A “Maisonette” Is the House Style You Didn’t Know You Wanted

published Oct 7, 2023
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A row of various colored brownstones in uptown Manhattan, NYC
Credit: PaytonVanGorp / Shutterstock

Stroll around a large urban area, perhaps around Manhattan’s Upper East and Upper West sides, and you might notice mysterious first-floor doors on some pre-war buildings. They’re in addition to the front door to the home, often tucked away on the side of the building, just beyond the main entrance.

These mysterious doors could be the entrance to a maisonette, which is a specific real estate term for a unit that has an entrance all its own. Maisonettes can be seen as desirable or not, depending on what you’re looking for in a listing. Here’s what three New York-based real estate experts had to say about their experiences with this niche building type.

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What makes a building a maisonette?

“A maisonette building, more commonly known as a maisonette, stems from the French word for ‘little house,’” explains Adie Kriegstein, a real estate salesperson with Compass Real Estate. 

A maisonette is often a one- or two-story home located within a larger building, yet it has its own private entrance. They’re typically bigger than your standard apartment, and the separate entrance makes it feel like a single-family home in the heart of the city. “Townhouse living with apartment amenities; that’s the way my clients view these homes,” explains Nicole Beauchamp, a licensed associate real estate broker with Engel & Völkers. 

Amanda Brainerd, a licensed associate real estate broker with Brown Harris Stevens, is currently representing a maisonette that belonged to late architect Henry Cobb, a longtime business partner of I.M. Pei. While this one is still on the market and could be yours for a cool $3.495 million, Brainerd has sold other maisonettes in her years as an agent in New York City. “Usually buyers interested in maisonette units are downsizing from houses. They appreciate the privacy of a maisonette, particularly if the apartment is a duplex,” she says.

What are the advantages of a maisonette building?

In an apartment building or condo building, you share an entrance with at least a few, if not hundreds, of other residents. With a maisonette, you get an entrance that’s all yours. Don’t want to see other people? You don’t have to. “Maisonettes have private entrances, sometimes off the street, and ideally accessible from both the street and lobby,” Brainerd explains.

A maisonette can also present an opportunity for someone looking to open a shop, studio, or office. Often, in their original iterations, buildings had a studio or shop in the front, and then a maisonette would have a separate entrance around the side or back. That tradition still continues in some buildings today. “Some maisonette buildings are zoned live/work, so a professional might have an office on the ground floor and still have living space as well,” Brainerd says. 

For those looking for a budget find, Kriegstein notes that the cost of a maisonette compared with a similar-sized unit within the same building is often less. A ground-level unit can be seen as less desirable, so you’ll typically pay less per square foot. “I sold a maisonette home to a buyer who wanted their privacy, but more than anything it was the amount of space for the price that intrigued them,” Kriegstein says.

Beauchamp adds one more IYKYK benefit: You never have to wait for an elevator when you have a maisonette. (Every day there’s front door service!) Yet you still have all the benefits of living in a full-service building, particularly if there’s a doorman and a concierge right around the corner in the lobby. 

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What are the disadvantages of a maisonette building?

Beauchamp sums up the disadvantages of a maisonette building in one short sentence: “If you love views and hate noise, a maisonette might not be the best fit.

These units are typically on the ground level, so their only view is of the street, or maybe the floor above if they’re a two-level floor plan. Street level translates to voices, ambulances, cars, and all the other cacophonic sounds of the city. Sometimes maisonettes can be darker and less appealing to some, and many people simply don’t want to occupy the ground floor at all,” Kriegstein adds.

What is the difference between a townhouse and a maisonette?

A townhouse is a single-family home that’s often two to four stories. While it’s attached to other homes, it usually only has one unit within the structure. A townhouse could be broken up into multiple units, but they are not self-contained units that have private entrances. 

Meanwhile, a maisonette is a unit that has an entirely separate entrance from the rest of the building. It operates like a single-family home, but within a larger building.