What is a maisonette?
Updated March 3, 2022
Maisonette, which translates to “little house” in French, is a popular term in the metropolitan luxury real estate market used to describe the ground floor apartment of a building that has its own street-level entrance. In addition to the private entrance, these apartments also include access to the lobby.
The private entrance is what distinguishes this particular apartment style despite it being part of a larger structure of units. Often found in cities like Boston and New York, maisonettes are usually ground and second-floor duplexes, but they can range from one to three floors. They’re often used as doctor’s offices, too.
Maisonette translates to “little house” in French. Credit: Taylor Deas-Melesh/Unsplash
In the United Kingdom, the definition of the maisonette differs slightly. They are still apartments distinguished by private street access; however, they usually have an interior staircase and cover at least two floors. They are often found when large homes are converted by the landlord into multiple residences for resale and when sellers add them above a business to increase the value of the property. In certain instances, the maisonette can be located above a garage or retail space. Some maisonettes even include the garage below as an added amenity.
Maisonette apartments in the U.S. are most often found in prewar buildings. Although they were once considered unlivable and often relegated as office or commercial space, the luxury real estate market in major metropolitan areas has begun to pay more attention to the maisonette as a luxury property. Although the maisonette lacks the views and natural light of a top-floor penthouse apartment, they often have a backyard, do not require shared use of an elevator or stairs and have direct access to the street.
These convenient and often spacious apartments are desirable for their exclusive feel. They can be found as rentals, condos or co-ops. These residences share many features with a townhouse—namely its private access to the outdoors, even if by a dedicated elevator or staircase—but unlike townhomes, they are never stand-alone structures. They feel more like living in a small house than some of the higher units in the building, due to their increased square footage.
The downsides of living in a maisonette apartment are largely due to its ground floor location, which means they are often noisier. Street noise from passersby and traffic are louder in lower-floor apartments. The sounds of footsteps and voices from residents above the maisonette are typically amplified.
If the maisonette is located near a business, noises and smells from that—especially if it deals in the food industry—may be more noticeable. Maisonettes also tend to be darker due to the decreased natural light and they also pose a greater risk for pests in large cities.
In New York, maisonettes are most commonly found on the Upper East and Upper West sides of Manhattan. Luxury maisonettes with high-value amenities can run to $15 million or higher, but most often they are available for closer to US$1 million, according to listing site City Realty. They are hard to find and often priced lower than higher floor apartments, so good deals can be found.