Floor-plan fumbles

Downturn has helped curb layout bloopers, but some developer missteps persist

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Kitchen counters that can barely fit a coffeemaker, doors that swing the wrong way and terrace railings that hide views.

These are just a few of the notorious apartment layout mistakes that regularly work their way into blueprints for New York City apartments. But if there is an upside to this long-standing problem, it’s that the downturn is having a corrective effect on floor-plan blunders.

Unlike in the heady days of the boom, today there is little room for these sorts of layout and design miscalculations, brokers say. “I think the pressure on the development community to provide marketable product is so high today that people are now being sensitive to every single issue in order to build the best possible product,” said Adrienne Albert, CEO of The Marketing Directors.

Still, in many cases, brokers are dealing with batches of poorly conceived apartments that came online during the boom, when it seemed nearly anyone with some kind of real estate background could put up a residential building in New York and find buyers.

Here are pitfalls still plaguing some projects:

1. Irregularly shaped rooms. Errors occur when developers don’t put themselves in the shoes of the person who is actually going to be living in the apartment. Brokers say some developers can fail to anticipate a three-dimensional experience and ignore how the “floor, wall and ceiling” play off each other, said Elisa Orlanski Ours, vice president of planning and design at Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group. This leads to proportion and dimension flubs, “like balcony railings that are too high, so that when you’re sitting at your dining room table, you can’t see the view.” Living rooms may also be too big, or an apartment is puny compared to its terrace.

2. A front door that opens up to a wall. “If you do that, the apartment is going to lose value right away — it has to create a great first impression,” noted Adriano Hultmann, a senior vice president at Prudential Douglas Elliman, who said mishaps are more common among smaller developers.

3. Ill-conceived kitchens. Albert ticked off a few flubs: meager storage space, refrigerator doors that swing the wrong way, and dishwashers opposite stoves so that both doors can’t open at once. On the flip side, some developers will design big, elaborate kitchens in apartments that will likely be inhabited by single people with high-pressure jobs who work long hours, rarely cook, and like to eat out, Richard Cantor, principal of Cantor Pecorella, said.

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4. Closets with fewer than 4 feet of linear space. New Yorkers might well have hanging in their closet: a winter coat, a raincoat, a light coat, a jacket or parka, possibly a dress coat, and a weekend coat. Pretty soon, as Albert said, those coats are eating up a foot of space on their own, and that’s just for one person.

5. A bedroom that doesn’t fit a bed. One common mistake made by inexperienced builders in new buildings is failing to build a bedroom wall wide enough to lean a bed against, Cantor said.

Pre-planning push

Floor-plan design is an imperfect science, and compromise is inevitable, brokers said.

When you add in a building’s structural and mechanical systems, not to mention zoning requirements, it is nearly impossible to come up with a perfect layout for multiple apartments. Added Hultmann: “Let’s say there are 10 apartments per floor; maybe one or two will have issues. If one apartment door opens into a wall, and you solve that, then maybe in the next apartment, you’ll lose 100 square feet of space,” he said. “Sometimes some problems have no solutions.”

Still, some things can be avoided, and developers have woken up to the importance of the pre-planning stage. They are increasingly soliciting brokerage firms’ planning services, versus bringing them in after the project is complete. In some cases, the banks, which have tightened credit, are demanding that a real estate marketing company review a project’s plans before issuing a loan, Hultmann said.

In turn, several brokerage firms are playing up their design acumen. Corcoran Sunshine formed a planning and design department, which includes architects and market experts, five years ago to collaborate with developers to analyze properties, build for the target buyers and help plan everything from the appropriate square footage of a kitchen to the right type of bathroom fixtures.

Albert, who also has an architecture background, said The Marketing Directors examines all aspects of design for a developer precisely to avoid these kinds of errors. The company, she said, looks out for things like the “circulation space,” or wasted space, in the floor plans, among other things.

Cantor Pecorella, in conjunction with developer Atlantic Development Group, tweaked the original concept for the new East Village luxury rental 2 Cooper Square. The adjustment, Cantor said, “redistributed larger, multibedroom units to the upper floors.” This helped “maximize the dollar-per-square-foot price — now over $100 per square foot for these units — and to actually reduce the number of apartments in the building, particularly studios, to attract more affluent tenants.”