Lofts seem like the visual shorthand for someone who's young, hip, and urban. It's true in TV and movies -- while I was in LA I worked on the movie "Cloverfield" (in a very low-level capacity, admittedly), and to convey that that the main character, Rob, was a young, cool guy in New York, he was shown as living in a bitchin' loft. Sure, it almost certainly got destroyed by the monster, but while it was still standing it was pretty awesome. I got to visit the set once during the shooting of the trailer, and I was more impressed with how amazing the apartment was than the fact that I was on the set of a J.J. Abrams movie. Exposed brick always trumps celebrities!
Lizzy Caplan takes direction from Matt Reeves... Oooh, a built-in bar!
I'm finding this loft-trope borne out in real life, too. Someone I met recently lives in an industrial laundry turned loft, complete with exposed brick, cement floors, and I-beams crossing the high ceiling. Was I jelly? You bet. And let us not forget Megan's downtown LA loft -- she may have moved to Mexico (miss you!) -- but her loft will live on in these amazing pictures. (BTW, Meggy, when do I get pics of your current digs?)
Of course, just because an apartment is a loft doesn't necessarily mean that it's a tiny-ass apartment. But the open floorplan of a loft presents the same problems one might have living in a studio, and therefore lofts are still a great sources of design inspiration. Dividing up an open space into distinct living zones is always a challenge.
Using furniture, especially large bookcases, is a quick and easy way to delineate different spaces, as seen above in an example from Freshome.
The cover of The Book of Lofts, available on Remodelista, uses floor-to-ceiling curtains to create interior rooms; the light fabric keeps the space open and breezy.
Grouping furniture around a central point also helps to break up the space without throwing up large dividers that might block the free light- and air-flow that lofts are loved for. The pic below is a great example. Sure, it's kind of cheating because it's not a real loft, but a pic from the interior of an Anthropologie store. I think it counts, though, because lord knows I'd live in there if they'd let me.
(Oh em gee, did you hear Anthro's opening their own home stores? I can't wait!)
And of course, the architecture of the loft itself can allow you to make a distinction between public and private areas, like the South-of-Market loft that's currently on the market below (from Curbed SF).