Condos and Clusters

Seema Mukhi Dahlheimer and her husband Michael are thrilled with their loft downtown on Locust Street. Photo by Jason Mueller

While some of us can’t imagine giving up our lush Midwestern lawns, St. Louisans today, more than ever, have embraced the concept that you don’t have to live in a house to have all the comforts of home. Condos and lofts hold an appeal that their devotees wouldn’t trade for any lawn or backyard.

“The difference when you’re in a condo is that there’s no maintenance to be responsible for. My husband’s biggest chore is maybe changing a light bulb once in a while, if he wants to,” says Jayne Neal, who lives on the fourth floor of an elegant Clayton high-rise. “The best part is that you don’t have to take out the trash; you just drop it down the chute, and that’s that.”

Neal particularly enjoys the large staff at her building. “They’re outstanding. They’re all men, so I feel like I have a lot of husbands. They do whatever I ask, whenever I ask, and they have smiles on their faces!” In her ‘vertical neighborhood,’ she sees her neighbors less than if she were living in a subdivision, she says. “It’s very private, but everybody’s friendly. We have a fitness center in our building and you run into people when you’re working out,” she says.

When traveling, condo residents don’t have to stop their mail or worry about the sprinkler system or pool, Neal adds. “If we’ve had a lot of rain, you don’t have to worry about flooding or the roof leaking. When you leave town, you close your door and walk away. It’s very carefree.” For a more modest respite, the Neals meet friends outside at the pool. “We call it Resort Day, and we just relax. There’s a grill that gets cleaned after we finish.” Neal also likes being in a neighborhood where she can walk wherever she wants. “It’s kind of like being on vacation all the time.”

The only thing Neal misses is her hot tub. “People think I would miss my gardening, but it’s really not necessary for me; we’re both very busy, and the condo fits our lifestyle. We’re on the young side of people who live in our building, but it doesn’t matter what age you are. You don’t have to have a house. Or really, you have your house, but it’s in a building, instead of on the street.”

A custom-built loft on Locust Avenue is where Seema Mukhi Dahlheimer calls home. “My husband Michael had always admired the lofts on Washington and wanted to live there,” she recalls. “When I got a chance to see some of these old buildings, I fell in love with them, too. It seemed like a no-brainer.” They bought a loft in 2003 and moved in two years later.

The space is much more fluid and multi-use than that of a typical home, Dahlheimer notes. “Our loft feels more open, like one living space rather than divided rooms that make up a home. We’re able to use rooms for lots of different things,” she says. “We also have big, load-bearing pillars, which makes the space interesting. It’s got a really fun look and feel to it.” Living in a corner loft, Dahlheimer enjoys two walls of windows. “We get light shining through the whole loft because of the open design. We find we don’t have to use the lights very often. We also have exposed brick on two sides, which reminds us of the history of the building, it was a printing press facility, and it’s really neat that they were able to preserve that.”

One of the best things about loft living is the neighborhood, Dahlheimer says. “There are young couples, families, singles and older couples whose kids are in college. It’s a lot of very progressive, open-minded, friendly people,” she says. “We interact with each other; a couple of neighbors became really good friends of ours. Because we’re so like-minded, it’s almost like a bunch of adults living in a dorm, we have a great time with it.”

Dahlheimer has no regrets, even with limited outdoor space. “We have a balcony where we’ve put plants and our grill, which gives us that outdoorsy feeling.” And there are restaurants, bars and cafes all within walking distance. “It’s possible to just leave in the evening, walk down the street and make a night of it,” she says. “And every year, when people come back out in the spring, it’s neat to see all the new changes, the stores that have opened up, people with dogs and new babies. The neighborhood is moving forward in a positive direction. It’s really cool to see that kind of progress in downtown St. Louis.”

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