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A home originally built as an artist studio in the historic Gainsborough Studios A home originally built as an artist studio in the historic Gainsborough Studios
The New York City artist’s loft is arguably among the most romanticized and coveted living spaces in the world. It has been used as a backdrop for avant-garde films by Andy Warhol, the central scene of a musical (yes, we’re talking about Rent), and more recently, as the focus of several museum shows (for example, the Whitney’s 2013 exhibit, Rituals of Rented Island). When one thinks about a New York City artist’s loft, what likely comes to mind is an open, expansive, and unequivocally cool space—a space where anything is possible.
While this may have been true at one point in the city’s history, the artist’s loft is neither readily affordable nor easily attainable in the 21st century. When David Bowie passed away in early 2016 and fans spontaneously gathered to mourn outside his Soho loft at 285 Lafayette Street, they were strolling past some of the city’s most expensive real estate. Indeed, if you’re looking to buy in the building where Bowie once lived, you’ll need at least $7 million to purchase. If you prefer to rent, a handful of units are on the market starting at $10,000/month. This raises the obvious question: How did New York’s artists’ lofts, especially those located in Soho, go from accessible to virtually unobtainable in just a few decades?

In this article:

285 Lafayette Street
285 Lafayette Street NoLiTa/Little Italy
766 Decatur Street
766 Decatur Street Bedford-Stuyvesant
Morgan Studios, 170 East 78th Street
Morgan Studios, 170 East 78th Street Lenox Hill
The Atelier, 33 West 67th Street
The Atelier, 33 West 67th Street Central Park West
152 East 94th Street
152 East 94th Street Carnegie Hill
Photo by Erin Kestenbaum for 6sqft

When one thinks about a New York City artist’s loft, what likely comes to mind is an open, expansive, and unequivocally cool space—a space where anything is possible.

When Soho was a “Last Resort” for Artists

Today, it may be difficult for many New Yorkers to believe that in the early 1970s, Soho was considered a refuge for struggling artists. Indeed, a May 1970 headline in the New York Times declared Soho to be a “last resort” for artists. As the article explained, “Soho is the only area left in Manhattan where the loft space [artists] need is still available at reasonable rates.” But even in 1970 when Soho was still an affordable, albeit at times crime ridden, oasis for artists, there were concerns about the neighborhood’s pending transformation into a highly valued real estate enclave.
As written in the same New York Times article, by 1970, some artists were already worried that “Real estate developers would jump at the chance to replace the [neighborhood’s] stubby buildings with profitable high-rise buildings.” There was also concern that the city’s Planning Commission may simply raze the neighborhood to make way from middle-income housing. These concerns were not unfounded. Buildings that had sold for $30,000 in 1960 were, by early 1970, being sold for $150,000.
Soho's first artist collective at 112 Greene Street. The space opened in the early 1970s Soho's first artist collective at 112 Greene Street. The space opened in the early 1970s and is today home to a Stella McCartney boutique. Image via Market Fine Arts
City planners and investors, however, were not the only groups of concern to Soho’s artists at the time. As reported, “Madison Avenue dealers have also discovered the charms of Soho’s deep lofts and lower prices.” While the arrival of dealers opening gallery spaces was cited as a welcome event for some of the neighborhood’s artists (namely those who had already bought into co-op buildings), it was also cited as a potential sign of alarm for the neighborhood’s many renters.

As early as 1970, Soho’s renters rightfully feared that the arrival of uptown gallerists would eventually drive up rental prices throughout the neighborhood. In the end, the neighborhood’s renters were right to be concerned. As one artist lamented, “Pretty soon we will have boutiques here and see-the-artist tours.” He was right. Today, some of the few artists who remain in Soho now live in unlikely locales, including above the Armani store at the corner of Spring and Thompson where a two-bedroom loft sold for nearly $3 million.

113-Prince-Street-01 Former artist's lofts in Soho have become high-end homes out of reach to artists, not to mention most people. (Image via Triplemint)

The Establishment of the Loft Law and Loft Board

In the end, it would take somewhat longer for Soho to become out of reach for artists than originally expected. This had much to do with the city’s economic misfortunes and rising crime rates throughout the 1970s. By the early 1980s, however, the city was slowly beginning to rebound. While the East Village and Lower East Side remained highly affordable and crime ridden, Soho—with what had become an established, internationally recognized art scene—was well positioned for gentrification. Adding to the gentrification process, however, was another factor—the establishment of the New York City Loft Law.
In 1982, the New York State Legislature established the New York City Loft Law and related Loft Board “to regulate the conversion of certain buildings that were constructed for commercial and manufacturing use to lawful residential use.” On the surface, the Loft Law’s intentions were not necessarily designed to target artists but simply designed to force landlords to bring illegal living spaces up to code—for example, by forcing landlords to comply with fire safety requirements. In the end, however, the establishment of the Loft Law had two immediate and ultimately devastating consequences.
In some cases, landlords responded to the new legislation by simply pushing out tenants. This was a relatively simple task since most of Soho’s renters had never held leases. After all, they had been living and working in illegal spaces. Under the Loft Law, landlords were also permitted to pass along the cost of upgrading buildings to existing tenants. Not surprisingly, this resulted in drastic rent increases throughout the neighborhood and ultimately, the exodus of many artists. Indeed, the impact of the Loft Law on Soho was so devastating that urban planners around the world now use the term “Soho Effect” as shorthand to describe how manufacturing or industrial districts are gentrified, often using local artists as a vehicle to accelerate the process.

As a result, there are few working artists living in Soho or even south of 14th Street. The fortunate few that do are now in their sixties to eighties, and had either the means and foresight to purchase space in the 1970's, or the ability to snag and hold onto rent-controlled or rent-stabilized units.
Soho-05 Image via The Listing Project

Finding a Live/Work Space in 2021

One tragic effect of rising rents and diminishing studio space is that not only are artists getting priced out of the neighborhoods that they helped put on the map, but the artist community of yesteryear is being split into fragments. Even in pre-pandemic days, artists searching for space spread out throughout Brooklyn, not to mention into Queens and the Bronx.

In the early twentieth century, artists and their backers put up a number of buildings throughout New York, allowing artists to live and work . Since then, though, many have been closed, demolished, or transformed into luxury buildings with multi-million dollar listings. One surviving community is the Westbeth Artist Community, but the waitlist closed in 2007 and a social services coordinator is now on site for senior and disabled tenants as the population ages.

"The problem is not Westbeth, which has a finite number of apartments. The problem is that there are not more Westbeths!” - George Cominskie, President, Westbeth Artist Residents Council

Despite the diminishment of official artist housing, a number of unorthodox options have sprung up in recent years. The Artist Studio Affordability Project (ASAP) formed in 2013 in response to rent increases, and its members strive to keep workspaces affordable all over the city. The Listing Project stemmed from artist Stephanie Diamond’s search for a New York apartment, and continues to send out carefully vetted listings for artist studios, shared rooms in artist-owned homes, and apartments for rent for and by artists. Indeed, the luckiest of young artists split the rent with fellow creatives who understand their struggles and what they need to do to work out of their homes.

350-Manhattan-Avenue-01 All images of The Skillman via Brick and Mortar

The Soho/Noho Rezoning and Ways the City Can Help

The importance of arts and culture to New York cannot be overstated. In his State of the State address, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo declared, “We must bring culture and arts back to life” before announcing a New York Arts Revival initiative that would organize outdoor pop-up performances, explore safe options for indoor performances, and fund community art groups.
At a city level, a number of mayoral candidates have made the arts part of their platform. Andrew Yang has announced that his administration would partner with larger institutions to help subsidize rent for resident artists in buildings. Ray McGuire serves on the board of the Whitney Museum and the Studio Museum, and has pledged that his administration will invest in programs that support New Yorkers working in the arts and other creative fields. And during his tenure as New York City Comptroller, mayoral candidate Scott Stringer’s office released The Creative Economy, a report spelling out the importance of the arts and creative industries to New York and how to strengthen the creative sector; the creation of new affordable housing and work spaces was among the recommendations.
Additionally, in October 2020, it was decided that a proposed rezoning of Soho and Noho could proceed to public land use review. If the rezoning is approved, it could lead to as many as 3,200 new housing units, 600-900 of which would be affordable. The rent-regulated homes covered by the Loft Law (see above) would remain protected, and the city would support live/work and arts/cultural space. Additionally, it would require building shapes and sizes to correspond to local character - in other words, no supertalls allowed. With this in mind, might we see the emergence of homes inspired by the lofts of yesteryear? While we wait to find out, we take a look at a selection of spacious studio apartments that may be ideal for those working in creative fields, both from aesthetic and financial standpoints.

Classic Artists' Lofts
222-Central-Park-South-01 The Gainsborough via Compass
From the Listing: Built in 1905 and completed in 1908, the legendary Gainsborough Studios were first constructed as an apartment hotel for artists. Shortly thereafter, the building was converted into a co-operative for its tenants. The unique frontage, which has recently undergone a major restoration, features a bust of the 18th century painter, Thomas Gainsborough, after whom the building was named and dedicated. The upper facade has beautiful Edwardian tiles in bright colors made from 18th-Century pottery and an impressive frieze entitled 'a Festival Procession of the Arts.'

This renowned building's northern light attracted artists including the Surrealist painter, Enrico Donati. He used Apartment 1620 as his painting studio for well over 50 years. Located on the 14th and 15th floors, the dramatic double-height living room with wood burning fireplace has an 18'8' ceiling and oversized windows with sweeping views of Manhattan's iconic and landmarked 843-acre Central Park. The balcony overlooking the living room provides an even more spectacular view of Fifth Avenue, and the vast pastoral oasis of the Park. The apartment is a beautiful portal through which quintessential New York can best be experienced! Much of the architectural details and original floorplan of the apartment have remained intact.
See floor plan and full details here.

1-West-67th-Street-01 Hotel des Artistes via Brown Harris Stevens
From the Listing: Rare corner double artist atelier duplex in the historic Hotel des Artistes. Combining 2 artist atelier spaces, the 30' Great Room with soaring 19' ceilings and 13.5' high windows is flooded with Northern light and divides easily into both living and dining rooms creating a wonderful flow for entertaining.

The historic Hotel des Artistes was completed in 1916 in a Neo-Gothic style. This full service building located on a beautiful tree-lined block close to the 67th street Central Park entrance and to Lincoln Center, features several amenities rarely available in prewar cooperatives: 24 hour concierge and elevator operator, indoor swimming pool, gym, squash court with basketball hoop and beautiful outdoor roof deck. The Hotel des Artistes is a residence traditionally coveted by the creative community. As a bonus to residents, the renowned adjacent Leopard at des Artistes restaurant offers a dining discount.
See floor plan and full details here.

15-West-67th-Street-01 Central Park Studios via Brown Harris Stevens
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From the Listing: Come home to this extraordinary residence in a pre-war doorman building, just steps off of Central Park. For the past 25 years, the space has been enjoyed as a pied-a-terre & has been thoughtfully renovated. You'll be awestruck by the scale of the 16 1/2' ceilings and grand wood-burning in the "Great" living room, accented by Venetian plaster walls & complimented by an arched 13' window, massive bookcases, and original details like hardwood floors bathed in glorious Northern "Artist's Light." The first floor is currently arranged with the dining area within the extra large living room for a more informal vibe and with the south-facing FDR used as a flexible space, but you could convert it to an occasional or full-time third bedroom or a perfect home office. Also on the main floor is a generously proportioned second bedroom with a view south over West 67th Street, and a full bathroom.

Built specifically for artists in 1905 as one of the very first co-ops in the city, 15 W 67th Street a.k.a. "Central Park Studios" is a standout building among its contemporaries on what many consider the prettiest block of the Upper West Side. It's adjacent to the famed Hotel des Artistes & the entrance to Central Park is just steps from the front of the building, where Tavern On the Green and Sheep's Meadow await just inside the Park. Lincoln Center is just 1 block away, as are the 1/2 subways on 66th Street, walk just a few blocks to the A/B/C on 72nd Street. Storage comes with the apartment, and the building is run by a wonderful full-time staff. This residence has a style and grace that cannot be truly replicated. It is the perfect retreat to make decades worth of memories..
See floor plan and full details here.

33-West-67th-Street-01 The Atelier via The Corcoran Group
From the Listing: Majestic, extraordinary and stylish are just a few words to describe this marvelous renovation of this duplex home located on this special block West 67th Street. Situated on the 13th and 14th floor of the Atelier Building 7FW offers a spacious home in a full service building and a true Pre-War Masterpiece. Much thought went into this design and detailed work can be seen every where. On the first floor you have a stunning grand room with 16'5" ceilings, a wood burning fire place, two separate seating areas, all with open Northern city views from the double height windows. A built in bar area with a wine cooler and hidden television and stereo equipment makes this room a wonderful entertaining space.

The Atelier, 33 West 67th Street, was originally designed for artists' studio apartments in Manhattan. It is a graceful limestone and brick building which has kept its most desirable 1903 elements. The intimate lobby, the huge cast-iron elevator and electrified gas fixtures on the landing. The previous owner of this home was Albert Murray a famous portrait artist. His works hang in the Naval Institute and many homes. He did portraits of the Rockefellers, Arthur H. Sulzberger to name a few.
See floor plan and full details here.

170-East-78th-Street-01 All images of 170 East 78th Street via Compass
From the Listing: This treasure of an apartment, located at 170 East 78th Street, one of the unique Morgan Studio buildings, was thoroughly renovated while retaining original details and adding chic elements. The grand living room has glorious sun streaming in through the extra tall and wide south facing windows and offers a magnificent space for any gathering with its dramatic 13' ceiling and handsome mantle surrounding the wood-burning fireplace. The two bedrooms, two windowed bathrooms and the dining room and kitchen are charming and pristine. Along with abundant closets throughout the renovation included the addition of a washer and dryer. See floor plan and full details here.

Modern Oversized Studios Under $600K
231-Norman-Avenue-01 Greenpoint Lofts via The Corcoran Group

303-East-57th-Street-01 All images of The Excelsior via Compass
From the Listing: This large, duplexed studio is approximately 699 sq.ft. The unit features an open floor plan with a modern kitchen complete with stainless steel appliances, a vented cooktop, and Caesarstone countertops. Other amenities include ductless heating and cooling units, video intercom, and hardwood flooring as well as recessed lighting throughout. See floor plan and full details here.

244-Franklin-Avenue-01 All images of 244 Franklin Avenue via Compass
From the Listing: This large, duplexed studio is approximately 699 square feet. The unit features an open floor plan with a modern kitchen complete with stainless steel appliances, a vented cooktop, and Caesarstone countertops. Other amenities include ductless heating and cooling units, video intercom, and hardwood flooring as well as recessed lighting throughout. The elevator offers access to the communal roof-deck which offers spectacular views of the Manhattan Skyline. The building also offers complimentary bicycle storage in the basement. The twelve unit condo building is located on the border of Bed-Stuy & Clinton Hill. This home is easily accessible via both the MTA G (Classon/ Bedford-Nostrand/ Myrtle-Willoughby Aves.) & C (Franklin Ave.) trains. See floor plan and full details here.

573-Gates-Avenue-01 All images of Golden Gates Condos via Compass
From the Listing: Come home to modern Italian design and traditional brownstone charm in this inviting spacious studio plus downstairs rec-room/home office, one and a half-bathroom condominium in a brand-new boutique building in vibrant Bedford-Stuyvesant. This light-filled home is superbly designed to accentuate sunlight and maximize living space with an inviting layout, gorgeous wide-plank white oak floors and soaring 10' ceilings with recessed lighting. The open chef's kitchen dazzles with quartz counters and custom cabinetry finished with gold fixtures. Smart task lighting and a suite of high-end stainless steel appliances by Bosch and Blomberg make cooking and cleanup a breeze while the wide peninsula is the perfect perch for casual dining under handsome globe pendant fixtures. Central HVAC and oversized double-insulated, thermal-efficient sash windows ensure year-round comfort in this stunning Brooklyn home. See floor plan and full details here.

766-Decatur-Street-01 All images of 766 Decatur Street via Douglas Elliman
From the Listing: 766 Decatur exemplifies a contemporary aesthetic while remaining faithful to the unique vibe of the surrounding neighborhood. Each residence is beautifully designed and thoughtfully laid out; offering the perfect portrait of modern simplicity and functionality. Features include red oak flooring, expansive sound civilized Pella windows, wall-mounted Mitsubishi split systems, vented washer and dryer hookups, and video intercoms. Every facet of the kitchen emphasizes polished, pure, and practical. Designed to inspire culinary artistry with its granite countertops, white subway tile backsplash, and soft-white, matte cabinetry. See floor plan and full details here.

All images of 152 East 94th Street via Compass
From the Listing: This charming and bright oversized alcove studio that feels like a one-bedroom has a flexible floor plan. Its inlaid hardwood oak floors and high ceilings enhance the pre-war charm that gives a modern European feel. Generous space to welcome a full dining room and living room. The south/western open city views allow the sunlight to pour in all year long. The renovated windowed kitchen features terra cotta flooring, tiled backsplash, counter deep refrigerator/freezer and quartz countertop with room for dining. Off the foyer, French doors lead to the sleeping alcove that fits a queen size bed. Adjacent to the bedroom is a large tiled bathroom with a full size tub and a separate shower stall. Also available for rent at $3,200. See floor plan and full details here.

173-Lefferts-Place-01 All images of 173 Lefferts Place via Douglas Elliman
From the Listing: Unit #1A is a south-facing, duplex studio home, with a private terrace. The spacious lower level can serve as an extra room, the upper level has an open-plan kitchen, dining & living room that opens up to the private outdoor space. Floor to ceiling windows invite an abundance of light, all-day long. Opulent details like oversized 7+ inch wide-plank hardwood floors and classic hardware lend character to each room. The smart and ample kitchens have customized Leicht cabinetry from Germany, Quartz countertops and Calacatta Gold porcelain backsplashes. Pella windows and insulated walls keep these homes pin-drop quiet. Building amenities include Amazon entry key accessibility and smart home intercom systems. See floor plan and full details here.

450-Hart-Street-01 All images of The Flats at Hart Street via The InHouse Group
From the Listing: You will love coming home to 450 Hart! Residence #1A is a duplex studio home with a private outdoor patio. This studio is spacious with plenty of room for a sleeping area, a place to work from home and a large versatile lower-level rec room. On the upper level, the kitchen features a farmhouse sink and integrated Bosch appliances, as well as a pot filler for the avid cook. The living room views on the spacious private patio out front . A place to grow your own produce and herbs for cooking and a place to dine al fresco on summer nights. The bath has a jacuzzi tub, and there is a half bath on the lower level as well. Sponsor special: 1/2 year taxes and common charges paid by seller FOR DECEMBER OFFERS. See floor plan and full details here.

Would you like to tour any of these properties?
Just complete the info below.
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Or call us at (212) 755-5544
Would you like to tour any of these properties?
Contributing Writer Cait Etherington Cait Etherington has over twenty years of experience working as a journalist and communications consultant. Her articles and reviews have been published in newspapers and magazines across the United States and internationally. An experienced financial writer, Cait is committed to exposing the human side of stories about contemporary business, banking and workplace relations. She also enjoys writing about trends, lifestyles and real estate in New York City where she lives with her family in a cozy apartment on the twentieth floor of a Manhattan high rise.