What Pop Culture Always Gets Wrong About City Apartments

Some of the most memorable parts of movies and TV shows are due to the gorgeous places where certain characters live. Unfortunately, for those who actually live in a big city, these spectacular features seen in pop culture aren't actually realistic. Living in an apartment in a big city is definitely not as glamorous as movie and television sets would make one believe — from the amount of space you might have to the amount you'd have to pay in rent each month. The homes you see on shows like "Friends" and "New Girl," along with classic romantic comedies like "13 Going on 30" and "You've Got Mail" may be enviable — but they don't show the true picture of what city apartment life is really like.

To help get a clearer picture of where pop culture separates from reality, we took a deep dive into the apartments of some of the most iconic movie and TV characters. Whether you want to find out how your big city apartment holds up to those created by set designers or simply want some inspiration for your dream home, we've uncovered everything you need to know about pop culture vs. reality.

City apartments aren't easy to get

For anyone who has ever attempted to find a livable apartment in a big city, you'll know it can take a lot of time and a lot of energy. In movies and TV shows, though, this process is made to seem much simpler (and faster). Take the Netflix series "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," for instance. In the pilot episode of the show, the main character — Kimmy Schmidt — moves to New York City and finds an apartment in Brooklyn she can afford within one day. Sure, the apartment turns out to be built from a tugboat and essentially underground, but it's an apartment nonetheless. And, keep in mind that this TV character has no job, no money, and no credit (considering she was a missing person until right before moving to New York).

Trying to find an apartment in a city without employment, cash, or a good credit score within weeks — not days — is just about impossible. Of course, even if you're the most qualified, respectable tenant in the world, you can expect to face a long search for an apartment. According to Brick Underground, even with the help of rental sites and financial qualifications, you can spend three weeks simply finding a place you like. If only it were as easy as pop culture makes it seem.

Apartments aren't expertly decorated

Getting an apartment in any big city is only the first step. The next? Filling it with furniture and other belongings. Though movies and TV shows would have you believe otherwise, gorgeous decor that looks like it was handpicked by an interior designer doesn't just magically show up in your apartment. Walk into your new place, and it's (hopefully) empty. Unfortunately, most of us don't have set designers — like the team behind Will Truman's apartment on "Will and Grace" — to help us turn a bare apartment into a space that's expertly designed.

The '90s sitcom (which was rebooted in 2017) often takes place at the home of Truman, a high-priced lawyer with an enviable apartment. In a video tour of the set from the reboot, we get to see some of the most iconic parts of this New York space. Although the apartment itself has a few updates from the original run in the '90s — including a working wine fridge — its style has survived the test of time. Meanwhile, many of us opt for inexpensive furniture or hand-me-downs from friends and neighbors to outfit our city apartments. If they ever turn the "Will and Grace" set into an actual home, though, we'll be ready.

There's usually much less square footage

Unless you're working with a large budget, your apartment will likely be devoid of much square footage. In fact, per an article from The New York Times, the typical apartment in New York City only offers around 393 square feet per person. After furniture and other decor, that doesn't leave a lot of room for anything else. 

You'd never guess this was the reality, though, while watching the show "Friends." Monica Geller's apartment — which features two bedrooms, one bathroom, and a huge living space — is estimated to be approximately 1,125 square feet. That's almost three times the amount of space the average renter has in New York! 

Additionally, according to Bustle, their estimation is even higher, at 1,500 square feet. Either way, Monica and her friends are working with a lot of space here. And even if we allow for the fact that Monica often had a roommate, the amount of square footage allotted to each person is still more than the average. If you're moving into a city apartment and find something as spacious as the "Friends" apartment, consider yourself lucky.

You have to have a lot more cash

Picture this: You're sitting at home, watching your favorite movie or TV show. The main character — who works a job that realistically doesn't pay much — walks into their huge, beautiful, and perfectly-decorated apartment. You might scoff, knowing that there's no way someone on this particular character's salary could ever afford such a nice apartment — and you're probably right. Even in the show "New Girl," which features a Los Angeles loft in the downtown Arts District where four people live as roommates, the reality of the characters being able to afford it isn't likely.

Though the characters who live in the loft make varying salaries, Nick Miller is perhaps the person with the least amount of funds — considering he's a writer and bartender. Per data from Indeed, bartenders make a base salary of approximately $28,500 per year before tips. This equates to around $2,377 per month. If we take a look at lofts that could potentially house three or four people in the Arts District of downtown Los Angeles, though, we'll find that the average cost of these spaces is around $5,000 per month — according to Apartments.com. Even split four ways, Nick's rent would cost more than half of his monthly income before tips. Not to mention, this doesn't include utilities or other costs. He might have made it work, but just barely.

City apartment kitchens are typically tiny

If you've ever been inside someone's big city apartment, you've probably noticed just how small their kitchens actually are. In fact, according to The Spruce, the average kitchen size in a home with fewer than 1,500 square feet is only 103 square feet. Considering that the average New Yorker renter only has around 393 square feet at their disposal, big city apartment kitchens are likely even smaller. Making a huge dinner for a crowd of friends? Forget it — unless you live on a film or television set.

For instance, take a gander at scenes from the classic 1998 romantic comedy, "You've Got Mail," and you'll find that Meg Ryan's character — Kathleen Kelly — not only has an above-average size kitchen, but also French doors that add additional privacy (and style). There's even room inside for an extra table and lamp. Plus, if you move past the '90s and into the era of "Big Bang Theory," there's even more room — enough square footage to have a dance party and an island with extra storage. Though both kitchens are in different big cities, they're both incredibly enviable.

Most people have at least one roommate

Per Rent.com, the amount you'll spend on-average for an apartment is no joke. In Los Angeles, California, you can expect to owe around $3,200 per month for a one-bedroom apartment. And in New York City, that amount jumps to $4,333 monthly. It makes sense, then, why many people opt to get roommates to help offset costs. 

For the main characters in HBO's "Sex and the City," though, the cost of living alone doesn't seem to be a huge issue. All four main characters — Carrie, Charlotte, Samantha, and Miranda — live by themselves at some point in New York City during the series. In reality, 31.9% (as of 2018) of the United States adult population that lives with at least one roommate, according to the Pew Research Center. (That percentage equates to more than 79 million people, for what it's worth.) Rather that sticking with this information, however, the creators of "Sex and City" placed each of the characters in their own places: Carrie in a stunning brownstone, Charlotte in an Upper East Side apartment, Samantha in a roomy, modern space, and Miranda in a spot on the Upper West Side, as noted by MyDomaine. Unless living with significant others, these characters remained solo renters throughout the series.

You probably won't have outdoor space

Living in an apartment complex has its perks — but you likely will have to forego much outdoor space. For those who aren't on the first floor of a building, especially, there's little room for entertaining other than inside your actual apartment. But if you do happen to have a balcony on which to relax or host guests, consider yourself lucky. Per the American Housing Survey (AHS) in 2017, a mere 62% of apartment inhabitants have this particular privilege. Of course, this isn't necessarily the case when it comes to pop culture.

If you've ever watched the sitcom "2 Broke Girls," you might have noticed that they have an exceptionally rare apartment feature: a backyard. The two main characters — Max Black and Caroline Channing — not only have a chic apartment (that they can somehow afford on waitress salaries), but also a spacious backyard area. In fact, in the pilot episode, they bring home a horse to keep in that very backyard. That's a privilege that most big city renters definitely won't have. At the very least, though, it makes for a good laugh.

City apartment views aren't usually great

One of the most memorable aspects of the 1990s show "Frasier" was his stunning apartment. Featuring floor-to-ceiling windows and a view of the Seattle Space Needle, this home was the envy of every minor character who entered throughout the series. According to Curbed, though, neither the apartment complex nor the view from Frasier Crane's windows actually exists. In fact, the backdrop photo used for this TV set was taken in Washington's Kerry Park — and is a view that no apartment in Seattle has (or can have). Of course, if you watch "Frasier," it feels real — and can make someone expect more from their city apartment windows.

Instead of a picture-perfect view of the city in which you live, though, you'll more likely have a view of other neighboring apartment complexes or office buildings. And, if you live in a unit closer to the ground, your chance of having a skyline view definitely lessens. Sadly, many of us won't be able to dreamily stare out of our windows and see a glistening city below.

City apartments don't have much closet space

Fans of romantic comedies might remember the scene in "13 Going on 30" when Jennifer Garner's character — Jenna Rink — explores her closet to the soundtrack of Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody." The most memorable part of this movie moment, of course, is witnessing just how large her closet actually is. Filled to the brim with designer clothes and accessories, it's pretty jaw-dropping.

Unfortunately, it's likely that most renters in a big city won't have this luxury. In fact, per HGTV, the average reach-in closet size — if you aren't lucky enough to have a walk-in — is only 24 to 30 inches deep. There's no way Jenna could fit her entire wardrobe in that little amount of space. You might not have built-in shoe shelves like Jenna, but you can always opt for a shoe rack under your clothes or storage bins in tight places.

And then, of course, there's Carrie Bradshaw's infamous closet. If you've ever seen an episode of "Sex and the City," you likely already know that Carrie's closet in her New York apartment is what dreams are made of. It features a walkthrough set-up with all the storage you could ever possibly need — along with a treasure trove of designer looks.

Letting people inside is pretty tricky

Although several characters from the show "Gossip Girl" live in New York City penthouses, you may have noticed that people come and go as they please throughout the series — entering through elevators that open directly into these apartments. Not only is this unrealistic in terms of safety, but the general ease of letting people into a big city apartment isn't ever that simple. First of all, let's say you happen to have an elevator that opens into your home. Per Brick Underground, those who actually have access to these elevators have a key that allows them to get into their apartment. In other words, neither your best friend or biggest enemy would be able to show up in your apartment unannounced. Sorry, "Gossip Girl" fans.

It's more likely, anyway, that you won't have your own private elevator access. Rather, you might have a call box attached to your apartment. If you're lucky, you'll be able to buzz your friends and loved ones into the building without much issue. Of course, there are always occasions where you'll have to manually let someone into your home. Regardless of the ways people might enter your apartment, shows like "Gossip Girl" are wildly unrealistic.

There typically aren't extra bathrooms

According to Insider, having $3,000 to spend on rent won't get you too much — specifically in New York City. In fact, this amount of cash will allow you (on average) to have an apartment with one bedroom and one bathroom. So, if you're hoping for an apartment that costs a bit less, it's likely you'll be sharing a bathroom with one (or more) roommates. Of course, in pop culture, bathrooms seem to be plentiful.

Take the apartment featured on "Will & Grace," for instance. This two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment on the Upper West Side of New York is incredibly spacious. With two full bathrooms available, it's a dream come true. According to Trulia, though, apartments similar to this — in the same neighborhood — are typically around $5,940 per month. That's a pretty penny to pay for an extra bathroom.

We can also look at Frasier Crane's apartment on "Frasier" — which features three full bathrooms and one half-bath. Not only does everyone who lives in his apartment (Frasier himself, his father Martin, and Martin's physical therapist, Daphne) have their own bedroom and bathroom, but there's also an extra guest bathroom for visitors. Talk about an envy-inducing game-changer.

Natural light isn't always abundant

On beloved television shows like "New Girl" and "Frasier," you'll often find huge windows that allow for an abundance of natural light — but considering the fact that not every apartment can face the south (the direction where you'll get the most light), this isn't realistic for most city dwellers. And if you live in a densely-populated area, light might be blocked by large buildings around you, too. Alas, we can't all have a Los Angeles loft that seems to have windows in every single room — that are also nearly as tall as the walls themselves. Nor will many of us have unobstructed views of the city that let in the most light possible.

So, whether you're unlucky enough to live next door to another apartment building or simply have small windows that face north, your home might feel much darker than those artificially-lit movie and TV apartments seem to be.

You won't always get along with your roommates

Though several pop culture favorites — like "Sex and the City" and "Breakfast at Tiffany's" — feature city apartments where the characters live alone, the high costs of homes cause many people to seek roommates. Even the Pew Research Center averages that 31.9% of adults in the United States live with someone else (who's not family). And although we do see movies and TV shows where people live with roommates in a big city — like "New Girl" or "2 Broke Girls" — it feels a bit unrealistic that they all happen to become best friends. In reality, you likely won't suddenly form a close-knit group of friends with your roommates — especially if they start out as strangers.

According to The Atlantic, many people share their lives with people who they aren't friends with — just because they happen to live together. The article suggests making sure that roommates have boundaries, and consider whether or not they even want to have a relationship that involves friendship. So while it works to see groups of unlikely friends live their lives together on TV and movie screens, this isn't always the outcome of having roommates.