Renting an apartment in a big city often means that you have to give up space in the name of affordability and prime locations. With the ever-increasing populations in major cities such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, the size of apartments is shrinking, forcing tenants within the cities to increasingly go for unconventional rental units such as railroad apartments. This type of apartment has become increasingly popular despite its unusual layout, and it may be worth your consideration especially if you want to live in a big city and still afford to pay rent your rent.
What is a railroad apartment? A railroad apartment is a rental unit that has a singular hallway which runs the length of the unit floor from the front door to the back wall of the apartment. They are often arranged in order from the living room and kitchen in the front part of the unit and the bedrooms and bathroom in the back.
This arrangement is similar to what you will find in a railroad sleeping car, where there is usually a walkway on one side and a series of rooms along the other side with doors that open to the hall.
Railroad rental units are one of the more unique living spaces you will find when apartment hunting in New York City where they were first introduced. Railroad apartments are often confused with shotgun apartments, which are quite similar, but they don’t have a hallway and the rooms are directly connected with one another.
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A short history of railroad apartments
Railroad rental units first made an appearance in the mid-1800s in New York City and were designed to curb the issue of rampant overcrowding. Most of the early railroad apartments were exceedingly narrow and uncomfortable to live in, and they were often located in buildings that were multi-level walkups. These apartments were favored by large multi-generational families, immigrant families that came from the same country who spent most of their time working, and groups of single men who lived together.
The unique design of railroad apartments began being incorporated in other parts of the country, especially in urban areas and their surroundings. Today, only a few of the original railroad apartments are still in existence, but the layout is still being incorporated in modern buildings. You will find railroad apartments in a wide variety of building types such as townhomes, detached apartment buildings, row homes, subdivided brownstones, and multi-story apartment complexes.
The pros of living in a railroad apartment
There are some perks that come with living in a railroad apartment:
1. They are more affordable than conventional apartments
Railroad apartments are typically more affordable than more conventional apartments partly due to their unique layout. They are popular with small families or tenants who live with roommates due to the relatively manageable rent. If you want to save some money on living expenses and still get to live in a pretty decent apartment, consider a railroad rental.
2. The layout is unique
Railroad apartments only have a singular hallway which makes them stand out among other standard apartments. They are perfect for tenants who are not afraid to explore alternative rental units that still allow for functional living.
3. The rooms are more spacious
Since a railroad apartment is essentially a hallway lined with rooms, a lot of space is saved than if there were multiple hallways incorporated in the unit. This type of layout allows for more generously sized rooms than what you would find in a similarly sized apartment with a classic layout.
4. They are often conveniently located
More often than not, railroad apartments are located within major cities and are particularly common in New York City. This is convenient especially if you work within the city since it means that your commute won’t be as long and tiring. They are also surrounded by a variety of essential amenities, generally making life easier for tenants.
5. They often have unique features
Since some of the railroad apartments that were constructed in the past are still in existence, they often have unique features such as original moldings, fireplaces, or pocket doors. Furthermore, these attractive details don’t come at an extra price. If you are lucky, you may just find one that has two or more of these unique features.
6. Potential for decorating
Don’t let their peculiar layout discourage you. Railroad apartments have the potential of being a gorgeous and unique home when they are organized and decorated appropriately.
1. They have limited privacy
Although you can’t see into one room from another like in a shotgun apartment, railroad apartments only offer a measure of privacy. The rooms are connected by a hallway, which means that they all share a wall, which makes privacy a bit of an issue.
2. Dealing with the stairs
Railroad apartments are typically situated in multi-level walkup buildings which means having to deal with stairs on a daily basis especially if the building does not have an elevator. If you are not too keen on potentially having to climb stairs up to the sixth floor, then railroad apartments may not be for you.
3. Natural light may be an issue
Natural light may not reach all the rooms sufficiently especially if they are situated on the side of the apartment that is oriented away from sunlight. This will result in the rooms being dim during the day, forcing you to rely on artificial light, which is hardly energy effective.
4. The layout may not be for everyone
As previously mentioned, the layout of the apartment is not the most conventional. You will have to get used to each room in your apartment being accessible through an entryway off the hall. This layout often turns away many tenants who prepare apartments with more classic layouts.
Tips on how you can decorate your railroad rental unit
The unusual layout of railroad apartments provides you with opportunities to get creative when it comes to designing the unit. Here are some ideas on how you can organize and decorate your railroad rental unit:
- Get rid of the clutter – It is important to keep the hallway that connects all the rooms clear since it is the only way you can access various parts of the house. You will want to get rid of the clutter so that the unit does not seem too cramped.
- A consistent color palette – If your landlord allows it, paint the apartment either in neutral shades that complement each other well or one color in order to ensure continuity.
- Mirrors along the hallway – The hallway may at times seem a little too narrow, making the living space seem smaller than it actually is. Adding a mirror or two along the hallway is a great way to make it seem wider.
- Take advantage of vertical space – Railroad apartments are still relatively small in size, and not all of them will have spacious rooms. This automatically means that storage space will be limited, and you will have to get creative with how to store items around the house. Use vertical space to your advantage by storing your belongings in over-the-door hooks and shelves whenever possible.
- What is a micro-unit apartment? This is an apartment that is smaller than a studio apartment and can only accommodate one tenant. An ultra-efficient micro-unit apartment will include a kitchen, bathroom, and living room area in a space that ranges from 200-400 square feet. They often feature large windows and high ceilings to create the illusion of a bigger space.
- What is the difference between an apartment and a condo? The main factor that differentiates an apartment and a condo is ownership. Condos are typically under the management of a Homeowners Association (HOA), but each unit in the complex is owned by different owners. If you want, you could purchase a condo, but if you are a renter, the unit is owned by the landlord. On the contrary, you cannot buy an individual apartment unit. They are usually owned by a property management company or a private landlord in some cases and are rented out to individual tenants.