A penthouse[a] is an apartment or unit on the highest floor of an apartment building, condominium, or hotel. Penthouses are typically differentiated from other apartments by luxury features. The term 'penthouse' originally referred, and sometimes still does refer, to a separate smaller 'house' that was constructed on the roof of an apartment building.
In architecture, the term penthouse is used to refer to a structure on the roof of a building that is set back from the outer walls. These structures do not occupy the entire roof deck. High-rise buildings often have penthouse structures called mechanical penthouses that enclose mechanisms such as elevator equipment.
While European designers and architects long recognized the potential in creating living spaces that make use of rooftops and such setbacks, in US cities, exploitation of these spaces began in earnest in the 1920s. It was a matter of news when the development of a rooftop apartment at the Plaza Hotel overlooking Central Park was announced in 1923, and this was followed by rapid development of luxury penthouse apartments in the following years.
When used as private outdoor terrace spaces, setbacks can allow for significantly larger and more protected spaces than cantilevered balconies. Due to the desirability of this outdoor space, buildings may be designed with such setbacks on more than one of its uppermost levels to allow apartments on several levels to feature such terraces. Not all penthouses have such terraces, but they are a desired feature. One such space may be divided among several apartments, or one apartment may occupy an entire floor. A penthouse apartment/condominium may also provide occupants with private access to the roof space above the apartment, instead of, or in addition to, terrace space created by an adjacent setback.
Penthouse apartments have not only the advantages of a regular apartment such as security and convenient location but also many of those of a house such as size and design.
Similar to other city apartments, penthouses are usually located in the heart of urban centers yet offer a sense of being situated far away from or above noisy and crowded urban life. Such locations provide easy access to hotels, restaurants, malls, and schools. On the basis of their sometimes larger size, penthouses also generally overcome the issue of small space in regular apartments.
Features not found in the majority of apartments in the building may include a private entrance or elevator, or higher/vaulted ceilings. In buildings consisting primarily of single level apartments, penthouse apartments may be distinguished by having two or more levels. They may also have such features as a terrace, fireplace, more floor area, oversized windows, multiple master suites, den/office space, hot-tubs, and more. They might be equipped with luxury kitchens featuring stainless steel appliances, granite counter-tops, breakfast bar/island, and more.
Penthouse residents often have fine views of the city skyline. Access to a penthouse apartment is usually provided by a separate elevator. Residents can also access a number of building services, such as pickup and delivery of everything from dry cleaning to dinner; reservations to restaurants and events made by building staffers; and other concierge services.
Penthouse apartments are considered to be at the top of their markets, and are generally the most expensive, with expansive views, large living spaces, and top-of-the-line amenities. Accordingly, they are often associated with a luxury lifestyle. Publisher Bob Guccione named his magazine Penthouse, with the trademark phrase "Life on top".
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