The Allure of Converted Warehouse Space

By Deane Barker on June 25, 2005

Our company is sort of in the market for office space. We have an office now, but we’re casually looking for something we’d feel a little more at home in. We’ve been talking about it, and all of us want the same thing: something very hip, very cool, like…oh, I don’t know…a converted warehouse, loft-ish space.

Big shock, right? Every tech company wants converted warehouse space. It’s practically become a cliche. Hardwood floors, big rollaway fire doors, exposed beams, rock or brick walls, etc..

Joe and I got to talking over the lunch the other day, and we’re curious: what’s the allure of converted warehouse space? And why do tech companies gravitate towards this type of environment so much? It’s become so ingrained that we like it, but we don’t know why.

We came up with two theories:

  • Tech companies deal in very sterile, very digital worlds, and this type of environment gives us a link back to a simpler time. It’s a juxtaposition against what we do from day-to-day. It’s nice for the same reason that taking a simple walk in the park is nice when you’re burned out from writing too much code.

  • Small start-ups have a mild persecution complex: “It’s us against the world, but we’re plucky and earnest, so we’ll suceed.” Converted warehouse space is…humble? It reinforces the identity of being the revolutionaries out to change the world — like the small bands of rebels that created Apple and Microsoft, etc.

Does anyone else have any thoughts? What is it about converted warehouse office space that companies like so much? Why does every look at it and think…that’s cool?

(The above image was blatantly ripped off from this listing at Craigslist. As long as I’m ripping off their stuff, I suppose I should give them a link. The office is in Raleigh, North Carolina, if you’re interested. $1,600 a month for 1,200 sq. ft.)



  1. My first real programmer job was working for a startup design firm, that was the offspring of a local dial-up and hosting provider. It was fun at first and I stayed for over a year and a half until a 2x salary offer was made from a big city software firm. Anyway, we worked in basically a very old and converted warehouse. It had faux ceilings and a brick wall (just one side) that had bricks on the top that would fall randomly onto the dropped ceiling. One made it through one night but only hit the carpet.

    Anyway about 6 months into working in this open air everyone has a nice huge 20ft area I had enough. I’m very weird and need quiet to get any significant work done. So I moved into the server room. Really it was a long closet about 4ft wide and 15-20 ft long. I put my desk at the far end closest to the end of the building. It was perfect, two brick walls and a server making beautiful white noise that masked the other “designers” who were always being creatively annoying! Now that I have my own company (me + two very creatively annoying designers) I work in a house with plaster walls about 4-6″ thick. It is perfect. When we build an office I will probably work in the 2nd basement level, you know perfect 70 degrees and absolute silence from the outside world. ahh the good life.

  2. Maybe it has something to do with cleaning; most techie types I know aren’t the best housekeepers. If the office is in an old warehouse, maybe a layer of dust is less of an issue than in a shiny new hi-tech office.

    Just a guess. ;o)

  3. I think it is an attempt to be “artsy” and thereby getting clients to believe whatever hype the particular tech company is selling. Remember when the dotCom boom was on. A lot of movies at the time had characters that lived in a giant abandoned warehouse that was converted to living space or a secret government outpost.

    Cost could play a part as I’m sure it is cheaper to get a 5 year lease on an abandoned and pretty much useless warehouse. Than a fully decked out office with walls, doors, ceiling, and probably telephone and coax or cat5 cabling already ready to go.

    Warehouse Pro’s – artsy fartsy, cheap, easy wiring, accommodates more employees than same space with walls and doors for each office.

    What do you think about my assessment?

  4. Well, I think you’re off the mark on the ‘cost’ part. There’s a big difference between abandoned warehouse and converted warehouse. Real Estate developers will buy these old buildings and sink millions into them in order to turn them into trendy spaces. It’s not something that a company looking for office space would ever consider taking up. You’d have put a lot of money into the place, and it would be years before you have the office.

    Property owners know that these spaces are attractive too, and they usually go for a pretty penny after they’ve been refit properly. On average, it’s cheaper to just get some ordinary office space. Of course, it’s not nearly as cool.

  5. Custom- a company doesn’t have to deal with an architect’s view of an office, the company can build it however they want .

    Also $$$ is a factor, a warehouse at a corner of a street in a quiet town won’t cost too much.

  6. Finally, a post that I can actually comment on. Since I am the “design diva” in business with Deane & Joe, I am thrilled to hear that they share my interest in locating in a unique and creative work environment. I think it is a common fear for us designers that someday we may be forced to work in a boring cubicle. I can’t let that happen to me!

    It boils down to this: I’d rather work in an “environment” instead of an “office”. The warehouse environment comes with built in character – something that most “offices” can’t replicate. Those old hardwood floors have a history and a warmth that carpet just can’t match. (Usually, if your carpet shows signs of “history” – it’s not a good thing). Office wallpaper could never match the texture and depth of exposed stone or brick walls. And finally, lighting. There’s something about natural daylight bouncing off those floors that just makes the space radiate. I won’t even begin expressing my dislike for glaring overhead florescent lighting.

    I’ve worked in an open and creative environment previously (note: the key word there is previously – my current workspace has a wallpaper border of old men golfing – how cool is that?) and it was truly fun to go to work. We’d have graphic & web design classes touring our facilities on field trips and gazing in awe. It always feels good to be the “cool” people. Maybe that’s what the techies are striving for – to finally be labeled as “cool”. Ouch, I know. I’ve gotta end my first post with a bang.

  7. Joe, we must hurry and implement Phase One of “Operation Stick Karla in a Boring Cubicle with Glaring Florescent Lighting.” She’s starting to get ideas, Joe.

    At least she’s still working at 1:30 in the morning. “Operation Spike Her Beverage with Ritalin” was obviously a success.

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