Vaulted ceilings and skylights are nice touches in any apartment, and they can be found in many units at the Bayberry, a 298-unit garden-style rental complex in Gaithersburg. But Tom and Lynn Engers found something even more important to them.

The Engerses moved to the Washington area from Florida two weeks ago, when Tom Engers, a computer programmer, began a new job in Bethesda. But the couple's apartment search began long before they left the South.

Eager for a genuinely northern experience, the couple had put a fireplace high on their wish list. "And we wanted wood, not gas," Lynn Engers added. Using an apartment-listings guide while they still were in Florida, the Engerses mapped the few complexes in Montgomery County that offered the real thing. Their eventual visit to the Bayberry clinched the decision to take a two-bedroom apartment, the second bedroom being for family members who soon will begin visiting.

The surroundings at the Bayberry also caught the Engerses' attention. The many trees, and the fall colors, are "a real treat for us," Lynn Engers said.

The trees made a difference for Doris Letterman, 74, whose two-bedroom apartment looks out on a wooded area. Six years ago, after her husband died and she sold their house in Bethesda, Letterman found that the woodsy views eased the transition from a house and lawn to an apartment. And these days they make her happy to come home--and even a bit liberated. "I still have the birds and the little squirrels," she said, "and I don't have to do anything."

The Bayberry's location, right off Interstate 270 and Montgomery Village Avenue and near plenty of retailers, grocery stores and restaurants, is important to Letterman as well. "It's convenient to everything," she said.

"Everything" includes transportation, and that's crucial to Letterman, who gave up driving three years ago. The property is a 15-minute taxi ride from the Shady Grove station on Metro's Red Line and a five-minute walk from a bus terminal at Lake Forest Mall.

The Bayberry offers more than 100 two-bedroom units, but the most popular of the complex's seven floor plans are the one-bedroom units with a loft or den, property manager Kate Decker said. The property is 95 percent occupied, and turnover is low.

In addition to the wood-burning fireplaces, some units offer triple windows and French doors. Closet space seems to be ample here, and some apartments even have a storage closet on their balcony. All that storage is "ideal when you have a one-bedroom," said Barbara Paulus, who works for Marriott International in Bethesda and has lived at the Bayberry for two years. "I've got enough space to store everything."

Even before she discovered her apartment's space, Paulus was drawn to the brightness of the complex. All 14 of the pale-gray buildings are repainted every year, and she finds that the community looks newer than its 10 years--and certainly fresher than all those "dark, brownish" properties she visited while apartment hunting.

The clean and bright surroundings were also decisive for John Costardi, a resident of 15 months. "It looked very well maintained," he said.

Costardi is a chemical engineer in Rockville who relocated from South Carolina. While a student there, he lived in modest apartment complexes where maintenance was frequently a problem, he said. "It could take weeks" before someone showed up to fix things. So, Costardi said, he was pleasantly surprised to discover that the maintenance staff at the Bayberry arrived right away. All in all, the complex was a "fairly easy choice" for him: "It's moderately priced compared to other places."

John Buscemi Jr., an accountant living at the Bayberry for five months, agrees. "It's the right price considering the size of the apartment," he said. Buscemi enjoys his spacious one-bedroom apartment and also everything he has in it, such as the fireplace, the vaulted ceilings and the living room skylight.

Buscemi hasn't attended any of the complex's parties yet--they're held about once a month in the clubhouse--but he vows he'll go to one of the next ones.

Decker is proud that her seven-person staff, in addition to planning community get-togethers, tries to make life a little easier for tenants: Employees feed cats for traveling residents, water their plants, get the mail and hold packages. "We have a little for everyone," Decker said.

The Bayberry is managed by the Bozzuto Management Co., a firm based in Greenbelt that manages 25 apartment communities in the Washington area.

THE BAYBERRY APARTMENTS

9905 Boysenberry Way

Gaithersburg, Md. 20879

301-948-7930

* Application fee: $45

* Security deposit: $200, refundable

* Lease term: One year; short-term options available

* Utilities: Not included

* Amenities: Swimming pool; clubhouse; picnic and grill areas; car-wash area; guest suite; party room; tennis courts; free fax and copier service in the leasing office; 24-hour maintenance service

* Parking: Free outdoor lot; covered parking, $35 monthly

* Pet policy: Two pets under 35 pounds allowed per unit; $150 refundable pet deposit; $20 monthly pet rent

APARTMENT SIZE QUANTITY SQUARE FEET MONTHLY RENTAL

1BR/1BA 94 670 to 762 $870 to $930

1BR/DEN/1BA 40 892 $1,020

1BR/LOFT/1BA 20 926 $1,045

2BR/2BA 114 997 to 1,200 $1,100 to $1,220

3BR/2BA 30 1,335 $1,345