Apartment Living

In a large city like Madrid, many people live in apartments and further away from the center are more houses. Overall, apartments as well as houses are much smaller than in the U.S. Here are a few of the things I experienced while living in apartment buildings in Madrid:


In apartment buildings, a portero, a type of doorman, usually lives on the ground level of the building. He (I’ve never seen a female portero) watches the entrance during the week, receives packages, cares for the building, keeps the communal areas clean and takes out the garbage. Residents place their garage bags outside of their apartment door at a specific time, for example 8:45 pm, to be picked up by the portero who puts it in the bins in front of the building. On weekends and if you miss the pick-up, you need to take the garbage out yourself. In the city, recycling is limited with only one bin for our entire apartment building.

Front Door

When the portero is not working the entrance door to the street is locked and requires a key or code to enter. Our building door was extremely heavy, but fortunately there was a metal plate in the form of a foot at the bottom of the door. Once the door is unlocked, I would push the door open with my leg force by placing my foot on the metal form.

Apartment Door

I lived in several apartments that required a key to lock the door from the inside. In the event you locked the door and misplaced your key somewhere inside the apartment, you would not be able to exit. U.S. building codes forbid this interior key locking system, but it is remains prevalent in Spain.


Elevators are common in apartment buildings. They are typically very small and in old buildings constructed prior to the invention of the elevator, are retrofitted within spiral staircases.

First floor is called Baja, and then the floors are numbered, so the second floor is actually 1º planta (floor) and 2º planta is the 3rd floor.


Spain takes great interest in conserving electricity and hallway and stairwell lights in apartment buildings do not remain permanently lit at night. Instead, one presses an illuminated button that turns the lights on for about a minute.

Household essentials

Air Conditioning

Air conditioning is essential in Spain as temperatures easily reach the 90’s for months. However, A/C is used in moderation, which to some Americans may seem insufficient. According to many Spaniards, excessive air conditioning can make you sick. During hot months, Spaniards eat outside at night when the sun goes down to stay cool.

Paper Products

Paper napkins, paper towels and facial tissue are not very popular. Instead, paper napkins and paper towels are replaced with cloth napkins and towels, but the scarcity of facial tissue was alarming in my opinion. I did not find tissue boxes on teachers’ desks, in offices, in banks, nor in bathrooms. At most of my host families, when I needed to blow my nose, I resorted to using toilet paper, which is what they did. Curiously, during the winter it was common to see people on the streets of Madrid and in the Metro peddling individual packets of facial tissue for 1€ each. Tissues are sold at stores and I simply stocked up on my own supply.

Bedroom Linens

The only noticeably difference in the beds is the pillows one uses for sleeping. They are longer and narrower than standard American pillows and the pillowcases are open at both ends, which prevents the pillowcase from doubling as a bag in the USA.


Washing Machines, usually located in the kitchen, are front loading and many are a dual-purpose washer and dryer (not a separate washer-dryer combo), which take a very long time to complete a load from start to finish. I know because I timed it when I washed white towels. Here are the results with a new machine:

  • Washing duration 2:19
  • Take contents out of machine
  • Run transition phase with machine empty :18
  • Return contents into dryer
  • Drying duration: 2:40
  • Total duration: 5 hours and 17 minutes!

When the weather is warm, laundry is hung to dry outside. I’ve also noticed a great deal of ironing, including underwear and undershirts.

Home Space and Rooms

Living Rooms

Because most homes are small, there is usually only a living room and no family room. Therefore, the living room is planned to be more practical and is often used. The TV is typically located in the living room.


Kitchens are quite small with equally small appliances. Dishwashers are standard, but garbage disposals are not very popular and garbage cans are small. My rational is that if an empty cereal box cannot fit in a garbage can, it is too small to be in a kitchen.

Daily meals are typically eaten in the kitchen and often have a TV, however Sunday and other special meals are eaten in the dining room.


In old apartments and homes, a toilet and a small sink are enclosed in a separate room from the bathroom containing a shower and tub. Modern and renovated homes tend to put all the facilities, including a bidet, in one space. If the shower and tub are one unit, there may be half walls in lieu of shower curtains that go across only half the length of the tub, which is not to practical, resulting in wet floors. It is fairly common for bathrooms to have towel warmers. Washcloths are large, approximately 50% larger than their American counterpart. If bathrooms have garbage cans, they are small, however I have seen some bathrooms without garbage cans, which requires carrying trash from the bathroom to the kitchen garbage can. The electric current is 220 volts (instead of 110 volts in the U.S.), which makes hair dryers hotter and heat up hair faster. The result is a faster hair drying time, but the hot temperature dries out the hair more.


Bedrooms do not include built in closets, but they have wall units or freestanding armoires for hanging garments. Windows have either shutters or horizontal rolling shutters that can make the room completely dark for sleeping.


Most city dwellers have only one car and only some apartment buildings have parking. Finding a street parking space takes patience, but this is typical in most big cities. Freestanding homes generally have their own garages.

Outdoor Space

In apartment buildings, it is a luxury to have a large terrace or patio. When they do, they are usually found on upper floors. More common are small balconies.