Last edited 06 Nov 2020


The word ‘maisonette’ is a very broad term that has a number of different potential meanings, some of which are dependent on location.

The word maisonette is derived from the French ‘maisonnette’, meaning 'a little house'. In France therefore it can refer to almost any domestic property, although it is generally used to describe holiday cottages or flats.

In the UK, the word maisonette is commonly used to refer to an apartment on two or more storeys of a larger building with its own internal staircase and its own separate entrance. This distinguishes maisonettes from flats, which are reached through a common entrance. This type of maisonette is often found above shops, with an entrance to the side of the shopfront. Historically, this sort of maisonette has been considered more desirable than flats in similar situations.

However, some definitions of maisonettes suggest that they can also be single story, and that they are distinguished from flats by having their own separate door to the outside.

Unhelpfully, In Scotland, 'maisonette' may refer to a two storey apartment within a larger block that is reached through a common entrance. The Scottish Building Standards give the following definition; '...a dwelling on more than one storey, forming part of a building from some other part of which it is divided horizontally.'

There is also some disagreement about whether an apartment with a mezzanine level should be referred to as a maisonette.

Maisonettes are sometimes now referred to as 'duplexes', a term that has become increasingly popular due to its perceived Americanism. Generally, ‘maisonette’ is still used to describe more traditional apartments, whereas ‘duplex’ is applied to apartments with a more modern design. Strangely, however, and rather confusingly, in the USA, a ‘duplex’ is a dwelling comprising two apartments with separate entrances, whether they are side by side or one above the other.

Where a maisonette is on the top floor of a high-rise building, it might also be referred to as a penthouse.

NB The Scottish Building Standards, Part I. Technical Handbook – Domestic, Appendix A Defined Terms, defines a maisonette as: ‘…a dwelling on more than one storey, forming part of a building from some other part of which it is divided horizontally.’

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