What is a Penthouse Apartment?

Penthouse apartments in NYC carry an air of presumed exclusivity and instant desirability, and, for the most part, rightly so. Penthouse apartments are more often than not among the largest and most luxuriously appointed homes within a given building, and they most certainly have the most expansive views.

But while there are few if any "bad" penthouse apartments in town, listings of penthouse apartments can mean different things, depending on the building, and the neighborhood, and the realtor.

Penthouse apartments in NYC can be of several different types. The strict, architectural definition of a penthouse apartment is a single-occupancy living space actually built onto the rooftop--an additional floor (or, in the case of a duplex penthouse apartment, an additional two floors), if you will, piled atop the building--with setbacks all around providing terraces with spectacular views.

Because the rooftop setbacks comprise considerably more square footage than standard terraces, penthouse apartments such as these are ideal for people for whom private outdoor living space is at a premium. Depending on individual building codes and restrictions, penthouse apartments of this type can feature amenities more often found in suburban back yards, such as large, finished decks with picnic tables and chaise lounge; fancy barbecue pits and cooking areas; flower and/or vegetable gardens; play equipment for kids or workout and/or yoga space for adults.

There are plenty of Manhattan penthouse apartments that meet this criteria, but many buildings use the term a little more loosely. A penthouse apartment in New York City can also simply mean a single-occupancy living space that takes up the entire, uppermost floor of a building, and not one built onto the roof with setbacks.

These top-floor penthouse apartments are, needless to say, often huge, with private, locked elevator entrances; higher, vaulted ceilings; fireplaces, Jacuzzis and even "endless pools" for swimming; balconies and terraces; and oversized windows—and, in contemporary luxury towers, floor-to-ceiling windows—that take full advantage of the glorious, often unobstructed, views of the cityscape. Sometimes penthouse apartments such as these also afford residents access to private rooftop decks, with dining and sunning and exercise areas, adding to the special nature of the space.

Because the term "penthouse" has come to be synonymous with a luxurious, even hedonistic, lifestyle—it was no accident that Bob Guccione named his aspirational men's magazine Penthouse, with the tag line, Life on Top, instead of, say, Classic 6--you might find listings for NYC penthouse apartments that conform to either of the above descriptions.

Some penthouse apartments in New York City don't take up the entire space, but are simply located on a building's top floor, along with several others, and follow the same layout, or footprint, as all the other apartments on all the other floors in its line. Some buildings also advertise penthouse apartments that are simply on one of the uppermost floors, rather than being on the top floor itself. These are often quite lovely apartments in and of themselves, with beautiful views and other luxury amenities, but they aren't strictly penthouses.

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