What To Do With a Railroad Apartment

Monday, April 13, 2015

My husband and I are getting ready to move (more about that soon, I promise). In our apartment hunting we came across many railroad apartments. A common layout in older New York City buildings, the railroad can be a real challenge to figure out. What exactly do you do with all those narrow-interconnected rooms?

We didn't decide on a railroad, but we seriously considered two that we saw. Because they were on my mind, I saved the listing photos of this apartment for its surprisingly lovely railroad layout and design ideas, and I figured I would share it here. As a disclaimer, I know nothing about the owners or the actual space--these are just my thoughts about the photographs space and the choices they made.

Here's what is so smart about this railroad:

1. Brilliant built-ins. Oh, to have a wall of floor-to-ceiling custom book shelves! It is so much more effective than anything you can buy off the shelf. It provides ample storage, but still looks incredibly tidy (thanks, in part, to the fact that it's not crammed full of stuff). The built-in lighting is a nice touch.

2. Interior "windows." The transom glass above the bedroom door and the paned-glass door itself go a long way towards making this railroad feel less railroad-y--natural light is able to stream into the center room, even if the bedroom door is shut. If you were gut-renovating a railroad, you could even add smaller transoms in the top of the bookcase, as well.

3. Collapsible furniture. The drop-leaf table is a great choice for this space. With the leaves folded down, it can be pushed against the wall and takes up very little floor space. With them open, I bet you could pull it up to the couch and have four or more for dinner.

4. An open kitchen. While an open kitchen isn't always the best choice, it's a smart way to keep a railroad feeling open. The way this one is laid out almost let's the kitchen function like a hallway when it's not in use. Finishing the sides of the cabinets that face the living room, including the continuation of the baseboard molding onto the cabinets, helps give the room polish.

5. White, white, and more white. I love that they embraced white for the wall color and kitchen cabinetry. It's no secret that I love white for small spaces, and I particularly applaud the choice to paint the exposed brick white (they should have gone for the bedroom too!). In most instances, I loathe exposed brick: Visually it's just sucks the life out of a room (and most of the time, the brick isn't even interesting old brick). However, stripping walls of drywall can give you precious extra inches that really matter in small apartments.

6. Cabinets that reach for the ceiling. In a small space, I think it's always smart to install your kitchen cabinets so they touch the ceiling and opt for the tallest models that can fit about the countertop. It's a great way to eek out more storage and you avoid the awkward grease-and-dust-catching gap between the cabinets and the ceiling.

7. Double-duty furniture. The bedside table drawer units are another smart way to get in more storage. Smaller bureaus or drawer units like these (I'm pretty sure they are IKEA's Brimnes 4-drawer chest) are a great choice for bedside tables in small apartments.

8. The illusion of more windows. Hanging a mirror between two windows is a classic decorator trick to give the appearance of more windows than there really are. This would be even more effective of a visual trick if the mirror were of the same dimensions as the windows it sits between.

In case you're curious, here's the floorplan for the apartment. I hope I helped provide some inspiration for railroad apartment-dwellers out there.

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