It’s easy to find a cookie-cutter apartment: Boxy design, lots of glass, maybe some dark metals with a bright accent or two. The kind of building can have its perks, but it looks like it could be anywhere. 

For those looking for a bit more character, Philly also has plenty of new apartments in old factories, office buildings or schools. And while some renovations write over buildings’ past lives, others honor the spaces’ histories, preserving colorful graffiti, retro elevators and even chalkboards in their new incarnations. 

Spiffed up history at Icon
The 25-story tower at 1616 Walnut has 85 years under its belt, but only one as luxury apartments. And luxurious it is, with sleek units and one of the city’s best roof decks. But the rebirth didn’t ignore the building’s past. Developers preserved the striking Art Deco lobby with cast-bronze facade and ornate elevators to match. Even the lavish common areas have period touches, like patterned floors and marble fireplaces.

Goldtex leaves its mark 
This building at 12th and Wood was once a shoe factory and is now loft-style apartments. In between, the 110-year-old structure was best known for blight; sitting vacant for a decade, it became the domain of squatters and trespassing street artists who tagged all the way up to the roof. Today, that roof boasts a pool and sun deck, but some of those tags remain visible. The same is true for the hallways, workout room, and other common spaces, where designers have left graffiti-covered beams exposed and even commissioned new works in the same style.

Get schooled at Mural Lofts
North Broad has seen an influx of new residents recently, and will continue that trend with Mural Lofts, set to open later this year on Spring Garden. The brick shell was once a school, each of the building’s 56 units will have features preserved from that past life, including chalkboards, bookshelves and wood floors. The lofts’ developer has invested heavily on North Broad, and is also planning an adaptive-reuse conversion for the palatial Divine Lorraine hotel a few blocks north, complete with dramatic balconies and a restored marble-laden lobby with a grand staircase.