What They Are and Why They’re Great


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If you’re looking for units that offer privacy or luxury, you’ve probably looked at a few penthouses and townhouses. You may have also come across advertisements for duplex apartments and said to yourself, “What is a maisonette?” “

If you’ve skipped ads with that hard-to-read name, you’re not alone. When you’re caught up in finding the apartment of your dreams, it’s easy to feel derailed by real estate lingo, and the phrase “maisonette apartment” can leave new tenants scratching their heads. Maisonette apartments are becoming more and more popular, so you’ll want to learn more about this type of unique unit so you can decide if they’re right for you.

What is a duplex apartment?

A duplex apartment usually means a ground floor apartment with a private entrance at street level. The expression comes from a French word which means “small house”, but in the real estate world it refers to an apartment within a larger structure.

You can think of a maisonette apartment as a hybrid between an apartment and a townhouse. It has characteristics similar to townhouses, such as private access to the outdoors. However, a maisonette is always a unit within a larger building structure, such as an apartment.

In theory, a duplex apartment could be any apartment in the building, as long as the unit has a private entrance on the ground floor. But apartments on the ground floor of a building which do not offer private access to the street are not qualified as maisonettes.

This type of accommodation is becoming very popular in New York. A typical New York maisonette apartment has a ground floor and a second level. Essentially, they are duplex apartments but with a private entrance which creates a feeling of exclusivity.

What is the usual layout of a duplex apartment?

Maisonette apartments are units located in larger buildings and may have one, two or three floors. Many units considered duplex today were commercial or office space before being converted into residences.

Since a private entrance from the street is a must-have detail for a duplex apartment, you will find most maisonettes on the ground floor. That said, any apartment that gives you access to a private street (like a dedicated staircase or elevator) could technically qualify as a maisonette.

What is a typical New York maisonette apartment?

Playhouses are relatively rare, but if you’re looking for one to rent, you’ll likely find this unique unit in areas of Manhattan like the Upper East Side, Upper West Side, or West Village. However, they are also starting to appear in new buildings in Brooklyn neighborhoods, such as Cobble Hill, Park Slope, and Williamsburg. You will often find them listed as co-op apartments or ground floor or first floor condominiums.

And while duplex apartments are the most popular in New York City, you can find them in other cities as well. Their perks, which can include plenty of floor space and private yards, make them attractive to city dwellers. But most of all, it’s the privacy that comes from entering your apartment directly – without sharing an elevator or staircase with anyone in the building.

Are duplexes the new luxury units?

Renters looking for luxury spaces tend to look to penthouse suites or any unit with impressive views. The ground floor units, on the other hand, have a reputation for offering unpleasant living spaces. This is because the units on the ground floor are generally noisier, darker, and more exposed to people and pests (think rats) passing by. As a result, tenants traditionally viewed ground floor apartments as cheap apartments.

However, more and more city dwellers are seeing the benefits of living in ground floor units these days. Access to the private street translates into unparalleled privacy that other luxury spaces cannot provide.

How do duplex apartments compare to other apartments?

Understanding the differences between maisonettes and other types of units can help you when looking for the right apartment to rent. So how do they compare to other popular apartment types?

Maisonette apartments vs townhouses

A multi-story maisonette can feel like a townhouse, but these two units are not quite the same. While townhouses are individual structures, maisonettes are part of a larger configuration.

Maisonette apartments vs ground floor apartments

The main distinction between duplex apartments and the older regular ground floor units is private access to the street. Many duplex apartments also offer another lobby access point. You will also find many duplex apartments with second and even third floors, but multiple floors are not necessary.

Maisonette apartments vs Penthouses

While duplexes and penthouses are both luxury units, both have significant differences that renters should think about. Maisonettes reside on the ground floor of a building and penthouses generally reside on the top floor of a building. While both units offer great benefits, renters should expect different lighting, outdoor spaces, and views from each other.

Due to their street level location, duplex apartments will generally not have that great view or natural light that attracts penthouse renters. However, maisonettes often have perks that penthouses cannot, such as a private backyard. You also need an elevator to access a penthouse. The maisonettes with direct access to the exterior add more comfort and privacy.

Maisonette apartments are ideal for renters looking for a little more privacy. Although they look a lot like townhouses, they still exist as part of a larger structure. Understanding what sets duplexes apart from other types of units can help you begin your search for the place of your dreams.