Interview by Kerry O'Brien
As a nomadic New Yorker who lived in ten apartments over twelve years, I used to have an oddly pleasant recurring dream: in the dream, I would “discover” a hidden room that I had never seen before in my otherwise tiny home. Without fail, I would wake up happily imagining all of the things that I could put in the new room – a perfectly natural closet-and-dining-room-and-guest-room-and-outdoor-patio all in one. For some New Yorkers, this dream is a real possibility. If you have managed to scoop up multiple adjacent apartments and are planning to combine them, you may be looking at a host of layout options and renovation decisions that are unique to the process of combining apartments. To help us envision what to expect, we connected with Andrew, an architect who created a Hell’s Kitchen Apartment Combination that created an open loft with stunning Hudson River views.
Andrew first talked us through renovation issues that are specific to combining apartments. Homeowners with adjacent apartments have the unique luxury of multiple layout options but also need to work within a unique set of constraints to create the new space. “Clients often look first at how to capitalize on the overall flow of the space, exposures, and views of the apartments,” Andrew explained.
The photos below demonstrate Andrew’s vision for unifying multiple entry points and living spaces in one open plan.
With a general idea for entry and living spaces in mind, homeowners can make a decision that most of their neighbors will never have to face: which kitchen to keep! Andrew pointed out that you can decide between existing kitchens, or create a new kitchen space altogether, but you need to keep plumbing lines in mind because New Yorkers are generally restricted to keeping “wet over wet” and “dry over dry” spaces intact. As Andrew noted, “You may not be able to create a kitchen or bath where none existed before, but you may be able to leverage existing plumbing configurations by swapping kitchen or bath lines for more flexibility.”
Combining apartments also inherently entails two major renovation elements: taking walls down and creating floor continuity. Andrew has worked in buildings where floor and ceiling levels were not consistent between apartments and warned us that the specifics of each apartment combination can require case-by-case design decisions that homeowners and architects need to address once work begins.
After you make major structural decisions, you may also need to account for other renovation needs specific to the combination, like aligning fixtures and finishes between the apartments (door frames, window casements, decorative molding, etc) and handling any heating and cooling systems that may be in place in one apartment or the other (especially in older buildings where these systems are not uniform). You may also decide to seal off or conceal entryways that will no longer be used, or you can leave those doors intact for continued use or for decorative detail. Andrew assured us that these are all decisions and considerations that the right architect would guide a homeowner through.
Our personal favorite item on the less-than-critical list is deciding which doorbell wiring to use. Decisions, decisions…!
Andrew flagged a few additional considerations for homeowners preparing to combine apartments. While an apartment combination project does not necessarily require a gut renovation, you need to work closely with an architect on any project where you are taking walls down and updating plumbing work. “Your ability to probe for structural elements prior to construction can be limited by building requirements and existing tenants, and building records are notorious for omitting elements of the building’s composition, so you have to work with your architect to prepare for unforeseen conditions.”
Andrew also noted that clients combining space on more than one floor regularly underestimate the amount of room that a stairway will take up, and need to ensure that they can connect floors without compromising the living spaces on either floor.
Many thanks to Andrew for this head start on understanding apartment combinations in NYC. If you are thinking about combining apartments or purchasing a unit adjacent to your current home, take a look at our quick snapshot of what to expect below.
Key Considerations for Combining Apartments:
· Talk to an architect first – work with your architect to get a sense of space, flow, and layout possibilities and to navigate building requirements.
· Consider layout with windows and views in mind.
· Decide whether to keep multiple entrances or focus on a single entry.
· Think about how to best situate the kitchen and bathrooms using existing plumbing features or plumbing options that might support an alternative configuration.
· Plan for structural adjustments and level continuity needs like changes to walls and flooring.
· Plan for architectural continuity with doors, window frames, and baseboard/molding finishes.
· Address any differences in unit heating and cooling systems.
If you want to talk to Andrew about joining your apartments, call 212-729-7554 or email directly at email@example.com.
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