For the residents of a co-op or condo building, the building's lobby and common areas function much as a front porch or entry hall might in a single-family home; they're a spot to meet guests, get mail and packages, or to stop and chat with friends and neighbors. At least that's the idea. A successful common area’s style, comfort level and accessibility meets the needs and expectations of building residents; one that doesn't meet the mark is likely to be underused by residents—and maybe even avoided entirely.
By definition, a common area is nearly any part of a multifamily building that's not owned by individual shareholders or unit owners—that could include spaces such as lobbies, hallways, recreation rooms, laundry and basement storage areas, courtyards, gardens, and fitness centers. Whether or not a common space is well utilized and enjoyed by residents depends upon the functionality, style and feeling of the space.
For example, a lobby is one of the first impressions a visitor has of a building, but an outdated, threadbare, or just plain poorly designed lobby can give an inaccurate impression of the building's inhabitants, or even reflect poorly on their commitment to its maintenance. So the question of what makes a common area a pleasant, inviting asset to a community, rather than a wasted space nobody spends time in, is definitely something for conscientious boards and managers to consider.
A common area—be it a lobby, community room, or outdoor space—can be considered successful when it is well-used and well-liked by residents. The building is their home, and they need to feel comfortable in it; decrepit décor and threadbare furnishings give an uncomfortable, downtrodden feeling, and a cold, institutional-looking lobby or entryway can be downright depressing.
That being said, a condo or co-op's lobby should not feel too comfortable—it's not a living room, after all—but it should feel transitional as well as being attractive, says Marjorie Hilton, owner of Marjorie Hilton Interiors in Manhattan. “People ultimately need a place to sit, even if it’s for a moment. Successful [common spaces] have a spot to sit comfortably for five or 10 minutes.”