MANY PROJECTS CLAIM TO be lofts, but they are usually built as brand-new structures instead of carved out of pre-existing industrial buildings. Previously home to a furniture factory and warehouse, the Alexan Lofts project fits the true definition of a loft. But to pull off this award winner, the architects had to strike a delicate balance between conversion and preservation.

The original furniture company comprised six buildings that were built between 1880 and 1920. Because building methods changed dramatically during that time, almost all of the structures were different in some way. “Technology changed so much that the first four buildings were timber-framed and the fifth and sixth were made of concrete,” says architect David Hensley. “In addition, the floor heights changed, the structural bases were different, and the window patterns changed.”

With this information in hand, the design team decided to use as much of the original structures as possible to preserve the architectural integrity. As a result, the 244 rental units feature more than 100 floor plans, exposed ceilings, and stained concrete floors.

“We maintained the antique pine floors—which are almost 3 inches thick—the exposed brick, and the heart-pine columns measuring 12 and 14 square inches,” Hensley says. The team removed all the existing windows but replaced them with expensive steel units to be consistent and to maintain an industrial character. The designers also cut holes in some floors to create two-story units.

These lofts might be born of historic structures, but they include the amenities that residents would expect in a modern apartment, including wood cabinets, ceramic tile, and granite counter-tops.

CATEGORY: Adaptive reuse; ENTRANT/ARCHITECT: Hensley Lamkin Rachel, Dallas; BUILDER/ DEVELOPER: Trammell Crow Residential, Houston; LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT: Kudela and Weinheimer, Houston; INTERIOR DESIGNER: M. Ford & Associates Interior Design, Houston

Builder Tip Research Project Maintaining the character of a historic building is not as easy as it may seem, says architect David Hensley. “You have to research original construction techniques, and it is important to look for modern products that still achieve the look,” he explains. For Alexan Lofts, Hensley and his team worked with the Texas Historical Commission and hired a consultant who is an expert in historic preservation. “We also did a lot of Internet research and looked at a lot of buildings in the downtown [Houston] area.” The more information you have, the easier the process will be, he says.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Houston, TX.