Home Sweet Warehouse
October 8, 2007 9:38 PM   Subscribe

How do i find a warehouse (or other unconventional space) to live in?

Ever since i've helped out at the Department of Safety, and been to shows in the Oak Street Arts Building or the artistery, and seeing various, less epic (but still way rad) living situations in non-residential buildings (most notably, for you living in portland, this unknown green building, which i have yet the courage to ask what they're doing, i have wanted) i have wanted to live in such a space.

Now, i've seen most of the posts about warehouse living, but they don't fully answer some of the questions i have:

First of all, how does one find these kinds of spaces? Do you just start scoping out neighborhoods and shoot for "for rent" signs? and find someplace that would be suitable for living in? How do you find a landlord that's okay with what you want to do? Don't throw me the craigslist line, here in PDX craigslist is saturated, and it's hard to find anything in any catagory. Is this even possible in portland with it's current level of gentrification?

I am not planning on running any sort of buisness out of my residence, so this doesn't really fall under a 'live/work' setting, because i work somewhere else, but i will be using a section for hobby mechanical work. Does this complicate the process, if i don't run or own a buisness?

And lastly, how the hell do people in these spaces shower? build one? a big bucket with soapy water in it? This, i have never understood fully.

Any resources, how-tos, magazine articles, or anything really would be appriciated.
posted by furnace.heart to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
When I lived in Richmond, Virginia, I lived in a four story former furniture auction house. We (roomies and I) occupied the top two floors. The second floor housed antiques and such, and the ground level was home to a number of businesses over the years.

The bathroom was built from scratch and our kitchen sinks were the kind of industrial sized plastic ones you'd find in a laundromat. There was no working water just prior to my moving in. One of the other room mates was handy enough in the plumbing department and got everything up and running.

As far as cooking went, it was all done on a gas range we'd purchased (used) from a restaurant supply company, and we rigged it to a propane tank. I'm amazed we never blew up the building. Needless to say, no baking ever took place.

There were a number of buildings like ours for rent in the area and inquiring about living in them was simply a matter of asking the business owner on the lower levels for the building owner's phone number. I think we got lucky, honestly. We found a building owner who was happy to get money from a creative bunch of people instead of having a (mostly) empty building filled with junk.

Heat in the winter was a bitch, but we made do. Gravity actually worked for this. We had a small tank on the top floor we filled with oil, which trickled through a series of pipes to a small furnace on the main floor. I wore lots of layers. 18,000 square feet is hard to heat, cheaply.

It was one of the more memorable living experiences I've had. Something about riding my bike from the front office to the freight elevator in the living room made me laugh.

Sorry this is a bit long. In summary, if it's a project you're looking for, it could be fun.
posted by gummi at 10:07 PM on October 8, 2007

For a shower, you could always do what is done in some parts of the world and build a small room to be your bathroom, then tile the whole thing and put a drain in the center. I stayed with some people in Taiwan and their bathroom had no shower. It was the shower.
posted by slavlin at 10:59 PM on October 8, 2007

I think the key is to find commercial / industrial districts that aren't doing particularly well. I've lived in a few warehouse situations and seen many more, and the common element was always a landlord who felt that he was better off getting a bit of money from scruffy art/music people if it meant that his properties didn't sit vacant. My most recent was 20+ housemates in a former bus repair facility in West Oakland, and for a little while it was awesome. When economic times change for the better, these are the people who get shooed out the fastest, e.g. the SOMA district in San Francisco in the mid/late 1990's. The rush of condo developments was death on warehouse people on both sides of the Bay, but I expect that may not be a problem for a little while.

These living situations are almost always illegal, so there's a built-in incentive for the landlord to keep the rent reasonable as form of hush money.

I can't possibly overstate the value of having at least one roommate in the construction trades. One of the guys I lived with did residential remodeling, and he helped me plan and build a drywalled bedroom with a cantilevered balcony three flights up, my first-ever building project.

Warehouse living doesn't age well. It's fun and bohemian, but the shine wears off after a while. When people's tweaker friends-of-friends starting hanging around, the landlord tries creative pressure tactics to get you out quietly so a business can move in, and the lead paint dust in the rafters starts making you feel tired all the time, be ready to move on.

Really you just need to hit the pavement. Drive around promising neighborhoods, look for vacant buildings.
posted by migurski at 11:06 PM on October 8, 2007

This is a key phrase: " the lead paint dust in the rafters ..."

I lived in an ex-plating factory for about seven years without actually thinking twice about it but as I got older these issues of pollution became more of a concern. My friend moved out when he had kids. So did I.

There was a horror story many years ago about a building in Hoboken, NJ that had been bought by a bunch of people to convert into living lofts. Most of the work had been done, then someone decided he wanted new floors and after pulling up the old found mercury pooled in all the spaces between the floor joists. yikes.

So be careful about the history of where you are moving into - ex-body shop = not great idea.

We found our space, in Brooklyn, by driving around calling numbers on sides of buildings (this was 20 yrs ago, mind you). It was a 'bad' neighborhood at the time, no markets/bodegas very few to no amenities. We built everything, and made lots of mistakes. Most importantly we had a good working relationship (there were three of us) and this helped get things done in a regular and straightforward manner. (when we had the dough- the initial out-lay was a lot). Which would be my principle piece of advice, get good partners.

The last would be get a good landlord: My old landlord, Frank, was the greatest landlord ever and extended to us more leniency than he needed to. I had other friends have the opposite experience. As you're stepping outside the norm, you have to pay close attention and maybe hire a lawyer to know your exposure (especially if zoning says you can't live where you want, in some cases the fire department can show up at your door and that's it, you gotta couch surf till things are sorted out.)

Good luck.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:38 AM on October 9, 2007

I owned a business, in what became a National Park, in the building just behind the facing illustration of the National Park Service page, to which I've immediately linked, above. That building, after the industrial business I owned left, was, for a short time, turned into a loft/condo development.

I wish it had worked. I almost bought a unit, there, knowing, well, the building, and the developer, and having been offered a good price break, in consideration of my help in securing additional tenants.

But, ultimately, as an investment, and as a residence, it simply didn't fly. Few such buildings, as residences, do. There are lots of issues created by prior ownership, that buying or renting "warehouse" space magnifies. Working shower plumbing, in the long run, is usually the least of your issues.

Your best bet, if you simply want to live in "loft" space, is to look for successful residential "loft" developments, and pay the rent involved. It's generally near to what equivalent square footage for more normal accomodations will command, or even above, but you won't have zoning problems, architecture issues, and perhaps, historic site limitations. And you won't be responsible for fire code violations, or problems with non-conforming access lifts, as are the developers of 170 year old, charming, mill buildings.
posted by paulsc at 2:48 AM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

You may want to check out this:
Workshop Studio Health and Safety

You may have some luck searching for a "live-in" artist's studio. Don't forget you can use a basement or garage (or a shipping container) as a workshop if need be, if you end up having to rent a traditional place.
posted by sebastienbailard at 4:23 AM on October 9, 2007

For what it's worth, I found my studio by responding to a "live/work artist space" ad on Craigslist. In my experience that is code for "commercial space that I will let you live in if you don't tell anyone".

I would ask around if you have any artist or designer friends or know someone who's hooked into that community. My friends and I are always trading tips on available studio spaces, someone is always looking or knows about some under-the-table arrangement that won't be advertised.

Also seconding looking for a 'traditional' place that has a space you can work in. I once rented a house that had a 2400sqft attic complete with floors and windows. The owner had never been up there and had no idea, if I hadn't been curious one day I would have rented a separate studio. It was a bitch getting my 800 pound printing press up those rickety pull-down stairs and it got hot in the summer - but it was awesome!
posted by bradbane at 7:01 AM on October 9, 2007

Brian Battjer built an indoor village in a large room in a cardboard box factory and wrote about it.
posted by JonB at 1:03 PM on October 9, 2007

I think this link is what JonB is talking about : http://www.ikeepadiary.com/diary/2002/goodbye_indoorvillage/frame_index.html
posted by Lizc at 1:31 PM on October 9, 2007

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