LIFE ON TOP

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By W.A. Muller

It came as no surprise that, back in the 1960s, the notorious publisher Bob Guccione named his new urban-lifestyle men’s magazine Penthouse, and immediately started using the trademark phrase “Life on Top” to associate with the publication.  He simply applied to his glossy journal the common perception of the highest level of luxury living “on top” of the high-rise apartment buildings.  Like the residential penthouses, Guccione’s magazine aimed (and succeeded) to be differentiated from others by its many luxury features.

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However, in architectural vocabulary, the term ‘penthouse’ originally had a much humbler beginnings.  It referred to a separate, smaller “house” that was constructed on the roof of an apartment building.  Such “small houses” were often used as the unit owners housekeeping staff’s modest quarters, or as a storage areas for the building’s maintenance supplies.

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Then, in “the Roaring Twenties,” the economic growth led to a construction boom in New York City, and the idea of a luxury penthouse apartment was born.  The high demand by the new wealth led to the creation of lavish terraced apartments on top floor (or floors) of many posh buildings.

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To this date, the large, often “wrap-around” terraces continue to adorn penthouse apartments.  Therefore, such outdoor expanses remain to be the main “wow effect” of penthouse homes.  Such terraces are often lushly planted and furnished as extensions of the apartment’s living spaces.  They offer room for al-fresco dining, sunbathing, working out, swimming, even golfing (in small putting green areas)…

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Because the penthouses are, by definition, located on the highest floor(s) of apartment buildings, they typically come with spectacular views of the city skyline, landmark buildings, parks and rivers.  In Manhattan real estate terminology, the “million dollar view” from a terraced penthouse has long become, literary, a “MULTI million dollar view.” This is how much the views may add to the value of a home.  And, this may well be yet another reason why Mr. Guccione picked a word ‘Penthouse’ as the name for his “picture-rich” magazine.

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