What’s a Row Home, anyway ?: Brooklyn Architectural Historical past

Row houses are one of the most common building types in Brooklyn, and line the streets of many of the borough’s oldest neighborhoods. You can adopt a seemingly infinite number of architectural styles – from fantastic Queen Anne confections to classic Italian brownstones.

But what exactly is a townhouse? And how does it differ from an apartment building, townhouse or brownstone?

A short definition

A row house is one of a group of low residential buildings that share one or both side walls and a roof line with neighboring buildings. A townhouse is usually only two to five stories tall and houses one or two families. However, some of the Brooklyn townhouses have been converted into larger numbers of apartments.

1515-1519 Pacific Road. Photo by Christopher D. Brazee via LPC

The difference between a townhouse, townhouse and brownstone

A row house is basically the same as a row house. Both are included. The only difference – and it’s a minor one – is that a townhouse isn’t necessarily one in an identical row. Popularly, a townhouse is generally less chic than a townhouse.

A brownstone is a specific style of townhouse or row house clad in brownstone – a reddish-brown sandstone popularly used as a building material in the 19th century.

In England townhouses and townhouses are called “townhouses”, with a row of houses sharing a wall called a “terrace”.

Terraced house Brooklyn Paris Place des Vogesenis

Place des Vosges, Paris. Photo via Wikipedia

The European origin of the terraced houses

One of the earliest known examples of the surviving row house construction is the Place des Vosges in Paris, one of the oldest squares in the city and the oldest known example of urban planning in Europe. Built from 1605 to 1612, the almost identical houses form a continuous facade with a view of the square and share side walls and a uniform roof line.

The design of the square sparked a row house fad that continues to this day.

Townhouse Brooklyn 655-659 Parking Lot

655-659 parking lot. Photo by Christopher D. Brazee via LPC

Brooklyn’s row houses were mostly built for the middle class

Row houses are the dominant building type in the historic neighborhoods of New York City, according to the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Many were built between 1800 and 1925 to house a growing middle class. (The wealthiest Brooklynites would have commissioned ornate mansions, while the poorest would have lived in tenements.)

The Italian brownstone is Brooklyn’s signature row house style, but here’s a handy guide to all of the borough’s row house types.

Townhouse Brooklyn 49-91 Chauncey Street

49-91 Chauncey Street. Photo by Christopher Bride via PropertyShark

Townhouse Brooklyn 17-33 Linden Boulevard

17-33 Lindenboulevard. Photo via Google Maps

Row house Brooklyn architectural history

Row houses on Prospect Place in Prospect Heights. Photo by Elizabeth Unger

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