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Picture-perfect loft 

A photographer lives and works in a dream come true

Remember the scene in the movie Big when Tom Hanks bounces on a trampoline in the middle of the living room of his trendy New York City loft apartment? It is scenes like that that breed romanticized ideas of the quintessential loft. I had a movie- and sitcom-inspired idea of what typical loft living should look like and the type of people that should live there, i.e. chic starving artist types that can somehow afford insurmountable square footage and windows that touch the sky.

The first stop on a tour of Raleigh real estate with my husband got my heart pumping when our realtor showed us what was my own idealized version of a loft in reality. I had my doubts about living in a loft, but those doubts were expelled when the entrance corridor of our unit opened up to reveal two soaring windows. The light from the windows spilled across the very bare hardwood floors and the sight was breathtaking. For me, it was love at first sight. My immediate thought was, "There is no other place to live ... this is it!"

I wondered if the second floor being open to the floor below would be an issue for my husband, Matt. This had to be a joint decision. Maybe the city view, the open floor plan and the original wood beams would distract him from the fact that this place had "sound invasion" and "no privacy" written all over it. Fortunately, Matt loved the loft as much as I and we spent the remainder of the afternoon daydreaming about our new home. We put an offer on the table the same day.

Now that we had the loft, what were we going to do with it? The potential for design was limitless, but being faced with such a huge open space was going to take a lot of imagination. The first obstacle to overcome was needing different furniture. Our living room was enormous, and all of the furniture that filled the old place was dwarfed in our new home.

Our search for new furniture began. We had three criteria: It had to be big, it had to be contemporary to complement the space, and it had to be interesting enough to contrast the whiteness of the walls.

This leads us to our second design dilemma. To paint or not to paint; that is the question of loft owners everywhere. Where do you stop painting when all of your walls open up to each other? We opted not to paint in order to maintain some level of sanity, although painting would have drastically helped us with our issue of delineation of space.

A design pitfall in loft living is the need to separate each segment of the living area to create an inviting environment that not only evokes warmth, but also creates balance with the other segments. Our vision was to create little pockets of comfortable areas. We wanted to be able to use those sections of the house that weren't the most efficiently designed without our home looking too cluttered, or conversely too cold and sparse. We did this by angling the furniture, creating textures on the walls and using a room divider to define each segment.

Now, the room still flows and the colors, textures and themes of each room are homogenous without looking cookie-cutter. Getting to this point has been a long process that continues to evolve as we become acclimated to our home. The fun part is that there is always room for change.

One of the most interesting aspects of loft living for me is the fact that I am a photographer and I work out of my home. It is the perfect spot for me because all of the light and airiness of this place gives me inspiration to do what I love. I have photographed every inch of this house and know the lighting conditions of every season and time of day. I know when to shoot and when not to shoot. I can get the softest, most beautiful window light or the most blinding hideous light that could give you a suntan if you sat under it long enough. I have shot a few special clients in my home and I have used that same window light to act as a backlight to do product photography. I have photographed new buildings under construction, cars zooming by, birds, sunsets and thunderstorms from my windows. There always seems to be new possibilities of things to take pictures of, and I love it. For me it is the perfect studio.

Somehow I never grow tired of being here. My only true limitation at the moment is a comical one. About a month ago, the window blind in my office broke. Having 16-foot windows poses a problem when you need to replace their hardware. The blinding light that I referred to earlier happens from about 3 to 6 p.m. this time of year. Those hours are considered off limits for computer time, as that suntan light shines directly in my eyes, hindering me from seeing the computer screen. Matt did not believe that this was causing that much of an issue for me, so he purchased me a monitor shade. This contraption has me sticking my head under it to block out the sunlight, forcing me to pull the screen about three inches from my eyes and hunch over into a not-so-ergonomic position. To my amusement, Matt used my computer one day during those three hours of molten lava blinding suntan light time. He looked very troubled, red in the face and was sweating. I asked him what was the matter and he said, "I am blinded by the sun, I am hunched over in this chair, your desk is a mess, those hairy cats are lying in the window, and I am sweating! How can you work like this?" I laughed so hard, and then thought about getting new blinds.

There are other limitations as well to working and living in a loft. There really isn't any privacy to conduct business if someone else is in the house. If Matt is home from work or a friend is here from out of town, I can't simply shut a door and make the outside disappear. Noise travels from every direction because of the open walls. When one of us wants to go to bed, both of us are forced to go to bed. The only areas of the house that aren't open to every other room are the bathrooms. I have considered closing myself in the bathroom to chat with a client on the phone. I banish those thoughts immediately when I imagine the person on the other end recognizing that familiar, cavernous sound.

I guess living in an old cotton mill with 49 other lofts doesn't afford you much privacy, period. It seems that when I look my worst is when I see the most people. I have been busted so many times walking down the hall in my blue fuzzy slippers. But there is also a comfort in knowing that there will be a friendly face to greet you in the elevator. We are lucky to be as friendly with each other as we are. I get excited when I run into my "neighbor-friends" on the hall. Fifty different homeowners from 50 different walks of life living in 50 unique units, brought together by the common love that we have for this loft living idea. It is our own modern Main Street, where everyone has something different and wonderful to offer.

At the end of the day, it is an exciting way to live. At some point it just won't be practical for us to be here as our family grows, and when that day comes, I know it will be a sad one. But I will get great joy in knowing that I will be passing on my loft living dream to a future loft dweller.

  • A photographer lives and works in a dream come true

More by Cara Galati

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