KBB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Oct 10 2016

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Condo Challenges


Open kitchen, dining, and living areas are naturally lit by three arched windows, while the adjacent private rooms—a small office/guest room, master bedroom, and bath—operate on the scale of large furniture pieces. Photo courtesy of John Horner.

We love hearing about new book releases that pertain to design. Recently, art and architecture author E. Ashley Rooney, with New York City-based designer Charlene Keogh and Wilmington, Vt.-based architect Julie Lineberger, came out with Condo Makeovers: Inventive Ideas for Vertical Living. KBB spoke to the authors to find out more insider tips about designing for those tricky condo makeovers.

1. What are some common challenges designers encounter with condos, and how can those be solved?

As Charlene Keogh said in her introduction to the book, “In a co-op or a condo when there is to be construction or renovation of any kind, plans must be submitted for approval to several entities before any work begins. That means submittals to the building’s board and the building’s own architect, the city’s building department and also possibly to a landmarks commission if the building is in a historic neighborhood.”

Furthermore, the designer must take into consideration space restrictions. For instance, a designer/architect can’t normally put in a bathroom (or kitchen or laundry) unless there is already an existing “wet” area below; plumbing stacks have to follow what’s already there. Plans that affect a building structurally or involve altering major plumbing, heating, or ventilation systems are problematic. Then there are other restrictions, such as the daily hours that work is allowed to occur; whether there are freight elevators for loading supplies, cabinetry and furniture; and can the streets handle large construction vehicles.

2. What are some ways a designer can make a condo look bigger?

Designing and choosing furniture to scale is important. Perhaps built-ins should be considered. To make the condo look bigger, a designer can use mirrors and sliding panels rather than doors. The extensive use of glass can expand a small space, while a neutral color palette, large windows and LED lights provide a space with openness and light.

Perimeter_Loft_05 (1)

A second bathroom at the center of the apartment borrows light from a new skylit stairwell to the roof terrace. The stairs cascade down and transform into a bench and display area at the entrance. Photo courtesy of Höweler + Yoon Architecture.

3. There are a lot of technical and planning issues with condo renovations. How can those best be handled?

In renovating a condo, the main basis for any decision is owner usage. Decisions may change depending whether the renovation is for personal reasons or resale value or both. Of course, the existing condition of the space, the style of the building and its place in architectural history play a role. Then there are the alteration rules, which can have serious consequences for your renovation plans.

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