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( Originally Published 1935 )
Many city families are giving up their homes and living in apartments in order to simplify the technique of homemaking. Some of the advantages of an apartment are compactness which saves the energy of the housewife; freedom from responsibility for heat, garbage, lawn, screens, repairs, and many other troublesome concomitants of living; better protection from intrusion; and more convenient location for transportation and shopping. Some of the disadvantages of an apartment are the noisiness of neighbors, the lack of space and privacy, scarcity of windows, absence of a wood-burning fireplace, and worst of all lack of inducement to go out into the air and sunshine. If apartments had generous balconies and roof gardens they would not shut in the occupants as they do.
Desirable location is essential in an apartment. To be desirable the location must be convenient to schools, to transportation, to work, and to a shopping district, and yet not near enough to any railroad, street cars, highway, or shops to be noisy. Proximity to a park or possession of a fine view are rare features that one scarcely hopes to find.
The top floor is the quietest in an apartment house, and has the best ventilation and sunshine. These make up for the extra trouble in getting there. The exposure and location of an apartment are of particular importance. Unless the living room at least is on the south, there is not enough sunshine for a winter home. Ventilation is of vital importance in the summer. Cross ventilation for bedrooms and kitchen should be possible. An apartment that has a court on both sides is necessarily less airy than one standing free. Where there are warm summers, it is well to ascertain the direction of the prevailing winds before deciding about the desirability of an apartment.
The special needs of a family must be taken into account, particularly if it has very old or very young members. When considering an apartment it is well to find out whether there are any rules about radios and pianos to protect people who go to bed at normal hours. Sound-proof walls and floors are important for writers and others who have to concentrate on their work.
The arrangement of the rooms in a small apartment often makes much difference in the apparent size of it. No plan makes more effective use of the allotted space than that in which the living room and dining room are adjoining, with a very large opening between them. In that way a long vista is secured and the box-like effect of small rooms is avoided. Ample closet space is necessary for apartment dwellers, because the storage spaces provided in far-away basements are very inconvenient. In fact, generous closet space is more important for everyday comfortable living than large rooms. A coat closet, a storage closet, and a linen closet are necessary in addition to a clothes closet for each member of the family.
It is true that since there is less space for storage, living in apartment houses makes one discard superfluous articles. It is wise, however, to have plenty of case furniture, such as highboys, secretaries, bookcases, and Winthrop-type desks, for storage. It is possible to procure furniture of this type that is in scale with an apartment.
Before leasing an apartment one should measure its wall spaces to see whether the furniture would fit into them, measure the floors to find out whether the larger rugs would be usable, and measure and count the windows so that necessary changes in curtains could be accurately predicted.
The built-in features of an apartment are often a real handicap to beauty and should be dealt with before leasing. The worst of these are imitation fireplaces. Sometimes removable bookshelves or cabinets can be built over them, but usually they are not easily hidden. Often there are enormous built-in sideboards, china cabinets, or bookshelves that dwarf the appearance of the furniture. Sometimes a landlord can be persuaded to remove such objectionable features; if not, the apartment should not be considered. Paneled walls, too, interfere with furniture arrangement and picture hanging. The wood strips of the panels can be removed, however, if the wall is finished underneath them.
Landlords are often willing to remove light fixtures that do not suit a tenant's furniture. A woman who has Early American or modern furniture should refuse to use Adam light fixtures. It is really a very small matter for the janitor to remove wall and ceiling fixtures. The holes in the walls can be papered over as if they were not there; a hole in the ceiling can be covered with a metal cap costing twenty cents, and painted or calcimined to match the ceiling.
Radiators, too, can be removed or changed in location if they interfere with furniture arrangement. A radiator that occupies a bay window in the winter can be stowed in a closet during the summer. Sometimes removing a partition or cutting a large opening through a wall makes an apartment much more livable. A landlord is frequently willing to make such changes for the tenant who will sign a long lease.
THE DECORATION OF AN APARTMENT
If an apartment is to be decorated by a contractor supplied by the owner of the building, it is wise to have a complete understanding beforehand of the work to be done. Every item should be written in detail on the blank provided for that purpose. For example, it is not enough to write under closets "paint everything," specify instead, "baseboards, walls, ceiling, door, door casing, window casing, both sides of shelves, poles, hooks, light fixture, and electric cord."
A tenant should be given an opportunity to work out her color schemes without haste. She should see the decorator's wall paper catalogs a week before the decorating is to be done, so that there will be time to find other papers if there are no suitable ones in the catalogs. If the available papers are poor, and this is likely to be the case, it is well for the renter to provide her own wall paper.
Sometimes it happens that an otherwise pleasant apartment has dark-stained woodwork which the landlord refuses to paint a light color. In that case the tenant might get permission to paint it herself, using one coat of medium value in a color to harmonize with her rugs. If the room is well lighted, she might prefer dark woodwork and dark walls. Picture rails should usually be painted like the wall or ceiling. Radiators ought to be painted like the walls behind them. The very light-colored, highly varnished, hardwood floors which unfortunately are common in apartments should always be darkened.
Sometimes landlords will grant a concession or a lower rent to the renter who is willing to take care of her own decorating. In such a case, it is often possible to economize by using a coat of a thick, special calcimine over walls and woodwork too, as it is quite satisfactory for a year or so in a family of adults.
It is far more dangerous to own a co-operative apartment than a house, because in the apartment one has liability without control. There is an element of chance in such an investment, even when the promotion company is of the highest integrity, the financial agreements are drawn up by reputable lawyers, and the architect and the builder are first class. The most careful investigation is imperative if one is considering the purchase of a co-operative apartment.
A group of persons who are financially able would do well to put up their own co-operative apartment house, thereby saving the profit of the promotion company.