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Ask Jennifer Adams: Can old wood loft spaces be both beautiful and fire-resistant?

Some things should be more about safety than appearance.

Make sure your wood-paneled home or office is safe from fire.
Make sure your wood-paneled home or office is safe from fire.Read more

Q: Recently I rented a loft space in a converted old factory building for my yoga studio and it has a beautiful wood ceiling, with rafters and beams. Someday I would love to find another space like this for my home. But a TV show I saw had the owners paint their beautiful wood ceiling in a special paint that bubbles up, protecting the wood from fire. Is there anything like that I can use that’s clear?

A: Old buildings such as factories, schools, barns, and even warehouses are often converted for both business use and homes. Raw open loft spaces are still popular enough that developers build new buildings to look like old ones. Fire resistance, though, isn’t about saving the structure or the appearance of the finishes, wood or otherwise. It’s about saving human lives.

Depending on the situation, you might not need to choose beauty over safety. Most commercial developments and large residential projects have built-in fire-suppression systems, including sprinklers along with special doors and walls to help keep fires from spreading from unit to unit. Stairways and hallways are designed to allow the people inside to escape as quickly as possible. Each building and each city may have different requirements, so ask your building manager. Maybe, with your yoga studio, you get to see the beautiful wood ceiling because it has a door that goes directly to the outside at ground level, or easy access to another emergency exit. Smaller buildings may have fewer exit and fire-resistance requirements, but it’s hard to know for sure without more information.

All that said, there are protective coatings for wood out there, and most seem to be intended for bare wood. If there is any other finish in place, or if you want to paint over the wood, the fire resistance might not be as effective. When it comes time to look for a space for your own home, ask your contractor, building managers, city planning and code compliance office, or insurance agents. There are too many variables to list in this one column!

Creating an environment you love is a worthwhile goal for anyone — home or workplace — as much as you can control. So you might have to live with the way the ceiling, walls, and other parts of a building look. Or spend some time researching what is possible to have the space of your dreams look as great as it is safe.

Have a design dilemma? Jennifer Adams is an award-winning designer, TV personality and author of the books “Love Coming Home: Transform Your Environment. Transform Your Life” and “How High Can You Soar — 8 Powers to Lift You to Your Full Potential.” Send your questions to or for more design ideas, visit Jennifer’s blog on her website at