A penthouse apartment or penthouse is an apartment or condominium which is a single dwelling that is on one of the highest floors of an apartment building or condominium. Penthouses are typically differentiated from other apartments by luxury features.
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 will often have penthouse structures enclosing mechanics such as those in an elevator machine room.
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/condominiums 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/condominiums, or one apartment/condominium may occupy an entire floor. A penthouse apartment/condominium may also provide occupants with private access to the roof space above the apartment/condominium, instead of or in addition to terrace space created by an adjacent setback.
A penthouse apartment/condominium may have additional exclusive features not found in the majority of apartments/condominiums in the building, such as a private entrance or elevator, or higher/vaulted ceilings. In buildings consisting primarily of single level apartments, a penthouse apartment/condominium may be distinguished by having two or more levels. They may also have such features as a terrace, fireplace, more square footage, over-sized windows, multiple owner suites, den/office space,jacuzzi and more. They might be equipped with luxury kitchens featuring stainless steel appliances, granite counter-tops, breakfast bar/island and more.
Penthouse apartments/condominiums 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 in popular culture. In the theme song to "Green Acres", wealthy, sophisticated Manhattanite Lisa Douglas (Eva Gabor) sings, "I just adore a penthouse view...". Publisher Bob Guccione named his magazine Penthouse, with the trademark phrase "Life on top".
Those wishing to market or otherwise inflate the prestige of a particular apartment/condominium may use the term. The term penthouse is sometimes applied to apartments/condominiums that are no different than others in a building, other than being on one of the uppermost floors. The terms sub-penthouse or lower penthouse are used to describe apartments/condominiums below the top of a building, when the term penthouse or upper penthouse is reserved for the uppermost floor.
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