How to Live in a Warehouse

posted in: Uncategorized | 47

or How to Find, Build, and Live in an Unconventional Space

February 8th, 2012

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By far the most common email I get is in response to my (recently former) warehouse living art space. Though my piece on not using shampoo for six months received over 40k views, I rarely ever get emails about that. Yet, I get at least 2-3 emails a week on how to find and how to live in a warehouse, so it has inspired me to compose this guide of sorts.

 

Tips on finding, building, and living in an unconventional space.

 

The search:

Okay, so first be sure you’re serious about this. In my experience, unconventional spaces come with a lot of patience testers and flexibility is a must. Bad landlords and rough neighborhoods are often just the start. Be warned.

Craigslist is a fine place to start. Search words like commercial, industrial, light industrial, warehouse, factory, post office, office spaces, malls, church, library, bomb shelter, horse stables,… You see the trend. Get creative here. Your future live in/art space is only limited by you.

Go beyond the web though. Drive or walk around the light industrial areas and commercial parts of town. A lot of the prime spaces never see the light of the internet. Either they dont know how to use it, or they just cant be bothered. Immigrant neighborhoods often have gems like this. While exploring new neighborhoods, the more decreptitude the better. You’re probably looking for cheap, so get adventurous. Live in a rough neighborhood for a year or two and you’ll likely realize it’s hardly as bad as everyone wants to believe. Theres a life lesson in there somewhere.

Its in your best interest to not interrupt the flow of your art and creation, so of course you’ll want things like a kitchenette, a toilet, a shower, a bed. Remember it’s only unusual if you act like its unusual. For you, it’s an essential part of any creative space.

Get friends involved. The more people to go in on this endeavor, the better. It will help keep costs down and surrounding yourselves with other creative folks will help you. Remember, show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.

 

Price:

This one can be tough, depending on your budget, amount of people involved, and locale. Remember most places are flexible on the rent so don’t be afraid to negotiate. Another suggestion I often have for people is for when you come across a space that is too huge for you. Talk to the person, see if you can put up divider walls to make the space you want to rent smaller and thus more affordable. I’ve seen it done. Also, ask them if they know of any smaller spaces available.

I managed to rent over 1500 square feet, plus a huge gated yard in one of the roughest neighborhoods of San Diego (hint: it was featured on Gangland). I split it with a friend. We paid $1400/ month. Total. Don’t let anybody tell you it isn’t possible.

 

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What to tell the owner:

So you find an ideal spot, but you don’t know how to tell the landlord you want to live there. Well my advice: don’t! Remember, it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission. Besides, artists keep strange hours. Let them know you’ll be coming and going at odd hours. in my experience they often expect you to end up living there, but it’s in their best interest to not know. Ignorance is bliss for you. And even if they confront you on it, deny it. You don’t live there. In extreme situations, keep an alternative address if you really need to sell the story. Of course, I’m not a lawyer and this isn’t all sound advice. Don’t be an asshole and you should be fine.

 

How to do the building (even if you aren’t a builder):

Pending your budget, you can always find willing affordable laborers at your nearest Home Depot. Support your local economies! Alright, so you want to do it yourself but you may not believe in yourself all that much… Well, get tough, hit google, then youtube, ask around, and be adventurous.

Really, most projects I’ve undertaken have been with limited initial knowledge. But since around here we believe in making our own damn luck, it’s time to buckle down and DIY. The folks at places like Lowes or Home Depot are more than willing to help you along. I had never built my own staircase from scratch, so I looked up some building strategies online, asked around for additional advice, took all the safety precautions necessary, and built a damn staircase strong enough to hold eleven elephants and dancing manatee.

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Most stores offer discounts on slightly damaged building supplies. By that I simply mean drywall with chipped corners, wood cut strange sizes, etc. Everything you can use for a fraction of the price. Also look to barter or rent tools and services. Everyone’s hurting these days, so everything counts.

 

Move in and other living fun stuff:

There are plenty of people doing this stuff for a lot longer than I’ve been at it. I knew some guys who had an informal skatepark in their industrial loft. A friend of mine in Chicago rented an old VFW hall with a huge stage and 20 ft ceilings. I couchsurfed at a hip spot called the Nerditorium in Austin Texas, where a few guys turned a normal enough condo into a creativity incubator. A friend of mine in Colorado is building his place out of shipping containers. A family bought the library in my childhood hometown and turned in into a gorgeous house. In my studio I built a platform for a couch so we could have stadium seating for our projector theatre. We even had a surfboard shaping and glassing room. Get your space and share it back here. I’m certain there are plenty of spaces out there waiting for someone to get creative in them.

Dig around the web for more ideas. There are even Flickr groups dedicated to documenting unconventional living spaces, so steal some inspiration there!

 

Lastly:

If you have an unconventional living space, please get in touch with me. I’d like to keep connecting with folks that do this, and perhaps we can even collaborate on a future feature here! If you have any other questions or thoughts, let me know! davidwilliamjr@gmail.com

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47 Responses

  1. I love it! Very helpful if this is the route you want to take. Luckily, I scored a guy who will do all the brunt work for me. The section you forgot in this warehouse search/creation is the final touches. I think having a girl around helps with this. Choosing paint colors, painting, decorating with class. :) You know not every warehouse hunter is going to be a bachelor.

    Great job with the post. I think it will answer a lot of questions for hunters out there.

    • Of course, you’re right. It does help to find a beautiful charming decorator. It wouldn’t have looked as good without your skills! :)

  2. Awesome write up Dave. When i saw the title, I knew it was a must read. Some great pointers in here. As for me, the abandoned warehouse hunt is back on thanks to you! What I’ve found as you’ve mentioned here, is not to tell the owner exactly what your living plans are. I have been turned down a few times due to complete honesty ;) Great job and keep up the good work!!

    • Thanks Justin! Whoever said honesty is the best policy wasn’t trying to live outside the norm. Go and get your new space and his me back with some photos when you do!

  3. Wow! I’m shocked to see what you did to fix things up. Very good job!

  4. We’re all wondering mate, have you (sham)pood yet?

    • Hah, Andrew! I have I have. I tried a few other experiments that weren’t so successful… Shampoo was necessary for recovery.

  5. A very nice write up as I’m all about the ideal space for me and not settling for what is on offer. I was taken aback by the don’t tell the landlord bit but I so agree that some ideas are just way too ahead for some folk until they become diluted and mainstream, so go for the apology after and save time! I don’t know a pioneer who hasn’t done that!

    • Pea, you have a great point. Sometimes you have to push ahead and wait for others to catch up, or maybe, just know they never will. :)

  6. Love it! Something like this is in my future someday. When the kids go off to college I will go all bohemian-like…

    Hope the travels are going well!

  7. I pondered this idea for years. Everytime I started looking something pushed me away.
    Almost alsways was the outside view of the neighborhood.
    Finally it struck me.
    I grew up in a valley with only two neighbors. I had a water falls in front of the house and the nearest neighbor was about two miles away.

    About four years ago I was driving through the pine forests about 100 miles N of Houston and stumbled across a place in the woods on a creek. Not the beautiful clean spring water creek I grew up on but with the sounds in the night of water and woods critters.
    I own it now with 5.5 acres. No neighbors in sight,no roads in sight.
    I go out side, to go. Get it.:-)
    Being the ever Pesimist, and thinking big citys are about to become a death trap and where I am not much better without planning due to the rush from the big city survivers coming through plundering I have been digging every day for one to two hours for three years.
    To data I have a hidden intrance from in my three floor residence to the underground.
    It is a 42 inch X 42 inch hole straight down to eighteen ft. This is the floor now the room I have excavated at the bottom of the shaft is with a 7 ft celing. I can’t comfortably reach an 8 ft celling. Besides I’m the only person who knows where it is and will ever be in it.
    That puts a 11 ft layer of soil over me.
    That is wa more than is needed for protection from Gama radiation if it comes.
    The inside is quite comfortable, cozy and homey.
    There is a CO2 removal system and storage of pure O2 for up to three month for two people, my ten cats and two dogs.

    By that time my filtration system will allow outside air to be pumped.
    Don’t worry about me in a cave in. It’s not likely. I engineered the celing supports to be for 250 lbs per cubic ft of dirt.
    The dirt here averages in the 120 lb per cubic ft.
    It is completely water proof and the inside temprature runs around 68 to 72 Deg F.
    With 10 cats, 2 dosg, me and my wife in it all sealed up the humidity is the only thing that needs careful controlling.
    That has been taken care of as well.The open space is now 24 ft by 22 ft. I intend to make it longer with seperate rooms.
    Now I’m happy. I do not live in the city any more. The level of stress due to ungodly city noise is gone!
    Never going to live in a city again. Not any size as long as I have any control.
    If I had read your article 10 years ago, I probably would have domed myself to city life.
    You warehouse is a great idea but beyond just the asthetics of living I sure would think about what to do when it hits the fan.

    • Nice post, Ive had plans along these lines for sometime now. But I can’t find anyone interested in doing it with me, and I sure can’t do it alone. It’s like knowing a storm is coming and all you have is a lousy umbrella.
      :(

  8. Well Pete, that was an unexpected and entertaining diversion from a blog on warehouse living. You paint a very detailed picture of your post-apocalyptic living circumstances in your custom-built nuclear bunker. I would venture this to you though: your 10 cats, 2 dogs and wife will presumably all need to relieve themselves within about 20 minutes of the mushroom cloud appearing. I think, on reflection, I would far rather be immediately incinerated at the epicentre of the gamma radiation blast, than be left to sit for days, weeks and months in your dungeon; surrounded by the stench of the accumulated shit, piss and (inevitably) corpses of your long-since strangled cats, dogs and, quite likely, wife.

  9. great blog entry!

  10. Fantastic article David, my girlfriend and I have finally decided to go for it and try warehouse living.

    I do have a question though, the place we’re looking at has a bathroom but no shower. Any ideas on what the easiest way to put one in would be? Doesn’t have to be anything too fancy, just need to get clean.

  11. This article isn’t nearly as detailed as I’d like. :(

    Almost every day I roll through my town (Cincinnati) and spot empty windows up high on some hardly-used warehouse floor and wonder why can’t I cut some deal with the property owner and live there. Collecting even a few bucks extra on the property has to be better than the zero they’re getting now. Is this even possible if it’s not zoned residential?

    Then I start wondering about the practicality of such an arrangement. How do I go about obtaining this bohemian dream? How can I cook my food when there’s no kitchen? How can I bathe myself if there’s no shower? How can I use the toilet if the plumbing dies somewhere deep in the 150-year-old building and the property owner isn’t legally obligated to provide a fix? How can I be assured the owner isn’t checking in on my space when I’m away?

    So many questions, no answers.

    • Cam, I am curating a new series for this blog that showcases different warehouse spaces, studios, and unconventional living and work spaces. It will hopefully provide a lot of answers to questions like the ones you’ve asked. I am also entertaining the idea of creating a guide of some sort that would also help people looking for living outside the box.

      Email me if you have any questions that may help you to get the ball rolling!

  12. […] wonder what it’s like to live in an artists loft? Or a warehouse space? Have questions about how to find, build, or create an unconventional living and work space? […]

  13. Thanks for posting this and getting some discussion going on this interesting topic. Earlier today I drove through a local light industrial area and noticed all of the vacant spaces, some have had ‘for lease’ signs posted for more than a year. Like a previous commenter I can’t understand why landlords would prefer to leave their property vacant rather than rent it to someone at a low rate. Even leaving out the issue of living in the space, I’ve heard from many people trying to start maker spaces who can’t convince landlords to rent to them at below-market rates. One maker space I know of was only able to locate a space because their entire block is scheduled to be torn down in two years to extend a transit line. Do any of you reading this have experience working in commercial real estate? I’d love to hear from someone in the business why it makes sense to leave so many properties empty when they could at least cover some of their tax bill.

    I’ve done some research into live/work spaces and discovered one very interesting loophole that may be available to some. I often wondered why some rental mini storage places (like Public Storage or Extra Space) are allowed to have an apartment on-site for a manager to live in. I did some research and found out that many zoning codes (including the one in my area) allow a ‘caretaker residence’ or ‘watchman residence’ in most industrial zones. The size of the caretaker residence is sometimes limited to a percentage (sometimes 10%) of the total property square footage. In those areas this would only work for larger spaces. but I’ve lived in a 400 square foot apartment before and imagine I could live in a much smaller space if it was connected to my studio. I’m just not positive that zoning officials would sign off on a 10×15 efficiency apartment (150 sq ft) ‘residence’ being reasonable for a 1500 sq ft studio.

    It’s important to do some research and learn the lingo (like ‘accessory use’) before considering this so here’s an example from a zoning document I found online.

    9-6.104 Caretaker residence.
    One permanent accessory dwelling is permitted for purposes of housing a caretaker where allowed by Chapter 9-3 on the site of certain commercial or industrial zones, subject to the following standards (a caretaker residence in the A Zone is subject to Section 9-6.107):
    (a) Supplementary Statement. The application shall include a statement with explanation of the need for caretaker quarters and the responsibilities of the caretaker/resident.
    (b) Status of Caretaker. The resident of the dwelling shall be the owner or lessor, or an employee of the owner or lessor of the site.
    (c) Type of Use Requiring a Caretaker. The principal use of the site must require a caretaker for security purposes, or for care of people, plants, animals, equipment, or other conditions on the site, or for needed housing for the owner or operator of a business.
    (d) Allowable Location for a Caretaker Dwelling. In CN, CP, CT, CR, CS, LS, and L Zones, such dwelling shall be located on the second floor, or to the rear of a principal building. In the CPK, IP, and I Zones, such dwelling may be located in accordance with the needs of the applicant. In all zoning districts, a caretaker residence is to be located on the same lot of record or contiguous ownership as the use requiring a caretaker.
    (e) Type of Dwelling Unit Allowed. Caretaker residences shall be a standard site-built home, a modular home, or an apartment-type unit if the caretaker residence is to be integral with a principal structure.
    (f) Parking Requirement. None, provided sufficient usable area is available to accommodate all resident vehicles on-site. (Ord. 68 § 9-6.104, 1983)

    And below is a link to an approved request to create such an apartment:

    http://cityofcolumbiafalls.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/Resolution-1629-Conditional-Use-Permit-Larry-Craft.pdf

  14. Thanks for posting this and getting some discussion going on this interesting topic. Earlier today I drove through a local light industrial area and noticed all of the vacant spaces, some have had ‘for lease’ signs posted for more than a year. Like a previous commenter I can’t understand why landlords would prefer to leave their property vacant rather than rent it to someone at a low rate. Even leaving out the issue of living in the space, I’ve heard from many people trying to start maker spaces who can’t convince landlords to rent to them at below-market rates. One maker space I know of was only able to locate a space because their entire block is scheduled to be torn down in two years to extend a transit line. Do any of you reading this have experience working in commercial real estate? I’d love to hear from someone in the business why it makes sense to leave so many properties empty when they could at least cover some of their tax bill.

    I’ve done some research into live/work spaces and discovered one very interesting loophole that may be available to some. I often wondered why some rental mini storage places (like Public Storage or Extra Space) are allowed to have an apartment on-site for a manager to live in. I did some research and found out that many zoning codes (including the one in my area) allow a ‘caretaker residence’ or ‘watchman residence’ in most industrial zones. The size of the caretaker residence is sometimes limited to a percentage (sometimes 10%) of the total property square footage. In those areas this would only work for larger spaces. but I’ve lived in a 400 square foot apartment before and imagine I could live in a much smaller space if it was connected to my studio. I’m just not positive that zoning officials would sign off on a 10×15 efficiency apartment (150 sq ft) ‘residence’ being reasonable for a 1500 sq ft studio.

    It’s important to do some research and learn the lingo (like ‘accessory use’) before considering this so here’s an example from a zoning document I found online.

    9-6.104 Caretaker residence.
    One permanent accessory dwelling is permitted for purposes of housing a caretaker where allowed by Chapter 9-3 on the site of certain commercial or industrial zones, subject to the following standards (a caretaker residence in the A Zone is subject to Section 9-6.107):
    (a) Supplementary Statement. The application shall include a statement with explanation of the need for caretaker quarters and the responsibilities of the caretaker/resident.
    (b) Status of Caretaker. The resident of the dwelling shall be the owner or lessor, or an employee of the owner or lessor of the site.
    (c) Type of Use Requiring a Caretaker. The principal use of the site must require a caretaker for security purposes, or for care of people, plants, animals, equipment, or other conditions on the site, or for needed housing for the owner or operator of a business.
    (d) Allowable Location for a Caretaker Dwelling. In CN, CP, CT, CR, CS, LS, and L Zones, such dwelling shall be located on the second floor, or to the rear of a principal building. In the CPK, IP, and I Zones, such dwelling may be located in accordance with the needs of the applicant. In all zoning districts, a caretaker residence is to be located on the same lot of record or contiguous ownership as the use requiring a caretaker.
    (e) Type of Dwelling Unit Allowed. Caretaker residences shall be a standard site-built home, a modular home, or an apartment-type unit if the caretaker residence is to be integral with a principal structure.
    (f) Parking Requirement. None, provided sufficient usable area is available to accommodate all resident vehicles on-site. (Ord. 68 § 9-6.104, 1983)

    And below is a link to an approved request to create such an apartment:

    http://cityofcolumbiafalls.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/Resolution-1629-Conditional-Use-Permit-Larry-Craft.pdf

  15. Thank you so much for writing about this. For years I’ve been attracted to unconventional housing. I live in San Diego with many gang-infested and down-trodden areas. I keep seeing so many abandoned buildings with apartments above, but they never have any contact info. Would I go to the City with the address to find what is going on with the building? I did lease a city building for $1 a year in a “blink and you’ll miss it” town in New Mexico – about 7000 sq ft.
    I know dang well there is something here – I cannot afford renting a house anymore – even with 2 roomies. Any specific ideas?

  16. Nice. I’m native to San Diego too! and we all know how steep the cost of living can be. I’m actually considering making a move into a yurt, now that’s unconventional. I’m in the process of building it right now. I hope to find some land or maybe some backyard space(shh) for my 20′ diameter circle home. Good info bra

  17. I’m doing this in El Cajon right by San Diego, I have room for another person if they’re interested. Mgpsrvcs@aol.com I have a huge wood shop and tools to build everything, also going to make art canvases on the side.

    • I represent an artist that is looking for a live/work space, but he’s not used to living with anyone. Do you any spaces for lease?

  18. […] it wasn’t so hot was that I couldn’t find any local artists doing it. I did turn up a guide to warehouse living. Bottom line– it’s more complicated than most folks assume it to be, and the utility […]

  19. I recently lost my job; unemployment was not enough to for conventional housing, so I got creative. Craig’s List actually had a few spaces advertised as “live-in warehouse/office space. But as I called around, I found that more than half the private landlords were OK with us living there.

    In our current economy, lots of people are unable to afford the rent on an apartment. And lots of warehouse space is empty: landlords like full spaces with rent coming in every month, so a lot are OK with it.

    I was up-front with the landlord: he told me a number of his renters were live-ins. He just said “Be Discreet”. His biggest concern is having stuff left outside the unit. So we leave nothing outside. With over 2000 SF, we don’t have to.

    There is a whole sub-culture of people living this lifestyle right now. And I like that. The others who live in the complex like us are totally cool: not nosy, noisy, or stuck-up. Since we are all officially “off the grid” and living quasi-legally, everyone makes a big effort to get along and not draw attention to the place.

    There are two fully-insulated and heated offices which are our “bedrooms”: both are huge (15×15) and nicer than what we had at the house we were renting for 3X the price!!! I felt more at home here the day after we moved in than I ever did at the last place we had.

    And now we have the ultimate “Man-Cave” – room for the Jeep, a vehicle work bay, etc. And no obnoxious neighbors to deal with. I highly recommend this life-style.

  20. Any advise for the dallas tx area. Where do I start?

  21. Any advise for the dallas tx area. Where do I start?
    Any known areas that are open to this?

  22. I just rented a 50×20′ space in a warehouse adjacent to my business in San Francisco. It has 16′ ceilings. I want to loft 1/2 of it. Are there any DIY plans/blueprints that you know of to help me in this adventure.

  23. […] all know my living set up by now. Well since last week, the highway right outside my place has been under construction. Except, […]

  24. I recently decided to start sleeping in a practice space I have had for a year and a half now, its got internet and Dehumidifier/Air conditioning. I’m having a bit of a hard time dealing with the severe isolation, creepy environment and the bats :-) Maybe I’ll get a cat or something to keep me company, he’d defiantly have enough mice to hunt!

  25. We are really interested in purchasing a warehouse, however, are number one concern that’s holding us back is paying for heating and cooling. I would love information on how to be efficient and comfortable at the same time in a large warehouse. This particular warehouse is approximately 3300 sq feet per floor. There are 3 floors. Thank you!

  26. Jesse Henry

    Have a warehouse in sf would like speak about Conversion Spoke to Matt on this site before I Jesse

  27. Our commercial warehouse in Cincinnati OH used to be someone’s home. It was cool seeing what they’d done with it. Not quite as cool as this, but still. Now it’s back to its original purpose.

  28. soi i have always wanted to live in a warehouse.now i need a big place to live i have a family of 10 4 adults an 6 kids from 16 to 5 yrs of age .how would i get away with out tell ing the landlord.cause so far every apt we rent we keep getting kicked out of cause their are to many people.thi s is the olny way we can keep a roof over our heads we can not buy a house due creit is crap.an my husband resently deid finding it hard to keep afloat .
    .

  29. Patrice Bass

    I am an artist looking for a warehouse live/work space, how do I start? I live in San Diego, want space.

    • debora goodman

      Patrice saw your ad on here. I also am in SD and wondering how to go about this. Any luck?
      858-552-8585 x6797

  30. […] Most of the emails are questions about different things I’ve written about here. For instance, this past week alone I’ve gotten emails about how to rebuild certain parts of a 1969 Honda. I’ve also connected with two people about my Huck Finn rafting down the Mississippi River adventure. Another person emailed me about vintage CZ motorcycles, specifically a 1947 he found on Craigslist. And just today I received another email about how to find and build up a warehouse space. […]

  31. I’m extremely impressed with your writing skills and
    also with the layout on your weblog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify it
    yourself? Either way keep up the nice quality writing, it’s rare to see a great blog like this one these days.

  32. Iv been thinking about this since Iv thrown my arms up and I’m walking away from my house of 15 years..
    I have a nice camper with shower, kitchen, bed, AC and am looking at a 1800 sq’ space for $800.. No AC, gas tube heater.. Not sure on utilities costs yet.. But its doable with a camper.

    My biggest concern is getting thrown out. I imagine there must be something written into the lease which prohibits living there. I’m pretty sure I could keep enough of a low profile for the owner never to find out.. But who knows.. He could be anal and catch you there one late night since they do own it and have keys.

  33. joseph mckenna

    Need a live/work space. San Diego is tough any thoughts where I’ve looked everywhere. Anyone want to share to make it affordable.
    Joe message phone 858-552-8585 x6797

  34. I was inspired by this, so when my wife and I separated, I knew it was time to chase the dream. I went against your advice and straight up told the owner I was going to turn it into a studio apartment before signing the lease. To my amazement the owner agreed to let me do it. We agreed that I would not make any modifications to the structure, and I move in next week!

    The biggest hassle I’m facing is the local laws regarding getting a commercial space inspected. The property has to be empty, with the water on, unlocked, and with the application receipt on the door. Then the power can’t be turned on until the utility company gets notification from the inspection office that you passed.

  35. I saw nothing whatsoever in that flickr group about this. Where were you looking?

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