Apartment/Condo optimization ideas
November 27, 2021 12:52 PM   Subscribe

Asking for a friend: what are some things you can do to improve life in an apartment or condo? The apartment/condo version of this, basically. Snowflakes inside.

A good friend and her husband will shortly be moving to new, much higher-paying jobs in a new city and for the first time be able to afford a place all their own. For reasons, this will be a rented apartment and, hopefully soon, their own (possibly extensively renovated) condo. Their question for both renters and owners: what are some features that made your life better while living in an apartment/condo?

(The reason this is combined is that the condo plan is a year, maybe two, out tops and they'd like to be able to plan for renovations/construction in advance if they can.) Please assume landlord permission can be obtained if necessary, but rental-specific advice is also great.

Improvements can range from simple and cosmetic to extensive, this is very much at the 'dream house' stage still. Some snowflakes:

- Het couple, he's a fitness nut medic and a vet, she's a geeky IT type who works from home.
- They're both tall, in the 6' range.
- No pets or kids, but they love to garden and are looking forward to kitchen/container gardens as space allows.
- They both love color and vibrant decor, and she has a good two decades' worth of geeky things collected that she would love to be able to display. He loves to cook and regularly does so for a dozen of their friends. He also cans and preserves things when possible.

posted by Tamanna to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
A dishwasher and an in-unit clothes washer, both of which are available in portable models. Most portable dishwashers are countertop models that are the size of a large microwave. Most portable clothes washers are on wheels and both are hooked up to/drain into the kitchen sink. You can get ones that use the same faucet adapter. Read reviews and be sure to buy from a place with a return policy.
posted by soelo at 1:06 PM on November 27, 2021 [8 favorites]

If I had it to do over again, I'd make the following apartment feature non-negotiable:

-Full size in-unit washer/dryer. The portable ones or the combined units just don't work well. Schlepping clothes to the basement or to a laundromat sucks.
-Private outdoor space, either a small yard or a balcony (both because it's pleasant, and because this pandemic doesn't seem to be going anywhere any time soon. This is especially important for people who like to garden.)
-thermostat that you control. In some buildings, the building sets the heat/AC for everyone. I need my own thermostat
-secure package delivery. Doesn't need to be a human attendant--lots of buildings have package lockers--but some way to receive deliveries when you're not home so they don't get stolen.
-gas stove
-stove hood that vents to outside. Those fans that attach to an over-stove microwave don't do anything except make your apartment smell like whatever you're cooking

Specific to this question:
-it sounds silly, but actually use the kitchen sink. I'm also tall, and my kitchen counters are too low for me to wash dishes or do a lot of chopping and prepping comfortably. If the already installed counters aren't at the taller end of the standard range, they're going to want to remodel, which is expensive.
-Check out (or ask neighbors) about the sound separation. This is important for everyone, but especially for anyone considering working out at home. My walls are great, but floors are thin, so anyone in our building has a treadmill or uses heavy weights annoys the crap out of the neighbors. If you're going to have a home fitness setup, consider a first floor unit so you're not always in conflict with the neighbors over noise.
-Separate work from home space with a door that closes, dedicated only to that. I haven't had that this past year, and it's incredibly stressful to work in the same space where I'm supposed to be able to relax.
posted by decathecting at 1:53 PM on November 27, 2021 [13 favorites]

-stove hood that vents to outside. Those fans that attach to an over-stove microwave don't do anything except make your apartment smell like whatever you're cooking

+1 unless you just love setting off the fire alarm every time you use a cast iron griddle
posted by solotoro at 2:13 PM on November 27, 2021 [9 favorites]

-in unit regular size washer dryer
-high powered stove vent hood or failing that a window in the kitchen and a door between it and the rest of the place. ours vents to the outside but is a very cheap model so the fan really doesn't pull much out.
-a safe place to leave packages / deliveries + a reliable buzzer or call box
-balcony or other outdoor space - a friend lives in a building with rooftop gardening containers + grills
-dishwasher - a counter top one is good for regular dishes and smaller pots and pans but if they cook I'd look for a full sized one
-regular windows that open all the way to accommodate box fans or window a/c
-if any of the decor is framed art picture rail molding makes hanging and moving things easy
-storage and cabinets easily accessible for their height
posted by oneear at 4:39 PM on November 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

- Dedicated space near front door for coats, shoes, keys, masks, and bags. Many apartments don't have this and properly installed 3m hooks + a bench with shoe storage make a good temporary solution, but a proper closet makes more sense if you own and are doing extensive renovations.
- Properly vented stove hood and in-unit washer/dryer. When you're in a small space, everything will either heat up or smell like food if they're not properly vented. Similarly, portable dishwashers can throw a ton of heat/moisture in the air as compared to built-in dishwashers because they drain directly into the sink instead of through plumbing.
- Someplace to hang dry clothing. I've found doing this over the tub in a second bathroom, if possible, is much better than in the bedroom, dining room, or living room because drippy clothing doesn't cause a problem and guests who need to use the shower are much rarer than guests who are in the living room.
- Normally sized dishwasher, sink, and stove. Slightly-smaller-than-suburban sized fridge (if you live within walking distance of a grocery store, you don't need to store as much stuff as if you make every-other-week grocery trips out in the exurbs).
- Sink - bathroom, kitchen, or wet bar - nearish the front door for "just got home" hand washing.
- Tankless water heater - if you have a dedicated water heater for your unit, a tankless one can get you back about 1/3 of a closet worth of storage space vs. a standard tank-having water heater.
- Soundproofing below flooring so you don't have to worry as much about bothering the neighbors. Soundproofing below the flooring of neighbors above you if they happen to be doing renovations at the same time so you don't have to hear them.
- Well-insulated windows, both for energy efficiency and soundproof against city noises.
- Lots of built-in storage - "normal" sized cabinets and drawers in the kitchen and shelves for cookbooks, drawers + shelves in the bedrooms ("California Closet" and "Walk Through Closet" are good search terms for bedroom solutions), and someplace to store tools/misc hardware things/sporting goods that might go in a mudroom in a house. In a smaller footprint, thoughtfully designed custom cabinetry goes even farther than in a suburban-sized house (and can make more financial sense because you need less of it).
- Dedicated bike storage in the building on the first floor.
- Balcony with full sun. I grew herbs and tomatoes more successfully than I ever have in my life when I had a sizable south-facing 3rd floor balcony with 8 hours/day of sun. The floor was perfect - high enough that there were very few pests/squirrels trying to eat my plants, low enough that wind wasn't an issue except on extremely stormy days. As a bonus, the view was "tree top" level and very pretty.
- Central AC or split unit AC (as opposed to in-wall or window AC). If you have to have window ACs, buy the Midea U-shaped ones. They are incredibly quiet compared to "normal" window ACs.
- Thoughtful lighting - under cabinet LED strips in the kitchen, dimmers on overhead living room lighting, adjustable lighting in the bathroom to get a spa feel - any advice someone might give you about a house still applies in a gut-renovated condo situation.
posted by A Blue Moon at 5:02 PM on November 27, 2021 [7 favorites]

My life improved a lot when I added a second bathroom/medicine cabinet. And again when I added an extra shelf to each medicine cabinet (wood is awesome for allowing this).

Also when I replaced the cheap, small, badly spaced wire "shelving" in the laundry room and linen closet with bigger, deeper, solid wood shelves that I arranged in a way that actually made sense for me.
posted by amtho at 5:04 PM on November 27, 2021 [1 favorite]

My suggestion is a bit more general so might not be helpful, but from my own experience- plan to buy furniture that specifically suits the apartment. Places like Ikea have a lot of good ideas. Don't shop at furniture stores that cater for people with big houses in the burbs. Inner city apartment store furniture tends to be multi use and has storage embedded.
posted by jojobobo at 5:45 PM on November 27, 2021 [13 favorites]

Most apartments have these builders' closets that have doors going up to about 6ft tall, even though the ceiling is 2+ ft higher than that. This is a really dumb design, and makes it hard to access that upper 2 ft of space unless you can somehow angle it perfectly between the shelves and the front wall of your closet.

Gut it and put in your own closets that go aaaaaaall the way up to the ceiling. We just went with IKEA Pax, I think 8ft high. The space is sooooo much more usable this way. No more jamming things up there, to be forgotten until you move.
posted by tinydancer at 6:40 PM on November 27, 2021 [5 favorites]

I think in general, custom, built-in shelves can make your life much better. I have shelves in my laundry room that were put in by the previous owner but are just the right size for a bunch of bins I have that I've labeled, and that is a great storage system. Some of the bin categories I have are frequently used tools, candles, plastic bags, tape and glue, and light bulbs.

The previous owner also put in custom shelves with doors. He had them made to hold his huge collection of VHS tapes, but they're great for books. The best thing about them is the doors. I never have to dust those books. If I could afford it, I'd put in a lot more.

I also added extra storage in two bathrooms: a cabinet like this one in one bathroom and an extra medicine cabinet in the other.

In case you can't tell, I am all about storage.
posted by FencingGal at 6:59 PM on November 27, 2021 [3 favorites]

Storage for seasonal items is a problem (Christmas tree and decorations, camping or sports gear, deckchairs etc), so a solution for that is really helpful. Outdoor space will be at a premium, but it really makes a huge difference to the liveability of an apartment/condo. Know whether you are a separate kitchen, or open plan living person and plan accordingly as that's usually impossible to change in the floor plan. Apartment/condo kitchens are small, it is worth making the effort to maximise the usefulness and efficiency of the kitchen if they can afford to do so.

Yet another person agreeing that in-unit laundry is much better than any of the alternatives, and with the interest in cooking I would say the same about a full size dishwasher (although an 18 inch wide dishwasher is actually fine for 2 people on a day-to-day basis).
posted by plonkee at 11:57 AM on November 28, 2021 [3 favorites]

The closet in my previous apartment was like tinydancer described, a little wider and a lot taller than the closet door. I took out the top shelf and put in shorter shelves running perpendicular to the rod, so that I had two more easily accessible shelves on either side of the door. Two squarish shelves were a lot better for storing bulkier items than one narrow shelf along the back.

Our current apartment has extra bonus closets built into that space above the normal closets. They're great, we keep seasonal things and camping gear there and refer to them collectively as "the attic".
posted by yeahlikethat at 5:03 PM on November 28, 2021 [1 favorite]

I am no expert but I often point people to Apartment Therapy as a pretty good small-space resource
posted by TimHare at 3:01 PM on December 2, 2021

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