This section is from the book "Practical Real Estate Methods For Broker, Operator & Owner", by Thirty Experts. Also available from Amazon: Practical Real Estate Methods for Broker, Operator, Owner.
In discussing light and air, the size and arrangement of rooms and general appearance of the apartment house, we must consider the architectural necessities and methods of apartment house construction. In planning an apartment house, the Tenement House Department imposes certain requirements as to the size of the yards, courts, etc. The sizes of these latter vary according to the size of the building, being larger for the higher buildings than they are for the lower ones.
In planning an apartment house, both architect and builder are restricted by the requirements of the Tenement House Law, and also in a measure by the Building Code. The arrangement of apartment houses has often been criticised when it was impossible for the architect to plan the house differently, owing to restrictions imposed by law. One of the most common faults found in the matter of arrangement of rooms is having to pass all bedrooms before one can reach the living rooms. It is obvious that where the elevator or stairs are in the middle of the house, and with the main entrance doors to each apartment opening by necessity on the public hall, a long private hall must be used so as to reach all the rooms in each apartment. In the past it has been considered most desirable to place the living rooms, parlor and dining room on the street and put the less important rooms, such as the kitchen, bedrooms, etc., on the interior space lighted by courts and shafts. Until recently this was practically the universal way of arranging an apartment house built on an interior lot, or of the apartments on the interior parts of a corner lot. During the past few years, however, the idea of having the living rooms arranged as they should be, directly at the entrance, has come more into vogue, and a number of apartment houses have been built with the parlors and other living rooms on the courts and the sleeping rooms at the farther end of the hall facing on the street. This innovation has proved most successful and its adoption is recommended by some of the best architects and builders. It has met with marked approval from the tenants, who prefer this proper and logical arrangement of the rooms in their apartments, particularly as their bedrooms receive the benefit of the light and air from the street, whereas their living rooms, which are used more in the evening than in daytime, can be artificially lighted and are not objectionable when so situated.
In fixing the size of a room, the architect is governed entirely by the desires of the builder. The size of a room is purely an economic question. If a builder constructs an apartment house arranged on a plot of four lots of ground with only twenty rooms on a floor, he will have to obtain for these twenty rooms as much rent as he could get if he were to arrange for thirty rooms in the same area. Those who desire large rooms are therefore obliged to pay for them. A proper criticism can be made, however, that up to a short time ago only a few apartment houses were built of proper size for those who were willing to pay for them. The same criticism may be made as to the number of maids' rooms and the size of the kitchens in many of our finer apartment houses, where tenants find their apartment woefully lacking in adequate provision in these regards. The number of bathrooms that should be installed in an apartment house of high class is also a matter much discussed, and the desire for a number of bathrooms in apartments whose rooms are large in size and number is constantly increasing. There have been several apartment houses built lately where a ten-room apartment has been provided with four baths.
In the arranging of the rooms of apartment houses, wall space must be considered, also the way a door should be placed, and how it should be swung. Ample closet room should be supplied. No closet should be less than twenty-two inches in depth, actual finished measurement, which size will admit of hanging clothes on hangers. One or two deeper closets are particularly desirable.
The placing of windows in rooms must also be considered both from the interior effect upon the wall space and from the exterior effect upon the facade. The use of bay windows is desirable, but is prohibited by law, as an encroachment upon the street or upon the courts.
The arranging of plumbing fixtures must also be considered both from the standpoint of economy in building and in their proper position for practical use. In tenement houses, the kitchen is practically the dining room, and this room should be made a large room in preference to the so-called parlor, which is often used for a sleeping room.
The exterior design of an apartment house will materially affect its income either favorably or unfavorably, according to its attractiveness or the opposite. The architect is often obliged to restrain his artistic desires by the instruction of the builder to keep the cost of construction down, but neither a short-sighted policy of too cheap and unattractive a front should be adopted, nor the equally poor one of a very expensive facade, or entrance, which, however attractive, will not have its extreme cost compensated for by its additional power to attract tenants.
To sum up, the architect is, in a large measure, subservient, first to the desires of the builder, and secondly to the size and shape of the plot on which the apartment house is to be erected. Some plots lend themselves readily to an excellent arrangement of the rooms without much difficulty, while others present such problems as to make it almost impossible to obtain a satisfactory arrangement. When all things are considered, the art of planning an apartment house has improved materially, and, while there is great room for further advance, some of the buildings constructed within the past few years have been remarkably successful, due to the excellent way they have been planned and arranged.