In US usage a loft is an upper room or story in a building, mainly in a barn, directly under the roof, used either for storage (as in most private houses). In this sense it is roughly synonymous with attic, the major difference being that an attic typically constitutes an entire floor of the building, while a loft covers only a few rooms, leaving one or more sides open to the lower floor. In British usage, lofts are usually just a roof space accessed via a hatch and loft ladder, while attics tend to be rooms immediately under the roof accessed via a staircase. Lofts may have a specific purpose, e.g. an "organ loft" in a church, or to sleep in (sleeping loft). In barns a hayloft is often larger than the ground floor as it would contain a year's worth of hay.
An attic or loft can often be converted to form functional living accommodation (see loft conversion).
Loft apartments are apartments that are generally built from former industrial buildings. When industrial developments are developed into condominiums instead of apartments, they may be called loft condominiums. The general term warehouse-to-loft conversions may sometimes be used for development of industrial buildings into apartments and condominiums. "Loft-style" may also refer simply to developments where a street-level business occupies the first floor while apartment "lofts" are placed above the first floor.
Sometimes, loft apartments are one component of municipal urban renewal initiatives that also include renovation of industrial buildings into art galleries and studio space as well as promotion of a new part of the city as an "arts district".
Originally popular with artists, they are now highly sought-after by other bohemians and hipsters, and the gentrification of the former manufacturing sectors of medium to large cities is now a familiar pattern. One such sector is Manhattan's Meatpacking District. The adoption of the Adaptive Reuse Ordinance (2001) in the City of Los Angeles (primarily the Arts District) is another example of such legislation to encourage the conversion of no longer economically viable industrial and commercial buildings to residential loft communities. Such is the demand for these spaces that real estate developers have taken to creating ready-made "lofts" in urban areas that are gentrifying or that seem primed to do so. While some of these units are created by developers during the renovation of old buildings, a number of them are included in the floor plans of brand new developments. Both types of pre-fab loft offer buyers or renters proximity to urban amenities afforded by traditional lofts, but without perceived safety risks of living in economically depressed formerly industrial areas.