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This is independent editorial content written by a PropertyMash Journalist. While we try to ensure all information is as accurate as possible, please double check with the developer or real estate agent directly before making a purchasing decision. The information contained within this article may be incorrect or out of date.
Apartment living is a reality that more and more Australians are choosing or being forced to choose. This is particularly true today, where space is scarce, housing affordability continues to deteriorate, and more people than ever are living in our cities. Making a home in an apartment can be a challenge, but modern design has come a long way in making small-space living comfortable and livable.
We at Property Mash visit apartments every single day and from this, we have learnt a thing or two about what makes a good apartment. This article features our ‘Top 10 Features That Make An Apartment Livable’ which will hopefully act as a guideline or checklist for those looking to buy a new apartment. It is by no means a definitive list, but we think it is a great start. We also offer examples of apartments that are doing these things right so you can check them out for yourself!
For people who enjoy cooking and entertaining, kitchens are the heart of the home. Obviously, having good quality appliances is important. But there is more than that to a good kitchen. In our opinion having a ‘U’ shaped kitchen or a kitchen island is essential if your kitchen is somewhere where you love to spend time. If you are a budding chef or love alfreco style entertaining, then a ‘u’ shaped kitchen or island is key to working and enjoyable kitchen space. On top of this, having plenty of pantry space and good lighting really helps. A double sink is also a big functional benefit if there is space for it.
In the larger apartment designs (three bedrooms and above), buyers should look for extra features like a butler’s pantry with a sink in it, a steam oven and perhaps a wine fridge to free up space in the main fridge.
There are many apartment projects across Brisbane that do kitchens well. For a great example, we would have to point to La Vida Green in Greenslopes. The majority of the apartments in this complex tick our livability boxes. Buyers also get the option to choose between ‘U’ shaped kitchens or a large kitchen island in some cases.
When considering the bathrooms in an apartment, there are two key things to consider – their placement within the apartment and their internal design.
In one bedroom apartments, the bathroom needs to be accessible from both the bedroom and the main living area. This is important. This small feature can make apartment living much more comfortable because it eliminates the need for guests to walk through your bedroom which is uncomfortable at best.
In two bedroom apartments, the same thing goes. It is likely that one bathroom will be an ensuite, but the other should ideally be accessible from the second bedroom and the living area. Using the bathrooms as a way to separate the bedrooms is a great design feature as well if the bedrooms are to sit side by side.
Internally, bathrooms should be user-friendly. In two bedroom apartments, it is popular to have a bathtub in the second bathroom. This is a great feature to have, however, we feel that if the bathtub has to be inside the shower, then it is better not to have it. Showering in a bathtub is the result of lazy design. On top of this, it is unsafe and difficult to use, which is important given Australia’s aging population.
For good bathroom design, particularly in the one bedroom configurations, we recommend checking out Muse in West End.
First impressions last. The entrance to your apartment is the first thing you will see every time you or your guests step into your apartment. It is not possible to have the perfect point of entry to each apartment given space restrictions, but ideally, your front door would open into the living area or a well-lit hallway. Less desirable entrances would open right into the kitchen or a dark corner of the apartment.
In luxury apartments and terraces, we look for distinct and almost formal entrances. These enable you to welcome guests, provide a logical space for storage of shoes, coats, umbrella’s and on, and provide a level of privacy that is often one of the things you miss most when moving from a house to an apartment.
There are a few things to keep in mind when looking at bedrooms in apartments. Firstly, natural light is a must. To every bedroom where possible. One development where the designers have gone to great lengths to ensure every single bedroom has access to natural light is Obelix Living Cannon Hill. These are entry-level apartments, but that didn’t stop the architects from putting some thought behind their design and that is great to see.
It is also important to have properly built in robes with drawers, hanging space and storage. Many apartment projects have robes with hanging space only. This is a hassle for the people living in the apartment, makes sharing a wardrobe difficult and is very untidy. A fantastic example of built in robes can be seen in the three bedroom apartments at Brisbane 1.
Finally, in apartments that have more than one bedroom, it is important that there is some separation between the bedrooms if it is going to be used as an investment. This is becoming increasingly more important because Australia is experiencing a demographic shift that has caused shared living to become more common. Giving each bedroom a bit of extra privacy by separating it from the other bedrooms goes a long way in making apartments livable. 11-15 Eton Street in Nundah has great bedroom positioning in many of its two bedroom configurations. Having space for a desk in the second bedroom is also great.
Laundries aren’t the most glamorous part of the home, but they are necessary. Having a separate laundry that you can keep out of sight with a closed door is important for life in an apartment. Even in smaller apartments where there isn’t much space, having a washing machine, dryer and tub behind a cupboard instead of being in a bathroom makes a huge difference.
Secure, undercover parking is ideal. Particularly in Queensland where the weather can easily damage vehicles. It is also quite difficult to live in many suburbs of Brisbane without a car. It is our opinion that one bedroom apartments should have one car park and two bedroom apartments would ideally have two car parks, except in the most walkable parts of Brisbane (keeping in mind that there are relatively few areas that are truly walkable in Brisbane at this stage). Three bedroom units essentially have to have at least two car parks. Dedicated car parking is especially important in inner city areas where street parking is not a realistic option.
There are exceptions of course and Westside Indooroopilly is a great example. Opposite Westfield Indooroopilly with over 360 shops and restaurants and walking distance to excellent train and bus transport, makes this an excellent example of where one bedroom apartments can and should be available without parking.
Another question you should be asking is: “where is the entrance to the car park?” If it is off a main road, it may be difficult to enter or only accessible from one direction. This is particularly relevant to older purchasers. Ultimately this is a small consideration, but something to keep in mind.
New apartment buildings have to have solid security. As a minimum, we would say that key fob entry and security cameras in the common areas are needed for any building over 20+ apartments.
Privacy screens are also important to have. Brisbane City Council requires that developers try to avoid building apartments that look directly into other apartments. However, where this cannot be avoided, privacy screens must be set up so that apartments and outdoor areas can be used peacefully.
Outdoor living is a key part of Queensland life. As such, it is important for apartment design to accommodate this. We have four key features that we recommend checking on any apartment before you purchase it. First, if there is air conditioning in the apartment, it’s best if the condenser unit is not on the balcony. These units are ugly, noisy and take up valuable space. Second, having a power point or gas outlet on the balcony will make the balcony better for entertaining, dining and cooking. Third is size. As internal space in apartments become smaller, the balcony becomes an increasingly important space for everyday use, rather than just entertaining as it may have been used in the past. Which then leads us to our fourth feature, which is integration. If residents are using the balcony space more often, it is essential that the design integrates the balcony with the living space, trying as much as possible to make this a ‘single’ space. Great design achieves this.
A great design feature on some new apartment in the inner suburbs is a balcony that can be closed off to essentially become another indoor space.
Brisbane is a warm and humid place to live. This means that in order for apartment living to be enjoyable, especially during the warmer months of the year, we need apartments that are responsive to the local climate. This will usually mean air conditioning to at least the main bedroom and living area, if not all bedrooms. On top of this, large windows and balcony doors that allow breezes and cross-ventilation are great and having fans in most rooms helps with airflow.
Unfortunately, in modern design, architects and developers have lost focus on cross-flow ventilation in our view. This is a by-product of reduced apartment sizes and increases site coverage, but all the same, we think it is a real shame. With ever increasing electricity costs, coupled with the Brisbane lifestyle, we believe that designing apartments that facilitate good natural airflow is important.
A good example of a development that offers this kind of cross-flow air movement is The Wellington in Woolloongabba. The U-shaped building design naturally lends itself to the ability to maximise breezes through your apartment.
Ceiling heights are also a key contributor to overall livability in an apartment, improving both natural air movement and also improving natural light. Quite paradoxically, as apartment sizes become smaller, one way of improving apartment livability is by increasing overall building height with increased ceiling heights. If we can’t grow outwards, we need to grow upwards.
Inner city apartment living is going to come with some noise, that is a simple fact of communal living. This can be noise from the street or other apartments in your building. However, there are ways to reduce both of these sorts of noise and some apartment blocks do it better than others. Noise reduction is usually achieved through insulation and building materials such as windows and flooring. Good architecture can also funnel acoustics through the building design itself, although we have to say this level of design in Brisbane is limited, unfortunately.
Firstly, it is worth noting that Australia has minimum standards for noise reduction, but these are likely to be insufficient in many cases. The Federal Government recommends that apartment purchasers request design specifications for noise levels before buying and ask your solicitor to link them to your contract as a performance measure. Developers will have this information as they are required to do acoustic reports as part of the development application process.
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