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Lofty ambitions (continued)

Boston’s loft phenomenon began in the Leather District, and there are still some beauts left in the center of it all. Like the 1472-square-foot sixth-floor unit at 717 Atlantic Avenue (www.loftsboston.com; 617-482-1239), currently going for $589,000. Accessible via the building’s original freight elevator, this old fur-storage building melds turn-of-the century elements with cutting-edge design and amenities. Common areas show off the building’s original wooden floors and steel fire doors, and the brick ceiling is lined with exposed metal duct work. But the stainless-steel kitchen, custom-made furniture, and pre-wired office area are decidedly modern. The bedroom is semi-enclosed, separated from the central living area by sliding doors.

While they’re not as numerous, lofts do exist on the other side of the river, in Cambridge and Somerville. The newish Park Street Lofts, at 17 Ivaloo Street on the Cambridge/Somerville line (www.parkstreetlofts.com; 617-625-7183), offer contemporary design and a scale that’s somewhat more intimate than many cavernous downtown spaces. They combine the best of open-floor-plan living (large windows, airy common areas) with the privacy of bedrooms and bathrooms (there are three of each). Other selling points: central air conditioning, underground parking, and views of the city skyline. One three-bedroom, three-bathroom 2067-square-foot penthouse unit is currently on the market for $684,900.

If that’s too steep, there’s always the option of renting. In Kendall Square, studio (600 square feet), one-bedroom (900 square feet), and two-bedroom (900-1250 square feet) spaces are available in a converted factory building (www.bostonrealtynet.com; 617-267-2340). Towering white ceilings, bathed in light from oversize windows and skylights, lend a sublime brightness to these open spaces. A fitness center and laundry room are gravy. Studios start at $1400 per month, with one-bedrooms at around $1800, and two-bedrooms at about $2000.

One caveat about loft locations, especially in Boston proper: "Lofts tend to be in areas that are not in the middle of things," says Carroll. "Sometimes people call me, and I go out with them to show them lofts, and they’ll be like, ‘Well, I really want to be in a better location. To have schools nearby and have restaurants to walk to.’ The buildings that are downtown, like at Fort Point Channel, right now that area is in transition ... there’s nothing to do right there. You really have to drive. And at night, it’s very quiet. Even the Leather District; it’s come up in some ways, and there are some restaurants, but it’s still very busy during the day and very quiet at night. So that’s something to consider."

At the same time, "you get more for your money with a loft," Carroll adds. "If you live in the Back Bay or the South End, you’ll get a 900-square-foot two-bedroom for $500,000 or $600,000. With a loft, for $500 or $600,000, you’ll get maybe 1500 square feet. So it’s for people who want more space and are willing to compromise on the neighborhood. To be in downtown Boston without having Newbury Street around the corner, you could have a lot more space and just be a T ride away from that."

Things are even cheaper if you’re willing to venture further afield. Like Salem, for instance. Juliana Taché, vice-president and owner of Taché Real Estate, suggests the still-under-construction Derby Lofts (www.derbylofts.com; 888-999-LOFT), which are being built in the 19th-century Salem Laundry Building. Modern kitchens, air conditioning, and spacious floor plans are just a few features of these classic lofts.

"That building has the exposed brick and the 12-foot ceilings. And there will be a concierge on the first floor," says Taché. "We also just recently put another building under agreement that’s going to [be used for] condo parking spaces, which is something I don’t think the North Shore has ever seen!"

In fact, she says, the enormous loft complex (scads of units are still available, most between 1250 and 1700 square feet, and selling for between $349,000 and $485,000) looks to be transforming the real-estate landscape of the North Shore.

"We sold two units to one gentleman, and he’s combining the two," Taché says. "It’s a million-dollar unit that’s going to be selling in Salem, Massachusetts. A million dollars. You see that in Marblehead Neck. I don’t even think a single-family in Salem has sold for a million dollars."

Even in Lynn, people are catching on — as evidenced by the runaway success of the Boston Machine Lofts (www.bostonmachinelofts.com; 888-999-LOFT), which Taché also represents.

"They sold out 30 of their units," she says. "The majority of buyers we had in the Lynn area were from Cambridge, Braintree, all over Boston itself. Librarians, attorneys, it was just overwhelming." (At press time, there was at least one fifth-floor, two-bedroom, 1525-square-foot unit left, on the market for $302,900.) A cheaper find is 70 Exchange Street, in Lynn (www.mybostonloft.com; 617-426-8445), a strikingly ornate limestone structure with 15 loft units selling for between $198,000 and $300,000.

Robin Perry is high on a new development in Chelsea, slated to open in August (www.bostonmassproperties.com; 617-797-0745). "It was a former textile mill that they’re totally gutting out and converting. They’re going to have stainless-steel appliances, granite countertops, acid-washed flooring so that people can go in and put whatever type of flooring they want in there. It’s a 21-unit building, with square footage for a one-bedroom ranging from 700 to 750 and selling for $220,000." Two-bedroom units (800 to 1050 square feet) should sell for somewhere around $270,000.

And in Everett, you can brag to your friends that you live in the old Charleston Chew factory. The Charleston Lofts (www.charlestonlofts.com; 617-381-9565) offer square footage up to 1500 and sell for between $379,000 and $589,000.

When one considers the money saved by relocating just 10 or 20 minutes outside the city, it’s something of a no-brainer. "To be able to offer those properties, with a commute out of Boston of roughly 25 minutes, for almost 50 cents on the dollar!" says Taché. "You get 700 square feet for $500,000 in the Boston area. You turn around and get 1400 square feet for $350,000 to $555,000 [in Salem]. What would you rather do?"

For those who insist on staying closer to the action, and who want to rent rather than own, the lofts at 160 East Berkeley Street (www.thehamiltoncompany.com; 617-783-0039), a 38-unit building in the South End, are within walking distance of most of the city’s happening spots. One-bedrooms start at $1900 per month, two-bedrooms at $2000, and three-bedrooms at $2500. Like a traditional loft, the ceilings are high, the windows are huge, and the floor plans are open (many of the units also cover more than one floor). But far from a character-rich old warehouse, it’s a gleaming new edifice.

That they’re building them from scratch is yet another indicator of the loft’s ever-increasing popularity. "When I started here, lofts were few and far between in Boston," says Rudy Crichlow. "If you had two or three percent that were lofts, that was a lot. And now ... 25, 30, 40 percent of [the market] is loft space! It’s getting very popular."

"It’s unbelievable," agrees Taché. "The majority of people just do not want the converted apartment buildings, with vanilla box construction and beige carpet."

"People say, ‘Oh my God, these ceilings are so huge!’ or ‘Look at this great light!’ " Dana Schaefer says. "So many condos and apartment buildings are the same. The majority of lofts have a real ‘wow’ factor."

Mike Miliard can be reached at mmiliard[a]phx.com

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Issue Date: April 30 - May 6, 2004
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