nyc upper west side buildings types and how to design for them

believe it or not, there are only 3 nyc apartment styles to choose from. yep, three. each touts its own characteristics, benefits and challenges. and from a design perspective, each presents a different puzzle when working toward the result you want.

the upside? no matter which apartment style you’re working with, we can always find ways to add your taste, elevate luxury, and fit the home to your lifestyle. here’s everything you need to know about this cast of characters…

1. the pre-war classic

locations: upper east side and upper west side


pre-war apartments, those built before 1939, are often called a “classic 6.” this apartment style earned its name thanks to the six typical rooms of the unit. each are clearly defined and divided from one another: an entryway, living room, dining room, kitchen, and two bedrooms.

found mostly on the upper east side and upper west side, these pre-war classic apartments have a style all their own:

  • beautiful ornamentation on the facade of the building
  • ornate detailing around exterior windows
  • grand lobby entrances filled with classic materials, like stone and intricate paneling
  • substantial moulding in every room, coupled with 9-ft to 10-ft ceilings
  • gorgeous hardwood plank floors, often in a herringbone pattern
  • small auxiliary rooms and tiny bathrooms originally meant for a live-in maid

benefits of pre-war classic apartments

besides the obvious charm, character, and history of this apartment style, there are practical advantages to opting for a pre-war classic space. the ceilings are often higher, creating a light and airy feel throughout. additionally, units from this period tend to be quieter since they have plaster walls and poured concrete floors. so you’ll be less likely to hear your neighbors’ kid practicing the violin into the wee hours. 😉

challenges of pre-war classic apartments

because of the traditional layout, with the kitchen separated from the living and dining rooms, an open-concept feel is difficult to achieve. if you’re thinking “well, i’ll just have darci renovate,” we may want to talk about it first. renovations for pre-war classic apartments tend to be more extensive than their younger counterparts, as the electrical, plumbing, and then some might need to be replaced in order to bring the apartment up to code. and remember, as soon as you open up those walls, you lose the privilege of certain aspects of your home being grandfathered in.

i know it goes without saying, but i can’t resist — an experienced designer will make this process far easier to navigate. we know building codes. we know what can and can’t be done. and we know who to call (like a structural engineer) to get the job done properly… the first time.

examples of a pre-war classic interiors

the traditional detailing of a pre-war classic pairs beautifully with modern or contemporary tastes…


this chic 5th avenue apartment with central park views is home to an extremely social and utterly delightful couple and their son. they love a more contemporary look and spaces to entertain, so we incorporated the historical aspects of the space while playing up a fresh, updated vibe with the furnishings.


same for their master bedroom. it’s the perfect contemporary and traditional balance to keep the home and the family’s tastes living in perfectly refined harmony!


2. the post-war or 60s style apartment

locations: mostly on the upper east side


built from the late 1940s to the 1990s, these apartments are nicknamed “white elephants,” since they tend to be built using white bricks. found mostly on the upper east side, they are boxy yet large and open. they have plain windows, and lack the traditional detailing of a pre-war classic. many still showcase parquet flooring, low ceilings, and simple (if any) moulding.

benefits of post-war style apartments

  • great floor plan, open and ideal for entertaining
  • large windows are a hallmark of this design (hello, views)
  • modern-sized closets are a regular feature of this style, and who doesn’t want that?

the biggest benefit of a post-war style apartment is its easily convertible layout. since these buildings were constructed more recently, renovations are often easier, as major electrical and plumbing overhauls are rare. and of course with larger windows, based on your location, the sweeping views of nyc may be unparalleled.

when working with us, we’ll make a plan that accentuates the views while elevating the character in the rest of the space.

challenges of post-war style apartments

low ceilings often accompany this style of apartment and make units feel smaller than they actually are. since most of our clients prefer spaciousness, we have to get a little creative with how we layout the space and the design elements we use. you’ll see what i mean…

example of a post-war style interior


in the entryway of this beautiful, bespoke bachelor pad we added detailed moulding to the ceiling, installed a high-gloss lacquered wallpaper on the ceiling, and added a gorgeous light fixture to help visually raise the height of ceiling. we added more depth and character with this stunning inlay pattern in the stone floor. it took some creativity, but we transformed this foyer-turned-art-gallery from blasé to brilliant.

3. the modern new build

locations: varies but concentrated in tribeca & the financial district


new builds are popping up all around the city, but the major influx of modern apartments are concentrated in mid-town and downtown, namely tribeca and the financial district. with amenities galore, lobbies that rival 5-star hotels, and their sleek window-filled designs, it is no wonder that so many new yorkers opt for the modern new build.

benefits of modern apartments

  • modern materials are present throughout, including glass, metal, concrete, and cut stone
  • incredible amenities, such as rooftop gardens, viewing rooms, state-of-the-art gyms, children’s play areas, club house spaces available for parties, temperature controlled wine cellars, and more
  • high-end appliances often come with the units in both the kitchen and the spa-like master bathrooms
  • large windows are a common feature
  • stunning modern hardwood floors with wider planks and non-traditional finishes are common

there’s a lot to love in a brand new building… like the endless amenities, the fact that your apartment may already be wired for the latest in smart-home technology. plus, most contemporary buildings are green.

challenges of modern apartments

modern apartments are rich in amenities and move-in ready, but take some design love to feel special. i’ve found that most of our clients like to upgrade or personalize many of the materials that come with the home, from simple elements like outlet covers to adding architectural details as desired.

example of a modern style apartment interior


this light and bright apartment in a midtown east high rise is home to a pair of avid readers who were looking for the perfect place to curl up with a good book. it was no surprise they were drawn to the modern apartment with floor-to-ceiling windows. the apartment was brand new, so we were working with predetermined fixtures, finishes, and architecture. we used a mix of upscale furniture, custom designs, and a relaxing yet sophisticated palette to elevate the room… and draw attention to this view!


well, there you have it — the cast of characters that us city locals call home. or at least our first home.

if you’re ready to elevate your space to its full potential, or find an apartment that fulfills your design aspirations, give us a call. we are masters at working with your home’s layout and creating something — or somewhere — truly special to live.

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all photos by emily gilbert photography