The apartment lobby: 5 ways to make it welcoming & safe

Barbara Ballinger
Barbara Ballinger | 5 min. read

Published on March 26, 2015

Lobbies can be luxurious and grand with high ceilings, elaborate moldings, marble flooring, and elegant furnishings that reflect another era, when vintage apartment buildings were built with sprawling entryways. Nowadays, even though they’re smaller, lobbies can be coolly modern with large windows to allow in light and provide spectacular views and display hip, comfortable seating for a contemporary vibe.

No matter the size of the building, creative lobby interior design can make a great first impression, providing a welcoming and comforting entry for residents, owners, and guests as they take the stairs or wait for the elevator.

“Think of it as the front door of your house,” says Diana Pittro, executive vice president of RMK Management Corp., a development and property management firm based in Chicago. Your choices needn’t break the bank, but should offer several key features. A modest investment in time and money can make the difference in securing another lease—or sale.

These five features of interior lobby design can make a world of difference:

#1: Secure Entryway for Improved Safety

In many smaller buildings without a doorman or concierge, protecting residents from intruders is a concern. For residents, install the best deadbolt key system available, or go the newer route with a magnetic card or fob key system like many office buildings do.

For visitors, install a buzzer system in an outer entryway that’s well-lit and has a door behind it that closes securely. “You don’t want anyone waiting in a dark area where they don’t feel safe,” says Pittro. A video camera to record all comings and goings is a good idea, she adds. Video systems that were once expensive have come way down in price in recent years.

Good lighting inside the apartment lobby and directly outside the building will make anyone who’s entering or leaving feel much safer. It’s also a plus to have a system that stays lit all the time, which has become much more affordable as the cost of energy-efficient LED lighting has fallen dramatically.

Additionally, install lighting on separate switches and with dimmers to vary lighting levels, for reasons of both safety and ambiance, says Mary Cook of the design firm Mary Cook Associates in Chicago.

#2: Floors & Mats to Prevent Slipping

Daily upkeep is a must, especially during times of snow or heavy rain. To combat these problems, roll out rubberized mats to protect floors and keep tenants and visitors from slipping, says designer Allston Lipscomb, co-founder of the New York design firm The 3rd Floor Lab, which has decorated numerous lobbies.

The easiest, most affordable floors to care for that will continue to look great over time, according to Cook, are:

  • Hardwood or laminate hardwood
  • Porcelain tiles that can resemble wood and other materials
  • New luxury vinyls
  • Stained concrete, which is used by many retailers with high traffic
  • Natural stone, if the budget permits

#3: Mail & Package Area

Unless you’re going to deliver mail and packages to each apartment daily, set aside a space with lock boxes where residents can retrieve mail, with the packages stored in another area for safety. Many apartment buildings with larger budgets now set up virtual concierges that let residents know they’ve received a package, sometimes through an app.

#4: Updated Color Palettes

Make your choices in the warm, soft, neutral family, like grays and browns, which appeal to the largest audience and wear well. Of course, Pittro says, you can add a dash of color for a smart accent.

Many residential buildings avoid wallpaper because it’s expensive to buy and install and is also less practical than paint. However, today, many vinyls look smart, wear well, and can even mimic expensive fancy paint finishes, wood, and stone, Cook says. If you go with paint, select an eggshell finish to make it easy to wash.

#5: The Right Furnishings

If there’s room for furniture, choose pieces with a light, modern look, which will convey a greater sense of visual space than furniture that’s heavy and traditional. The exception? When a building has a vintage character you want to bring out, Lipscomb says. Furnishings with glass surfaces expand the space, as do mirrors on the walls. Lipscomb also suggests using a mirror in an elevator and hallway for the same reason—and for safety.

If a lobby is large enough, it might become a place where residents interact rather than just pass through, says Cook. But don’t overcrowd the area because good circulation is important, and that is one of the space’s primary functions.

Have you made upgrades to your buildings’ lobbies lately? If so, what changes have drawn compliments from tenants or owners? Leave a comment below!

Read more on Maintenance & Improvements
Barbara Ballinger

Barbara Ballinger is a freelance writer who specializes in real estate, design, and family business; her website is Her most recently published book is The Kitchen Bible: Designing the Perfect Culinary Space (Images Publishing).

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