In Defense of the Dark Apartment
Posted on August 3, 2018

Bohemia Blog by Agent Suzan Perin Eraslan

Natural light is one of the requirements that my clients most often say they need in their ideal apartment, and if the number of real estate listings that specify an abundance of it are any indication, my clients are hardly outliers. For years, I, too, thought exactly the same way because I had been conditioned by everything from the posh Architectural Digest to the more realistic(ish) Apartment Therapy to covet the light and airy look that is still so popular in design magazines and blogs. When I first moved uptown with two roommates in 2008, I insisted on the front facing bedroom with the most natural light over either of the two in the back of the apartment with windows facing the side of the building.

And boy, did I learn to regret it.

After 8 years in that apartment, when my partner and I decided to move in together, all that was on my must-have list, after pet-friendly to accommodate my dog and his two cats, was internally facing windows. (Ok, and a dishwasher, because I love to cook and I hate to wash dishes.) But I wasn't just being an iconoclast for the sake of breaking with trends. So what made me change my priorities so completely as to make a total 180 from what is considered the most desirable quality an apartment can have?

Sleep. Glorious, wonderful, absolutely critical and hard to come by when you live in New York City sleep.

First of all, an apartment that gets a lot of natural light is almost certainly going to face the street. Even uptown, even on the 4th floor where I was living, even on a relatively quiet side street, there will still be the odd ambulance siren that jars you from sleep or the car that drives by at 4:00 AM bumping the newest dance music from their rolled down windows with their subwoofers turned up to 11. Don’t get me wrong, I still like a good beat, but I don’t want to hear it on a Tuesday night when I have to be up for work the next day. Or the late night, shouting match between a couple who have had a few too many at the hip new cocktail lounge that opened up six blocks away, where you love to hang out but are happy your apartment isn’t directly over. Sure, there’s something cinematic about having a break up fight on a Sunday after midnight on a New York City stoop, but if you’re not involved in forming that memory you’ll laugh about three years later, it’s just another annoying reason you’re going to have to spend half your day in the office kitchen refilling your coffee cup to get to six o’clock. Inward facing apartments have more sound insulation from the city that never sleeps.

Additionally, more and more studies reveal that light of any kind while you attempt to sleep is bad for your health. Not just kind of bad— really, life threateningly bad. A study published earlier this year showed that being exposed to even a tiny amount of evening light while you sleep can lead to depression! While you can control putting down your phone and avoiding all screens for an hour before bed time, the apartment with lots of natural light is also going to get lots of unnatural light from street lamps, car headlights, and the aforementioned emergency vehicles. Because New York summers equal very early sunrises, unless you’re waking up at 5:30 AM, anyway, you’ll be jarred out of sleep (or get less restful sleep) well before your alarm goes off. While I recommend getting black out curtains no matter where you live to avoid this, but unless you nail them to the window frame around the edges (and risk forfeiting your security deposit for damaging the frames), black out curtains will still let all that light bleed in through the edges.

If your health isn’t enough of an incentive to consider ditching natural light from your “must have” list, consider that removing it from your deal breakers will open your apartment search up to more options— and often cheaper ones, at that. Because natural light is such a common requirement for apartment searchers, darker, inward facing apartments tend to stay on the market longer than those that look like the bright, white Parisian minimalist pictures everyone else puts on their Pinterest board. The longer an apartment is on the market, the more likely the landlord is to lower the price or accept your offer to bring the rent down $50 or $100 a month. And inward facing apartments tend to stay cooler in the summer as they aren’t baked by sunlight streaming in through the window pane, so you’ll save money on air conditioning, too!

On the other hand, if money is no object or you’re great at decor on a shoe string budget, dark interiors are having a bit of a moment, style-wise. You’ll definitely stand out from everyone else who is going for that, in my opinion, played out, sterile white on white minimalist look. Though you’ll probably have to repaint a rental with both primer and two coats of paint when you move out if you go this way, just check out the gorgeous examples below for some inspiration:

Photo via ESTILA

Photo via Apartment Therapy

Photo via Apartment Therapy

Photo via The Telegraph

Of course, if you spend all of your time indoors between your apartment and your office, no natural light can also lead to depression. Luckily, with the amount of money you’ll save by opting for the darker apartment, you can spend $100 on a high quality, 10,000 lux light therapy box you only need to use 30 minutes every morning— before I started working in real estate, I kept mine on my desk at the office so I could turn it on while I caught up on morning emails— as well as a range of energy saving, LED light bulbs that produce full spectrum white light. I strongly recommend buying adjustable color lights like the Philips Hue system or cheaper ones like the Flux Bluetooth Smart Light Bulbs that you can control from an app on your phone to blast yourself with artificial sunshine during the day and turn them down to a warm, sleep-inducing amber at night.

After two and a half years in our quiet, comfy cave, I will never go back to fighting tooth and nail to get to sleep for the sake of “lots of natural light." I can’t recommend highly enough that you, too, open yourself up to the real benefits of the poor, unloved dark apartment and find the apartment of your well rested dreams.