How do you know that the rental apartment you’re about to tour is actually all that and more? What features should you pay special attention to when visiting a space for the first time?
We spoke with eight top designers and stylists to get their input on the most important criteria to keep in mind when apartment hunting. Even if you’re only planning to reside somewhere for a short period of time, you don’t have to compromise on aspects of an apartment that will negatively affect your habits, design scheme, and mood. Read on for key characteristics to keep in mind during your search—some of them may surprise you.
Light, White and Details
“There are a few big things on my list when looking at rentals: light, white, and details. Natural light is a must, but isn’t always easy to find in New York City. I then look for a bathroom and kitchen that are basic and white, because I can layer on top of that and do my own thing—whether that means applying faux backsplash stickers or covering the floor with removable tile. White can always be worked around and personalized.
I also love to find apartments that have unique details, like old moldings or fireplaces. Those extra details give a small space lots of character.” —Nicole Blackmon, product stylist and Instagrammer @sweet_domicile
A Spacious Layout
“For me, square footage is actually less important than having high ceilings and some great romantic, natural light. Bonus points if the landlord will let you pick the color to repaint the apartment before you arrive. A custom color paint job will take your new home to another level.”—Alyssa Kapito, founder of Alyssa Kapito Interiors
Practicality and Quality of Neighborhood
“The best advice when dealing with rentals is a ‘real’ understanding of how you live. A great looking place that doesn’t have enough closets or storage is going to be a disaster in the long term.
Also, really research the neighborhood. When I first moved into my old place in San Francisco, I drove around one night and walked the neighborhood, looking for a great coffee house and a good deli. You might live in your house, but the neighborhood makes it a home." —Scot Meacham Wood, founder of Scot Meacham Wood Design
Natural Light and Hardwood Floors
“The two main things I always look for in a rental are beautiful natural light and hardwood floors. For that reason, I always look for older places, as they tend to have more character. True character and natural light can’t be replicated and always have a way of bringing a space to life.” —Chrissy Hunter, interior designer and content creator at Harlowe James
True character and natural light can’t be replicated and always have a way of bringing a space to life.
Room to Entertain
“When my partner and I were looking for our current rental, we knew that we needed two things: a sun-filled office space and enough room to host a dinner party. We love to entertain, and being able to host a few friends around a dining table and connect over good food and a bottle of wine was important to us when we were apartment hunting. Our last apartment didn't have an outdoor space, so this time we made sure to look for a small balcony.” —Tiffany Leigh Piotrowski, founder of Tiffany Leigh Design Inc.
“On the practical side, I always turn on all the faucets and check for good water pressure, and make sure the water gets hot in a reasonable amount of time. I also like to try to visit units on weekends or evenings to see how loud my new neighbors might be when they’re most likely to be home. Aesthetically, I look for higher-than-average ceilings and good natural light.
I also try to find a place with neutral finishes—like white paint, tile, and cabinetry—so my furniture and art will look great in the new place. And possibly most importantly, I always make sure to ask if I can paint, because a can of paint and a weekend is really all anyone needs to make a generic space their own.” —Kerra Michele Huerta, founder of Kerra Michele Interiors
Stellar Kitchen and Optimum Privacy
“Identify where you spend most of your time in your home, as this will help you identify some of your non-negotiables. For me, it’s the kitchen, so I’m always looking for a space with a stellar countertops and updated appliances. If possible, I always try to find a space with higher ceilings. Higher ceilings will make a space feel larger, and let in more light.
When doing your walk-through or virtual tour, be sure to note how close you are to your neighbors. Are the walls paper thin? Do you have shared walls in nearly every room? Try to find a space where you have optimum privacy and peace.” —Karina Lameraner, founder of Found by Fräulein
When doing your walk-through or virtual tour, be sure to note how close you are to your neighbors. Are the walls paper thin? Do you have shared walls in nearly every room? Try to find a space where you have optimum privacy and peace.
Inviting Inside and Out
"As the old saying goes, 'You can change your house, but you can't change your neighborhood.' The environment of one's home does, in fact, start on the outside. When you walk out your door every day, you have to like what you see, and on the inside, hardwood floors are imperative. You can cover up kitchen and bath floors with temporary flooring, but the meat and potatoes of the home's flooring has to be wood. It's not usually something that is going to cost you more, it's just something you have to be picky about.
Also, if you can find a spot with ceilings that are at least 108 inches tall, it's going to give you such a better spot to call home. There are historical gems with short ceilings, but as a general rule shorter ceilings lead to claustrophobic living.” —Megan Hopp, founder of Megan Hopp Design