How to improve your NYC apartment for sheltering in place

By Jennifer White Karp  |
May 28, 2020 - 2:30PM

A renovation at this co-op, 150 East 61st St., #4F, currently on the market for $1,125,000, created a home office that can also fit a Murphy bed.

Douglas Elliman/StreetEasy

Most New York City’s apartments were not really meant for sheltering in place 24/7, so you may be spending part of your lockdown eyeing your place and wishing you had an extra bathroom, bedroom, or home office. Or perhaps you wish you could swap some public and private spaces, since you are using your apartment differently. The days of having people over for dinner or parties are over, at least for now.

Or maybe you are looking for small hacks you can do yourself to improve your space while New York remains shut down, such as creating a sanitizing station, getting more fresh air, or adding storage.

And while a renovation may not be at the top of your to-do list right now—and you should be aware that reno projects will be more complicated in the future because of coronavirus—you can make some plans to incorporate lessons learned from the pandemic into your next apartment project. Brick Underground spoke to a NYC architect to find out what are going to be some popular renovation requests and what are some fixes that you can undertake yourself.

One example for right now: Get serious about hand sanitizing. Set up a station near your apartment door with separate bins for gloves, masks, shoes, sanitizer, and wipes, as architect Joel Sanders of JSA/MIX Design suggested in a recent Wall Street Journal article. Ideally, you’ll also include cubbies for shopping bags, recycling, and mail. A slim console table like this is narrow enough to fit near a door and still hold baskets or bins.

Click here for more of Brick Underground's coronavirus coverage.

Architect Ritu Saheb, principal of Saheb Architecture, says she been thinking a lot about how to maximize efficiency in NYC apartments in light of the coronavirus pandemic, which will likely be around for a year or more, she notes.

“How we use our apartment has changed,” she says. Public spaces have become less important. “Now our focus is more on private space like the home office.”


Architect Ritu Saheb sketches where a buyer could add two home offices and an additional bathroom sink to this co-op on the market, 514 West End Ave., #11B.

Home office and guest bedroom hack

These days, home offices need to be private areas—working at the dining room table, or in a nook, doesn’t cut it, as she explained in a recent seminar on creating a home office.

“We need home offices with doors that you can shut because work or school involves Zoom calls,” Saheb says. For a client in Chelsea with adult children who needed a home office, she created a home office out of a walk-in closet.

Adding a Murphy bed is one way to make a home office available as guest bedroom, she says.

Get one that doesn’t extend to the ceiling to make it less of an eyesore. She suggests the Apeksha Murphy bed from Wayfair.

Maximize your bathroom

Adding a second bathroom will be a popular renovation request for owners who are concerned about how to isolate a sick family member in the future, however, NYC co-ops and condos will be hesitant to approve these projects because of concerns about wet-over-dry rules, even though architecturally, Saheb says these can be done safely.

The experience of living through the pandemic in NYC may encourage some boards to eventually loosen these restrictions, but until then, here’s an idea from Saheb’s native India: Adding a second sink just outside the bathroom. We’re all washing our hands more these days, and if your apartment has only one bathroom, you’re well acquainted with the frustration of needing to wash your hands when the bathroom is occupied. Saheb suggests using a bathroom vanity like this one to add storage.

Aim high with storage

Another way to find more room is to make better use of vertical space, such as above your fridge and cabinets, Saheb says.

“We’re all buying lots of toilet paper and paper towels,” she says. “Consider how you use your space fully from floor to ceiling. She recommends storage containers from the Container Store or IKEA or furniture piece like pantries and armoires.

Give your air a check up

An old concept that’s getting new attention: The importance of fresh air to dilute viruses—one that is especially topical for apartment living. Adding window fans can help improve circulation.

If you have central air, Saheb suggests contacting your HVAC contractor and getting the system adjusted to improve the air change, or number of times the air is replaced in an hour.



Jennifer White Karp

Managing Editor

Jennifer steers Brick Underground’s editorial coverage of New York City residential real estate and writes articles on market trends and strategies for buyers, sellers, and renters. Jennifer’s 15-year career in New York City real estate journalism includes stints as a writer and editor at The Real Deal and its spinoff publication, Luxury Listings NYC.

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