartments. The main communal entrance is a gorgeous affair with a double-height vaulted ceiling, striking portico and circular stained glass window.

Depending on the location of individual apartments, expect a decent assemblage of original beams, pillars and masonry along with various layouts from single-storey to duplex. There are some nice curved timbers in the roof-level apartments and a few balconies and terraces scattered around.

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De Havilland Studios, Theydon Road E5

The 44 live/work units in the former De Havilland factory range from about 1200ft2 to 2500ft2 and are about as genuine a selection of proper lofts as you’ll find with lashings of exposed concrete, tall ceilings and massive steel frame windows.

Originally designed by the eminent architect Sir Clive Owen Williams – he of the Daily Express building on Fleet Street – the De Havilland factory’s 1990s conversion into lofts was executed in a thoroughly appropriate fashion by developers Hollybrook, with a hugely successful launch weekend where every unit sold.

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Independent Place, Shacklewell E8

Unbeknown to many, Dalston was already doing the loft thing back in 1995 with the conversion of this former bible factory into loft apartments and mews houses. It’s a fine, gated environment with a central garden, known as The Square, delivering a generous slice of verdant breathing space.

Independent Place remains one of Hackney’s most celebrated developments, and the mews houses in particular display many design characteristics that were way ahead of their time. The whole place still feels very current and has easily kept pace with Dalston’s reinvention.

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Quebec Wharf, Kingsland Road E8

Horse storage. Not a big topic in today’s modern metropolis but back in 1878, it was big enough to warrant a warehouse all to itself. The North Metropolitan Tramways Company was the first user of the building that later became a spice store.

In 2004, the Grade II Listed Quebec Wharf was converted into a mixed-use building of studios and 20 live/work apartments. The development even won an Evening Standard Style Award for its stunning design and respectful and innovative conversion. Among a swathe of grooviness are heavy sliding doors, exposed brick and beams and double-height ceilings.

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Principal Lofts, Chelmer Road E9

How do you make your redevelopment of a Victorian school building stand out from every other redevelopment of a Victorian school building? Paint the window frames navy blue, that’s how. It might sound like an odd idea, but this simple act has given Principal Lofts a distinctive look that we don’t mind saying we love.

Converted in 1997, Principal Lofts also had a few more tricks up its sleeve. In some of the double-height spaces, white render was applied to the lower half of exposed brick walls, adding some extra bright’n’breeziness to the living rooms – who’d have thought? Well-maintained communal grounds and secure parking ensure demand never lets up.

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Old School Square, Farrance Road E14

This classic Victorian schoolhouse was built in the heavily adopted Queen Anne style of the late 1800s. In 2000 it was converted into 46 loft apartments that come in all shapes and sizes. Bijou units start around 600ft2, while the bigger examples reach around 1300ft2.

All the apartments we’ve seen are duplexes. Some have patios, some have terraces, and some have fine views towards Canary Wharf. There is plenty of old-school character and, unusually for a school conversion but certainly not unwelcome, the development has a lift.

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The Bath House, Dunbridge Street E2

This building from 1899 is the only London bathhouse we know of to be converted into apartments. Unique among East London loft apartments, the building sits at the corner of Ramsey Road and Dunbridge Street. That puts it about 6 minutes’ walk from Brick Lane and close to the buzz of Bethnal Green and Whitechapel.

The building has a fantastic exterior of red brick and beautiful stonework, including twin entrance arches and a large cornice. Residents get to enjoy a communal roof terrace, and there’s also a picturesque internal courtyard with its own waterfall.

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Shoreditch Stables, Kingsland Road E2

These nine duplex penthouses were built on the top of a former Victorian stables – a wonderful building of red brick and plentiful stonework – utilising the original fourth floor and a new rooftop extension. Each loft has a roof terrace with great views towards the City.

The development was carried out in 2002 as a mixed-use scheme with offices on the first four floors. The modern interiors are bright, simple and well designed with plenty of natural light from floor-to-ceiling windows, skylights and original sashes.

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77-81 Curtain Road EC2

Behind a façade of white glazed brick, this brand-new mixed-use building in the middle of the Shoreditch Triangle was completed in 2007. The development includes a ground floor retail space below 18 live/work units across the first to fourth floors. It’s all topped of with an incredible penthouse.

Glasshouse Developments enlisted the talents of GLA Architects to deliver spaces with all the hallmarks of modern lofts. The tall ceilings and large factory-style windows are a tribute to the neighbourhood and its industrial heritage.

East London loft apartments curtain road

Have you enjoyed reading about our favourite East London loft apartments? Then remember to check back here for similar articles on lofts in North, South and West London!

 

And if you’re looking for an industrial space to live in, take a look at our latest loft listings right here.

 

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