Wednesday, January 16, 2013

☞ QUESTION: Mailboxes for Brownstones?

A Harlem brownstone renovator had the below question about setting up mailboxes.  Do any Bespoke readers have some advice on what to do for mail delivery?

I am just finishing a brownstone gut renovation that will be a two unit dwelling with a garden apartment. I just realized we haven't thought through how the mail will be received. Are there ideas out there? In the way you have done other renovation tips, would you do a focused post on mailboxes, mail slots, or any other solutions? Thanks!


  1. One thing you definitely want to do - call the post office for current guidelines of what is required for a new mailbox. There are specific requirements for minimum and maximum heights, a canopy for rain, etc. You don't want to sink in $$ to install something, only to learn afterward that the PO will not deliver to it. And don't trust the installer to know what is required. Find out for yourself.

  2. I'm actually in the process of doing the exact same thing and already gave this some thought. My decision is to build the two mailboxes into the side of the stoop (recessed so that they lay flush). That way they are not easily visible from the street and don't look out of place (for instance compared to trying to squeeze them in somewhere next to the doorway).

  3. I have a really lovely art nouveauish mail slot which the letter carrier regularly ignores. Stuffs it between the outer glass door and the wooden outer door.

    Prior carrier would just throw it in through the under the stairs gate. I would take it up to the common hallway and sort it. I only have two tenants so it wasn’t a big deal.

    You could ask your mail carrier and see how cooperative he or she is.

    Good luck.

  4. For only two units with separate entrances, I suggest a mail slot for each. I dislike most mailboxes. They are ugly and don't always keep mail dry.

  5. We actually just went through this....we have all the mailboxes for the building in our front entryway which works for us because of the design of the building. We had to call the post office and request they send someone to install a key lock that the post office uses to buzz themselves in - then they can gain access to your building with a universal key. Otherwise, you can give your mailperson a key to your building but if there is a substitute they might not know about the key and you won't get your mail.

  6. I believe the mail was traditionally delivered through a brass slot in the front (main) door at the top of the stairs. Our (original) door still has that slot.

    However, as a response to the reader who asked, we have an arrangement with the mail carrier to slide our mail under the iron gate at the lower entrance (in the well under the main stairs). It is safe and dry there. We don't want the mail in the upper LEVEL and the carrier is not to have to climb the stairs.

    I'll be interested to hear what other readers offer.

  7. Regarding mailboxes:

    I've seen several solutions in the neighborhood:

    1) outside mailbox mounted on the railing

    Advantages: Easy for the mailman to get to. No security issues with the house, can accept bigger parcels, etc.
    Disadvantages: Ugly. Everyone knows when you are on vacation. No security of stuff in the mailbox. You have to stop outside to get the mail.

    2) Mail slot in upper part of house

    Advantages: simple, easy to install, no security issues with the house
    Disadvantages: You get a lot of flyers, the mail slot is ugly and cold, mail gets trampled, you can't get small packages, tenant mail inevitably gets mixed in

    2a) Mail thrown over the garden door

    Advantages: Simple, no installation, no security issues, can accept bigger packages
    Disadvantages: Mail gets wet and trampled, tenant mail gets mixed in with landlord mail, catalogs and phone booths can block the drain causing a flood

    3) Vestibule mounted mailboxes with a key keeper

    Advantages: Clean, neat, separate slots for each tenant, can put in bigger mailboxes, can get the mail without going outside
    Disadvantages: Requires a key keeper and getting the USPS to approve your setup. Those keys aren't particularly secure, so people can get into your vestibule; requires double keying the second door. Might not work with some layouts.

    Some security for packages...

    4) Vestibule mounted mailboxes with no key keeper (i.e. leave the outside door open). Works well if the owner is around during the day.

    Advantages: all of #3 + no security issues with the key keeper
    Disadvantages: all of #3, plus no mail if the owner isn't home; requires responsible tenants.

    I grew up with 2a/b, lived in an apartment with #4, and currently have #3 in my house.

  8. Great post, the mail slot is an opportunity to add charm, function and curb appeal to a brownstone but a challenge for a multi family building. For a multi family, I would utilize the vestibule for mail boxes as they should be protected from the weather and out of public view. Maybe a separate slot below the stoop for the garden apartment. But definitely look for something period appropriate, not the modern aluminum home depot type.

  9. We also have a 2 family and we went with a mail slot for us and mailbox mounted on the front wall for our basement level tenant. On 2 family you can do pretty much whatever you want (though having USPS approved boxes and slots is smart). The problem we're having is that often all the mail gets delivered to one or the other - they don't sort the mail. It's a hassle, but at 2 family you know your tenant - so it's no big deal.