What Is a Rowhouse, Anyway?

Row houses on Jefferson Avenue in Bed Stuy. Photo by Cate Corcoran

    by
    9

    One of Brooklyn’s most prevalent building types, rowhouses line the streets of many of the borough’s oldest neighborhoods. They can take on a seemingly infinite number of architectural styles — from fantastical Queen Anne confections to classic Italianate brownstones.

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

    A quick definition

    A rowhouse is one of a group of low-rise residential buildings that shares one or both side walls and a roofline with the structures next door. A rowhouse is typically just two to five stories in height and home to one or two families. However, some of Brooklyn’s rowhouses have been converted into a greater number of apartments.

    rowhouse brooklyn 1515-1519 pacific street

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

    The difference between a rowhouse, a townhouse and a brownstone

    A rowhouse is basically the same thing as a townhouse. Both are attached. The only distinction — and it’s a small one — is that a townhouse is not necessary one of an identical row. In popular usage, a rowhouse is generally less fancy than a townhouse.

    A brownstone is a particular style of townhouse or rowhouse that’s been faced in brownstone — a reddish-brown sandstone popularly used as a building material in the 19th century.

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

    row house brooklyn paris place des vosges

    Place des Vosges, Paris. Photo via Wikipedia

    The European origin of rowhouses

    One of the earliest known examples of still-extant rowhouse construction rings Paris’ Place des Vosges, one of the city’s oldest squares and the oldest known example of urban city planning in Europe. Built from 1605 to 1612, the near-identical homes form a continuous facade overlooking the square and share side walls and a uniform roof line.

    The square’s design kicked off a fad for rowhouses that continues to this day.

    row house brooklyn 655-659 park place

    655-659 Park Place. Photo by Christopher D. Brazee via LPC

    Brooklyn’s rowhouses were mainly built for the middle class

    According to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, rowhouses are the dominant building type in New York City’s historic districts. Many were built between 1800 and 1925 to house a growing middle class. (The richest Brooklynites would have commissioned ornate mansions while the poorest would have lived in tenements.)

    The Italianate brownstone is Brooklyn’s quintessential rowhouse style, but here’s a handy guide to all of the borough’s rowhouse types.

    row house brooklyn 49-91 chauncey street

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

    row house brooklyn 17-33 linden boulevard

    17-33 Linden Boulevard. Photo via Google Maps

    Row House Brooklyn Architecture History

    Rowhouses on Prospect Place in Prospect Heights. Photo by Elizabeth Unger

    Related Stories
    Researching Your Old House: How to Find Original Brooklyn Row House Blueprints
    Row Houses at 1173-1179 Bushwick Avenue, a Study in Simple Elegance
    1095-1099 Park Place, the Lair of the Lion

    Email tips@brownstoner.com with further comments, questions or tips. Follow Brownstoner on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook.

     

    Brooklyn in Your Inbox

    * indicates required
     

    What's Happening