What Is an Efficiency Apartment?

What is an efficiency apartment?

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More of a real estate marketing term than a building type, the phrase “efficiency apartment” is shorthand for the kind of bare bones accommodation suitable as a starter or temporary apartment, or an accessible housing option for budget-conscious minimalists who prefer to live alone.

What Is an Efficiency Apartment?

An efficiency apartment is a small, open-space unit in which living, dining, kitchen, and sleeping areas are contained within a single room, in addition to a separate bathroom. Often the term is used interchangeably with "studio."

History of Efficiency Apartments

The term efficiency apartment was first used around 1930. Today, efficiency apartments may be furnished or unfurnished. The use of the term efficiency apartment can vary according to region, and is often used interchangeably with the more common term: studio. While studio apartments are often distinguished from efficiency apartments because they include a separate fully equipped kitchen rather than a kitchenette built along one wall of the unit, this is hardly a steadfast rule. Efficiency apartments can be found anywhere, but are a fixture of dense, crowded, high-cost cities where space is at a premium and there is a constant turnover of people looking for affordable housing options close to work.

What is an efficiency apartment?

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While efficiency apartments are generally the least expensive private housing available on the market, the definition of what constitutes an efficiency apartment can vary according to region and the time period in which it was constructed. In the late 1920s, real estate developer Fred F. French built the Tudor City neighborhood on the east side of Manhattan, the first residential high-rise complex in the world. These were intended for busy urban workers who often lived in these miniature apartments during the week and walked to nearby Grand Central Station to catch the train to their homes in the suburbs on the weekends. The units had built-in Murphy beds, but they didn’t originally include kitchens, since building residents had access to three dedicated restaurants where you could order room service by phone.

Today many of those efficiency apartments are just 200 square feet, smaller than legal minimum building size requirements for NYC. Many owners have converted the Murphy beds into closets, installed kitchenettes, and order takeout in the absence of an onsite restaurant. And if you're browsing the internet in search of an efficiency apartment in Tudor City, you’re more likely to notice them being marketed as studios.

In fact, one could argue that any small-space apartment could technically be described as an efficiency apartment, from railroad-style apartments, to small studios, to what used to be commonly known as bachelor apartments. Today, architects, building developers, and realtors prefer more current-sounding branding terms like micro apartment, tiny apartment (to echo the popularity of the tiny house movement), or even mini loft.

What is an efficiency apartment?

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Key Characteristics of Efficiency Apartments

  • Contains living, dining, cooking, sleeping areas in a single space
  • Small separate bathrooms typically containing showers rather than bathtubs due to space constraints
  • Frequently feature kitchenettes built in along one wall rather than fully equipped separate kitchens
  • Some bare bones efficiency apartments might not feature kitchenettes, but include individual basic cooking tools like a hot plate, microwave, electric kettle, or mini refrigerator for minimal food prep and storage
  • Varying layouts with a focus on efficient use of space
  • Might include built-in space-saving features such as Murphy beds
What is an efficiency apartment?

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Pros and Cons of Efficiency Apartments

  • Efficient use of space

  • Suited for those who like to live alone

  • Generally less expensive than other housing types

  • Easy to clean

  • Encourages maintaining a clutter-free lifestyle

  • Ideal for minimalists

  • Uses less energy to heat and cool, generally making it more sustainable depending on energy efficiency of existing systems

  • Space constraints may be seen as a con from those who prefer larger spaces

  • Lack of privacy for those sharing space makes efficiency apartments best for solo dwellers or co-dependent lovebirds, rather than roommates

  • May be difficult for those used to living in large spaces to adapt

  • Requires daily tidying and a watchful eye over clutter 

  • Smaller kitchens without oven or stovetop can limit cooking options

  • Less space for entertaining

What is an efficiency apartment?

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Decorating Tips for Efficiency Apartments

  • To maximize space, consider multipurpose furniture such as Murphy beds, sofa beds, expanding dining tables, and ottomans with built-in storage
  • Utilize vertical and wall space for storage
  • Install wall-mounted lighting to keep limited floor space clear
  • To create the illusion of more space, use light colors on the walls
  • Paint walls, ceilings, and trim in the same color to create an airy feel
  • Install mirrors across from windows or in dark corners to bounce light around and add additional perspectives and views
  • Choose small space furniture that is the right proportion for the size of the room
  • Create flow by defining separate areas with furniture placement, rugs, room dividers, or clever space planning