Have you ever paused at a street corner to think to yourself, “why does a stop sign look like that?” This may come across as a weird question at first. After all, we follow stop signs every day, what’s more, to know? However, a stop sign has more going on than you may think. Its sharp red color shows oncoming traffic when to hit the brakes; its reflective coating makes it easy for nighttime drivers to pinpoint its location in the dark, and its unique octagonal shape is designed to alert drivers (facing the back of the sign) of oncoming traffic’s impending stop at an intersection.
As an interior designer, I am admittedly somewhat obsessed with signs. But the signs I’m obsessed with are indoors and serve some very mundane functions, such as informing you what floor you’re on, or what to do in case of a fire, or which direction to turn when you get off an elevator. The choice of signage (fonts, materials, placement) is an important part of residential lobby interior design and hallway interior design.
I must admit, designing interior signage is one of my favorite parts of a project. When all the other design decisions have been made, it’s fun to design them. I don’t think anyone has ever written a blog before about apartment building interior signage designs, so this may be a first.
My personal gallery of beautiful apartment building signage
1) 140 East 56th Street, Manhattan
The period typeface “Neutra” (named for the modernist architect Richard Neutra) was perfect for this midtown Manhattan mid-century modern building built in 1956. The emphasis here is on the apartment line, which presents larger than the floor number (kind of sexy, right?) To emphasize this fun juxtaposition even further, the chocolate brown door is layered with a lighter oiled bronze metal etched around the border, so you have the dark door, a light border, and a dark field behind the lettering.
Also, “Neutra” just sounds cool.
2) 1230 Park Avenue, Manhattan
This Upper East Side Carnegie Hill 1930 pre-war has an exquisite lobby encrusted with molded plasterwork on its ceilings and walls, marble and terrazzo floors, and luscious paneled doors. Our task was to provide signage designs and hardware that indicate the stairwells but fit beautifully into the elegant interior design.
In this case, we chose a classic serif font for the letters (Times New Roman) and mounted them over the lovely period-style door hardware. The effect is super luxurious and gets the job done.
3) Holland House – Forest Hills, Queens
For the Holland House, we used some of the original advertising materials that were created when the building first opened in 1929. We were able to match the font (“California”) and it perfectly fits in with the lobby interior design. You can see it on the sign on the right-hand side in this image.
Here’s something really cool, too! The building originally had floor indicator signs above each elevator. But when the elevators were renovated, the indicator signs were removed. We gave them a new life and today when residents and guests step out of the elevator they are greeted by the old elevator indicator, which is set to the floor they’re on. We also matched the apartment “wayfinding” letters and arrows with the same font and material that leads visitors to the right apartment in style.
4) The Endicott – 101 West 81st Street, Manhattan
With this 1900 pre-war building’s proximity to Central Park, the residents requested that we find a way to bring the verdant lushness of the park right into the building. We found lots of ways to do this in our work as NY lobby interior designers and NY hallway interior designers but when it came to the signage design, we had to make a decision. How could we keep the signage from overtaking the delicate interior design elements we had created?
The answer was to use a weathered and antiqued aluminum, which looks like real silver for most of the signage design. On each floor, we hung a simple rectangular mirror framed in aluminum. The text looks like it’s sandblasted into the glass, but it’s actually a custom designed decal! The simple yet elegant “Palatino” font was a perfect choice here.
At The Endicott even the laundry room sign is distinctive. We stayed true to the overall design again with the horizontal shape and white lettering in “Palatino”. The striking white line around the perimeter keeps the effect from being stodgy. Note the braille, which is now part of ADA requirements, of which we are experts (we have to be!).
5) 45 Sutton Place, Manhattan
Here we chose brush brass for the signage and, despite similarities to signs at The Endicott (they both are brushed metal, use a serif font, and have white borders), the 45 Sutton signs are more traditional in feeling. The font is “Times New Roman” and “ the white border gives it a fresh, up to date look.
6) The Atrium Palace Condominium – Fort Lee, New Jersey
We call this sign “balls” because of the tiny balls that are mounted on the top and bottom of the apartment identification signs. Believe it or not, this inspiration came about when I visited the sign factory and saw braille signs they were making. Since the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) requires that all new signage include braille, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be unique to use the balls as a design motif, too?” Imagine my delight when the residents agreed with me!
The “balls” eventually became a design motif for the entire renovation project of this large residential building in New Jersey.
7) Residential Apartment Building – Upper West Side, Manhattan
This sign was designed for a pre-war Upper West Side of Manhattan rental building whose owner really loves his buildings and appreciates quality, too! The signs have some real heft to them. They are 1/8” thick solid polished brass with two etched borderlines and a flower motif, which was inspired by the frieze on the exterior of the building. In this way the building’s distinctive exterior is incorporated into the interior design.
These signs are affixed to each apartment door and in addition to looking just gorgeous, provide residents with a peephole for security and incorporate their doorbell button, too.
If this blog makes you start obsessing over interior signage where before you walked past with nary a glance, share them for me. I have a soft spot for lovely fonts and clever design.