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Loft living began in the 1970s in the United States as an informal way for artists and others to take old manufacturing spaces in the centers of cities and transform them into unconventional studios and residences. These spaces had been partly abandoned—at least, by the building owners— and, with the transfer of factory work to low-wage regions of the world as well as the obsolescence of multistory factory buildings, they became available at low rents to those who used their “sweat equity” (or own labor) to modernize and renovate them.

Within a few years, favorable media coverage and changes in local laws enabled the property market in living lofts to expand beyond artists communities and beyond cultural capitals like New York and London. Many cities encouraged ...

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