Where Can You Buy a Loft in DC?

by Mark Wellborn

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Where Can You Buy a Loft in DC?
Bryan School Lofts

The modern definition of the loft was born in New York City. From the luxury apartment versions in Tribeca that fetch upwards of $10 million to the industrial factory spaces deep in Brooklyn that rent for $1,500 a month, they are an institution in the Big Apple.

DC’s loft selection is smaller and far different than New York’s, but there are still quite a few options if you are in the market.

“Unlike Boston or New York, DC does not have a stock of warehouses with huge industrial loft spaces,” Lance Horsley of Long & Foster told UrbanTurf. “So instead there are some great converted spaces in old churches, schoolhouses and automobile buildings that serve as lofts.”

The traditional definition of a loft is a very raw space with no walls, tall ceilings, concrete floors, and a lot of exposed brick and ductwork. Finding something like this in DC is difficult unless you are willing to venture deep into the more industrial parts of Southeast. The lofts in DC essentially fall into two categories: large new units in buildings that are taking on a second life or loft-like residences in developments that some in the business have derisively dubbed “McLofts.”

“In DC, people’s expectation of a loft varies,” Tim Liu, founder of DCLofts.com, told UrbanTurf. “If you come from cities like New York or Chicago then you are expecting something industrial. However, there are a lot of people who would consider a newer, smaller home a loft as well. So, to refer to those as McLofts is just rude.”

While people’s interpretation of what constitutes a loft differs, the consensus is that the area in DC with the largest concentration of lofts is Logan Circle.

“14th and Church is sort of the designated loft district in DC as it is the only place that people want to live today that has a good stock of true loft spaces,” Horsley said.

Logan Circle has carved out this reputation because of the high number of buildings in the neighborhood that used to service automobiles. Two buildings that have made a name for themselves are the 21-unit Rainbow Lofts which is in the former Rainbow Auto Body Shop at 1445 Church Street (see map here) and Lofts 14, an 84-unit loft building at 14th and Church Street (see map here) in a former auto showroom.

The auto body shop sign still hangs on the front of Rainbow Lofts, a building where you can get a 1,500 square-foot loft for under $1 million. One of the main criticisms of lofts in DC is that the developers cut up the existing space too much, so instead of fifteen 2,000 square-foot units, you get thirty 1,000 square-foot lofts. Rainbow Lofts is considered a building where the former holds true.

“When the developers built Rainbow Lofts a few years ago they were smart enough to not only make the lofts large, but they also got creative with how they separated the rooms, so the spaces have the feel of one big room,” Horsley said. “When you go to lofts in New York, you see the bed over in the corner of a large room, and the Rainbow Lofts has that same feel.”

While Horsley contends that, by his definition, the true loft experience in DC is almost non-existent, he is very complimentary of what developer Jim Abdo has accomplished with his loft projects.

“The real stock of lofts that have turned out to be fierce are those in old schools and churches like the Landmark Lofts on H Street and Bryan School Lofts in Capitol Hill,” Horsley told UrbanTurf.

Landmark Lofts at 800 3rd Street NE (see map here) is in the former building of the Capital Children’s Museum. The lofts boast huge living areas (36 feet by 24 feet), 18-foot ceilings and oversized windows that can measure 12 feet by 15 feet. While a 3,000 square-foot loft at Landmark can cost you upwards of $2.5 million, according to sales representative Anne Blakeman, there are 2,000 square-foot units in the $1 million range.

If the size and price of lofts like this are daunting, there are alternatives. At Langston Lofts on the corner of 14th and V, there are 800 square-foot “loft-like” residences that are being resold for around $425,000. While not the wide open spaces offered by other developments, Langston has units that walk the line comfortably between condo and loft. (The building also boasts the popular Busboys and Poets coffee shop on the ground floor.)

“There are three or four different types of loft buyers in DC,” Tim Liu told UrbanTurf. “And fortunately there is a wide enough selection for them to choose from.”


  1. Fred Bates said at 9:28 am on Thursday November 13, 2008:

    You are right, there are only a few true industrial lofts in the city.  I happen to have one listed now at a former car dealership,  2424 18th St R2, 3800 sqft for 2.75MM, 14 ft ceilings, concrete floors, amazing bathrooms and kitchen. Sorry for the blatant commercial plug but it is relevant to the story.

  1. han said at 1:23 pm on Monday November 17, 2008:

    “You are right, there are only a few true industrial lofts in the city.  I happen to have one listed now at a former car dealership,  2424 18th St R2, 3800 sqft for 2.75MM, 14 ft ceilings, concrete floors, amazing bathrooms and kitchen. Sorry for the blatant commercial plug but it is relevant to the story.”

    haha… good luck.  I hope you’re rich and can afford to hold onto that place for a while.

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