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To help ease my midlife crisis and to get some extra special "space" for me and my active five-year old, I recently purchased a newly built 1,500-square-foot, second-story loft near Japantown, just north of downtown San Jose, CA.

I've been here a month now and when the 12:15 p.m. dual-diesel pulling gravel laden freight cars gravel rumbles down to the switching track past my loft I still jump and remind myself it's not an earthquake. My daughter just jumps for joy.

Beyond the tracks, the brewery, the furniture warehouse and the bustling miniature men installing new roofs on expansive commercial buildings, there are sunrise views of Mount Hamilton at the top of the dusty eastern foothills, a tiny white observatory perched on the highest rim, moon rises are dramatic productions and Mars has never been nearer Planet Earth. The Red Planet is right outside my 18-foot window.

With plans for a telescope purchase, it all makes a lot more middle-aged-crazy sense than a new sports car.

Undaunted by the inevitable "Where are the doors?" and "What about privacy?" questions from other mid-lifers who can't think inside the loft box, I've remained an East Coast city boy who has lived in downtown San Jose homes during most of my 19 years in this predominantly bedroom community.

Downtown San Jose has been painfully growing up since I arrived nearly two decades ago, but it's all the downtown I've got so I make the best of it. The flurry of new loft developments was a boon to my new home search.

A loft has been one of my few lifelong dreams-come-true and an extension of my also chided penchant for stainless steel, masonry, big glass and other things commercial and industrial in form and function.

For example, much to the midlife chagrin of an architectural friend, I want to turn a beige painted wall in my new home into faux exposed brick for more loft-like appeal.

Unlike real lofts carved from industrial and commercial buildings in New York and other eastern cities, newly built lofts often come with neutral colored walls (in my case, something called "Frost," the hue of baby milk spittle), pristine kitchens and carpeting.

Now here's the rub.

You never realize how much carpeting is too much until you have carpeting without walls and doors to break it up and shut it out.

In the expanse of a loft, it becomes a sea of carpeting and you hear in your mind a sickening sucking sound -- the daily drone of a Hoover and Service Master emptying your wallet every six months.

The sparkling granite and stainless steel kitchen gave me something to hold onto.

It floated on an island of lustrous hardwood laminate flooring and returned me to my boyhood and family times spent in a three-story brick row house with a central breakfast nook paved in sturdy oak.

In an instant I knew the carpet was history and instructed the builder to give me a real loft floor in Brazilian cherry that would match the cabinetry.

Now, along with my kitchen, dining and cafe spaces (there are only "spaces" where there are no doors, my midlife friends) my home office space and the walk through space from the front door to the balcony are spaces all buoyed by hardwood.

The tag-team contracting work that turned my new home into a construction zone for a week longer than expected is another story, but there's plenty of open hardwood flooring space left for a dance floor that will accommodate at least of quad of gyrating couples.

Now, I'm told, I'm in with the in crowd.

In 2002, U.S. manufacturers sold 627.5 million square feet of hardwood flooring, a 90 percent increase from 1995, when they sold 330.2 million square feet, according to the Wood Flooring Manufacturers Association.

Tim Carter of Cincinnati's Ask The Builder tells me I'm hip in my aging years because hardwood flooring is a "now" kind of thing with "retro" cool.

"Baby boomers are relating back to the retro look and feel of homes they grew up in that had hardwood. Hardwood floors with decorative area rugs in the center of a room are simply to die for. The Oriental or contemporary rug adds depth, texture and a distinctive look other than a wall-to-wall carpet look," says an obviously also hip Carter.

Bordered by my new hardwood floor, the carpet is now the island. It softens the multimedia space where the 10-foot roll of ripped out carpet temporarily leans in the corner as an icon of era gone by.

Apparently, my hardwood choice also added value to my new dream home.

A survey of real estate agents conducted by the Pittsburgh-based Hardwood Information Center estimates that hardwood flooring can add as much as $10,000 to a home's resale value.

Not that I'm selling my loft anytime soon.

Hardwood flooring resources:

  • Hardwood Information Center
  • Wood Flooring Manufacturers Association
  • Hardwood Market Report
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