How would you design a family-friendly condo?

Over the summer, I ran into a college friend at a real estate alumni event. We made plans to meet up for breakfast about a month later and got really excited about what the other was up to – Joe, my friend, had started his own boutique development firm that focuses on condo conversions, especially in brownstone Brooklyn.  His firm purchased a brownstone building here in Park Slope with plans to convert the two-bedroom, one-bath apartments to condos for young families.

When he learned that I was interested in the interior design field, he asked me to participate in a “design charette” event at the building last Tuesday night. We invited couples and young parents to tour the empty, unrenovated apartments, look at the architect’s floorplans, and discuss their design and layout preferences.  We asked people to think about the question: “how would you design a family-friendly condo?” …and we got lots of different answers!

Upon arrival, guests were invited to take a self-guided tour of the two empty apartments on the third floor of the building.

There was a display illustrating some of the proposed design concepts and sample finishes to provoke conversation.

The wine  & cheese also helped to get the discussion flowing.

Several young parents brought their adorable babies, which contributed to the casual and fun atmosphere. Having babies in the room helped to keep the conversation focused on design elements that make sense for families with small children.

After everyone had a chance to walk through the apartments and take a look at the ideaboards, Joe and his business partner JR kicked off the discussion by introducing the project’s architect (below right), and describing the architect’s suggested floorplans.


They pointed out the differences between the left and right apartment layouts and asked about the importance of a second bathroom versus additional storage in the apartment. One question quickly led to another and the discussion went on for about an hour, ranging from stroller parking to kitchen flooring to the communal use of the roofdeck!

On energy efficiency: Some guests indicated that they were more interested in how much money energy efficient appliances and windows would save them in the long run rather than how “green” they were. A mother spoke up about the importance of low- and no-VOC paints and non-toxic finishes.

On lighting: Guests generally agreed that there was never enough lighting in apartments and the architect talked about how electrical work is typically very expensive for the developer. There was some discussion about the use of compact florescent lighting, which some guests complained never gave a flattering light, especially for women applying make-up. The architect introduced the idea of LED lighting and the group heard personal testimony from a satisfied LED light user.

On heating & cooling: Joe & JR plan to install three individual wall-mounted heating/cooling units per condo. These will allow the homeowners to heat & cool the living spaces separately from the two bedrooms, saving on their utility costs.

On kitchen flooring: Guests were split on wood versus stone tile in the kitchen. Some preferred wood floors throughout for the feeling of continuity, while others complained that no wood floors could stand up to their high-heeled shoes.  There was also discussion about the functionality of wood and stone in a kitchen – which was easier to clean? Which would hold up better to regular drips and spills?

On refrigerator design: Unanimous preference for the style of fridge with two doors on top and a drawer freezer below. These make sense in small kitchens because the doors are shallow and require less space to swing open. Someone also pointed out that most people use the freezer less frequently than the fridge, so you spend less time bending down low to get stuff off the bottom shelf.

On bathroom fixtures: Guests agreed that young families need bathtubs for bathtime! Bathtubs can’t be too deep and they should’t have glass enclosures. And although young parents may like the look of pedestal sinks, they’re not very practical for families that need lots of storage space.

On insulation: the more, the better. In between floors and in between rooms, especially between the right and left apartments. If you refer to the floorplan above, you can see that one apartment’s master bedroom is adjacent to the other apartment’s smaller bedroom, which could potentially put family #1’s parents on the opposite side of a wall from family #2’s newborn. Super-think insulation will be necessary in this situation to maintain neighborly relationships!

On storage: Storage in the basement was deemed an absolute must. Guests agreed that the cost of the storage unit should be included in the selling price of the condo, but that the units should be sellable from one neighbor to another.

Stroller or bike parking? There isn’t room for both, so which one do Joe & JR choose? In any case, guests agreed that neither one was as important as storage.

On exposed brick: A unanimous yes for the living space, and a mixed response for exposed brick in the bedroom.

On decorative fireplaces: Some guests (yours truly included) loved the look & feel of decorative fireplaces and historic mantels. Others thought they were not useful and simply took up space.

On the roofdeck: There were lots of different opinions here and we didn’t reach an agreement. Some liked the idea of having a shared space for all the building’s residents; including rights to access the roof would be a selling point. Others preferred the idea of sectioning off the roof into two or more private roof decks with exclusive rights for the top floor condos. What the group did agree on was that it needed to be either 100% shared by everyone in the building, or 100% privately owned by the condo owners who purchase the rights. In other words, they didn’t like the idea of half the roof being accessible to everyone while the other half was sectioned off into one or more private roof decks.

Even after we wrapped up the formal discussion part of the evening, several guests lingered, still full of ideas. Joe and JR agreed that they learned a lot from the group discussion, especially about the specific considerations of new parents such as full-sized bathtubs and extra-insulated walls.

I know some of my friends and readers are new parents of young children…how would you design your ideal home to meet the needs of your family? Leave a comment and I’ll pass the ideas along to Joe & JR!

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3 responses

  1. As a parent with two young children optimizing space and storage is the most important. I feel it is important for the apartment to look big and spacious because when you have young children that space will quickly disappear. Open and inviting is best. Also storage space is equally as important. I agree that there should be a bathtub. In apartments I also think there should be plenty of insulation and thick floors so the people downstairs don’t get upset when small feet run across the floor early in the morning. Hope this helps. The event sounds like fun

  2. Regarding kitchen flooring, we went with a hand-distressed 5″ plank made by Garrison throughout all major traffic areas in the house incl the kitchen. We love it for the unique and natural pattern as well as the extreme durability. Going on year 3 and it still looks brand new! This looks like and exciting project and an interesting case study of the habits of local residents. I am guessing that the same family friendly condo in CA might have a few different necessities? Thanks for sharing!

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