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The Great Balcony Debate

Category: , Posted:13 May 2016 | 11:01 am

Life on the edge is never easy, as Romeo and Juliet would have told you. One of my many (and growing) property nightmares is the great debate over condominium and hotel balconies. Is it really a balcony, terrace, veranda or even that exotically-tinged Hawaiian tropical lanai? Let’s just stick to balcony for now.

Through the ages, architects have struggled to define, refine and reinvent the balcony. Switch back to the age of Willy Shakespeare and you, of course, start to see his inventive mind deploy the balcony, or what was later to become the ‘Juliet Ledge’. From the outside it looked like a ledge, but of course was just tarted up window dressing in the end.

Over the years in hotel design meetings I have sat through endless debates about the balcony and whether it was meant to be, or not to be? Let me now address my rants on that subject for a minute. Form and function remain a key element of architecture and I remain amazed why designers spend so much time inside the four walls, and entirely forget about the balcony.

Most annoying of all for me are those ultra-small ledge-like things attached to resort buildings with two chairs and a table jammed into the narrowest of spaces. The only purpose served is to create more work for housekeeping to clean the dirt or else more places for ugly swimsuits and underwear to disgracefully deface the outside of a building. Do I really care to know if the woman in room 224 prefers to wear a pink Hello Kitty thong, despite having a rear end nearly reaching my own epic proportions? No, thank you.

We do, of course, have the issue of smoking. Yes, folks can go outside and smoke on the ledge, but in reality many hotels are pushing into more smoke-free zones and, let’s face it, if it’s four degrees outside, or monsoon rains are falling, will you really choose to follow the rule? No way. Why not just have a smoking area on an attractive rooftop bar, where you can actually gain more revenue from drinking and smoking, which is a wonderful combination anyway?

Still, the idea of sprawling verandas, daybeds and even outdoor plunge pools, do make splendid unique selling tools for real estate agents. I’m writing this from Niseko, where onsens dot the balconies of many high-end projects and value is indeed created by an endless stream of hot water in the frigid winter.

Yin, Yang, Romeo where are you? Perhaps the biggest gripe here is why haven’t balconies evolved over the centuries and decades at the same pace as say kitchen design, or even bathrooms? Where is the killer game-changing design? Sadly, nowhere in sight.

For now, it seems we are left to debate the subject, and try to find a way to black out the corners of the room where the curtains can’t quite cover the all too small ledge outside that serves little to no point at all.

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