Sunday, 31 October 2010

Warehouse Dreamin'

I would like to share with you today a long held fantasy of mine: living and working in a warehouse space. Basically, a big industrial or ex-industrial space, all brick and concrete, with lots of light and air in which to spread out to live and create. Big areas to share with my boy and other invited ‘creatives’ in which we would work and generate ideas and hang out and relax.

I lust after potential sites for this dream lifestyle. My face is always stuck to the window of a train when it goes through an industrial area, taking mental snapshots. When I lived in Barcelona, my favourite jogging route wasn’t through one of the beautiful parks or along the Mediterranean seafront but through, you guessed it, the industrial area. I would take my mind off being a painful panting sweaty mess by playing my usual ‘That one, no, THAT one!’ game amongst the warehouses. Maybe it was watching ‘Heart Break High’ at an impressionable age (can someone corroborate that some of the characters did indeed live in a warehouse please? Did I imagine it?), but this fixation started a long time ago and seems to only have grown stronger. Hence already having a folder of images on my laptop full of pictures of inspirational warehouse spaces handily available to illustrate this post!

Because I would never want, not that I could EVER afford, a sanitised, pre-converted trendy warehouse pad with its token ‘original’ exposed brick work wall and fancy lampshades installations, nor would I want to live in something that resembled a filthy crack pipe-filled location of a scummy East London squat party: the not so tiny matter of making such a space habitable would come be a major issue. Adequate bathroom and kitchen facilities are not exactly standard in such a space, not to mention trying to keep warm in a space with such high ceilings made from such unsympathetic building materials. Having to make somewhere such as this habitable would undeniably be an exciting challenge (creating bed mezzanines, partitions between work and living areas, inventive storage solutions, open-plan kitchens, clothing rails which hang down from the ceiling), but not one I can realistically see me taking on.

With great sadness, I am slowly coming to realise that my fantasy will probably always remain just that for the following reasons. Firstly, acquiring a warehouse space is not something I am up to. I could never afford to rent such a space, and even if I was able to somehow locate one with a low enough rent, the legalities of actually living in a space meant for industrial means would most likely be entirely preventative. Secondly, if I was to consider taking the other, less legal road and found such a space unoccupied and apparently neglected, I’m just not gritty enough to attempt a squatting lifestyle. The risk of being kicked out and forced to move at the drop of a hat (been there!), abandoning all you’d created, would be too unpleasant and unstable. As would the increased risk of being burgled: imagine leaving my lovely sewing machines at home, not knowing if they’d be there when I returned. I’m just not strong enough for that! From what I understand, successful squats have someone physically there 24 hours a day, which would either make me something of a prisoner, or it would mean the need for flatmates, the lack of which has been the main benefit of our current digs and not something we are willing to surrender. Once again, I’m just too bohemian for the squares, but too square for the bohemians!

So, does anyone else harbour similar habitation desires? Has anyone actually lived in a space similar to these? If so, how did it come tp pass? Are there any other types of buildings that were not originally meant for living in, that take your fancy? Do you have anything to share that might give me cause to not give up on this dream? Does anyone know of any available and cheap warehouse spaces available in the Brighton area?!


Sølvi said...

Oh, the warehouse dream! My brother used to have that one. And he and his girlfriend actually followed it too.

The problem was off course keeping warm. They could choose between freezing their pants off or sky-high bills. So that particular dream lasted for just a couple of months before they moved into a tiny, yet isolated and super heated apartment. :-)

Unknown said...

I spent quite a few years in my '20s (ie the 1990s!) living in inner-city warehouse spaces in Sydney. They were relatively plentiful and cheap up until the late '90s when the city started to become gentrified, and "New York style" warehouse conversions started to become popular. So many artists became homeless/studio-less around this time, and absolutely beautiful, historic buildings were lost...sigh...

As far as comfort goes, i remember lying on the bed during mid-summer feeling my skin actually burning due to the heat being absorbed through the corrugated iron roof, and in winter drinking quite a bit of Ouzo just to try to get some warmth!! Aahh, fun times..

Also, the issue of privacy was a pretty big deal with only flimsy partitions separating you and your flatmates and their, ahem, guests.

Still, it's a way of living I'd LOVE to be able to do again, but would be extremely difficult to achieve nowadays in Australia without a significant investment. Plus, so many of the gorgeous buildings in our cities have already been snapped up! My partner (who has never lived warehouse-style) harbours fantasies, but, having become used to comforts such as a private bathroom, functional kitchen and insulation, it'd be a stretch for me to go back. Unless, of course, we can somehow acquire the $$ to do it "properly"!!

Having said all that, living (and working) in a relatively tiny apartment is sooo hard, and certainly not ideal!

Anna said...

yep, a group of the teens from Heartbreak High did indeed live in a warehouse. I loved that programme despite all it's silliness, I'm sure if I saw an episode now I'd think it was absolute rubbish though!

I like the idea of warehouse living but I know that from a practical standpoint with 2 kids it would drive me insane. I don't think I'd like open plan living and the environmental impact of heating something that big would drive me batty.

We all need dreams though, practical or not...

Veronica Darling... said...

DO IT! I can't believe you watched Heartbreak High! It's SO GREAT! And yes, they lived in a warehouse.


Clare said...

I don't know about Brighton, but there is a thriving warehouse community in East London and a friend of mine just recently moved out of a lovely warehouse which had a kitchen and bathroom(!). Even better, it was formerly a fabric wholesaler and so there were lots of bolts of fabric hidden in the rafters (I know, I'm sick with jealousy too)! The thing about warehouses though is that they really are all about communal living and most are shared between big groups which can lead to all the usual housemate squabbles. But in return for that the potential for studio space (not to mention epic parties) is a great thing. On a smaller scale, some other mates (a couple) shared a warehouse with another couple (also in London) which I think worked out really well (they all had creative jobs or interests of one kind or another and had a lot of fun building in rooms) but they moved out when they had a baby.
Although warehouse and squat living can be pretty nice in some parts of London (although it can be horrific too), I think that empty, nice, legal space just isn't as common in this country because of the general lack of space (and possible legal barriers). I still harbour dreams of heading off to Berlin where that lifestyle is way more common because of the relative abundance of empty real estate after reunification (though even that is slowly being snapped up by developers). Hmm, I guess this is a bit of a dream of mine too (ha, I haven't thought about Heartbreak High in ages, but damn that was a good show!!)

sandra said...

I haven't lived in a "normal" house for nearly 15 years!

I live in a mostly unrenovated industrial building that was built in the 1860's ( a dry goods store, sacks of grain, flour etc that was sold to the local farmers).

Its a great space, but warmth and noise are definately issues! At least we own this building and are slowly renovating it, which has involved removing 4 walls of iron, vacuuming 150 years worth of bird and mouse poo from the wall cavity, insulating and putting the iron back on. In summer, when I was 8 weeks pregnant.

It is not for the fainthearted but immensely satisfying (mind you I haven't been the one getting up on the roof!). Industrial buildings are designed for well, industry not living, so adapting them to a new use is challenging.

But whenever I go into a regular home or flat I feel that the ceilings are too low and the rooms too small.

You also have to have a completely different style of furniture, everything we have is BIG!

Oh and no cupboards, so everything is more or less on display.

But I would't swap it for anything. We might even finish it by sometime next century!

Stacy said...

I have bouts of this fantasy every time I visit a cool space like these. But I know it's not realistic, for all the reasons you mention. "Too bohemian for the squares, but too square for the bohemians"...yes, I understand perfectly. Sigh.

shanna said...

I have lived in an old office from IBM in Amsterdam, production-halls and all, for the past 2 years. It has been great, but yes, heating and fresh air were always a bit of an issue. The building was designed with airco, so no (NO) windows could be opened, and the airco was turned off when the building was left by IBM. Byebye fresh air. Same story with the heating...
We did have our own bathroom and kitchen, and it was always fun to wander through the halls to see which artist was doing what. Fun fun!

Bhoomika said...

Yes, I did once- for a year, in the infamous McKibbin Lofts, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Im not an artist, but lived there because I was broke, and had my own bohemian inclinations. It was great....and it also sucked. It was an inspiring place to live---my building was full of amazing talent; dressmakers, film-makers, graphic designers, painters and more. We had huge windows facing each other across a street, and we could see them at work...indoor skate ramps in progress, or sculptures half completed. It was a dream for sewing, and I still kick myself for not doing more then!

It was illegal, in that it was zoned for industrial use, but our landlords did build us a bathroom. We had broken windows that never got fixed, we had no heat at all till January, and even then, it was an industrial heater with an open flame, that still didnt keep us warm...which is no joke in New York.

the neighborhood was terrifying late at night, due to the sheer lack of pedestrians and city life nearby... but although it was entirely deserted, it was the loudest place I have ever lived---the building was full of indie rock bands, wild parties, (which were great to crash!) and then, at 5 in the morning, delivery trucks to the facotries would set of car alarms....

We left, I remember, in releif, for a real apartment with cabinets, and closets, and heating, and tenant protections, for a neighborhood with stores, and streetlights, and relished the relative quiet of Chinatown, and my roommate, swore, I suspect, to never go back to loft living.

Even with all that, I would do it again though, with a few caveats...if I lived with anyone handy and inclined to do physical improvements.... and if I ever left my 9-5 day job existance... and in a warmer city :)

I say, dont give up the dream just yet---its doable, though it does require some sacrifices.

anna2 said...

i understand what makes you hesitate about moving into some old factory. being cold is no fun.
but perhaps some of the nice things about living in a warehouse could be imported into other surroundings? ending up with something way more unusual than just another loft, and fitting your particular needs?

my childhood home used to be a hotel before my parents bought it - a rather big half-timbered house wedged between other old houses, with enormous numbers of tiny little dark rooms that we could not possibly use all of. Luckily, the roof and the top floor burnt down, and the water made the remaining walls go mouldy.
so they built a new top floor and roof, and knocked all but a few walls out, leaving only the timber beams (these kept the roof up, after all). we ended up with separate bedrooms for privacy, one workroom, and kitchen and bathroom since they had already been there. the rest of both floors made one enormous space. it was bright and airy, yet the beams gave it some structure. it was not terribly practical, but worked well enough, and there was enough space for projects, music, pingpong-tables, heaps of children and guests and for learning how to rollerskate indoors. still, it was warm and had running water.
doesn't this sound ideal for semi-squares?

perhaps some solution like this (without the "burning half the house down" part) can be found for different types of old houses? take out a few walls, open some spaces, leave the ones that you like to be closed? it might be easier and more affordable to change the feel of a place that is meant for people to live in anyway than making a house out of something that was made for machines and boxes and things. the result might still feel pretty special.

whatever you end up doing, thanks for this post - it is a nice opportunity to dream about what kind of place to live in.

(by the way, i really enjoy the rest of your blog a lot, too. if one day you should start a magazine in this style, i would gladly contribute my share to making you rich, so you could buy up all remaining warehouses you might fancy.)

Darci said...

I've always liked the idea of living in a space where I could park my car next to my couch. LOL

I worked in one of these warehouse loft spaces, and as you know, it was cold in the winter and too hot in the summer. It was also very, VERY loud. All the time.

That being said, we had a cool swing attached to one of the giant beams in the photography studio ceiling, and had MANY amazing parties there. It was a fun place to work and play!

Zoe said...

Thank you all so much for your really interesting and fascinating comments. I'm so glad I posted about this topic and all your experiences have really given me sooooo much to think about.I really appreciate the time you all took to add your thoughts, it's interesting how this seems to be quite an emotive subject.

Gail, you are the coolest chica out there!

MrsC (Maryanne) said...

Zoe I live in a converted factory that was built in the 1920's, we think. It was a spice factory, and has brick walls, wooden floors and amazing interesting ceiling lines. There are pictures in my blog :) our bit of it is about 90sqm, not huge at all, and I have a 24sqm studio upstairs in a sort of mezinee for my creative pursuits. I'm not sure this is quite what you are talking about, but it has the advantage of being warm and cool at the right times, having oodles of character, and being smack dab on the edge of the funkiest part of town, and all for a very affordable price (we own it, or at least some of it, the bank owns the rest hehe):).
I am a person who loves extremes. I would live as happily in the country, but I can't handle suburbia, as I see it as a compromise. So urbanite it is, since it is cheaper! Of course if it were in London, it would be in the equivalent of Bloomsbury or maybe Camden, and no way would we afford it!

MrsC (Maryanne) said...

Hi Zoe,
I just scheduled a post for tomorrow my time about my place and its warehousy origins. I've quoted you! :)

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