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Origins of Apartment Living

Roman apartments ruins with logo

Ancient Rome

The origins of apartment living trace back to Rome. In ancient Rome owning a home was for the wealthy few, leaving a majority of people in need of affordable housing.  It was out of necessity that apartments became a typical part of Roman life.

Early Roman apartments filled whole city blocks, were up to seven stories tall and provided space for businesses on the ground floor. There was no indoor plumbing and little to no green space. Animals were kept inside to prevent them from being stolen.  Needless to say these early apartments weren’t necessarily desirable places to call home.

Paris Flats

In the 1600’s Parisians were next to embrace apartment living. By the 1800’s the Parisian “flat” was all the rage, making apartment living to desirable by incorporating modern amenities and large, well appointed rooms into the designs.

American Apartment Evolution

In America, after the Civil War  property costs greatly rose. Apartment living became a necessary form of housing.  American builders began to construct apartments in the style of the Parisian flats, incorporating modern plumbing, separate bedrooms, closet space and fully functioning kitchens to attract tenants.

By the 1880’s gave birth to the luxury apartment. The invention of the elevator made apartment living not only an acceptable but a fashionable housing choice for the wealthy.

During the 1920’s apartments were being built for a variety of reasons. From a bachelor, or as we call it today, studio apartment, all the way to apartments with 3 bedrooms/3 baths plus servants quarters. (Oak Park Apartments’s 179 North Grove building is an excellent example of this type of “higher-end” apartment.)

Today, apartments continue to meet the ever changing needs of those looking to rent, think integration of technology into design.  So, with the demand for apartment living on the rise the history of the apartment has more chapters to write in its’ future.


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35 Chicago Avenue
Oak Park, IL 60302

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