Brownstones had their heyday in the mid-19th century and are once again experiencing a revival. Now highly desirable, they are an iconic part of New York City, especially brownstone Brooklyn.

The quintessential brownstone is the Italianate. Its elaborate carved ornament, elegance and gravitas signaled prosperity and social position in a limited space.

A quick definition of a brownstone

A brownstone is a brick townhouse — almost always a row house — whose front facade is dressed in reddish-brown sandstone.

“Brownstones are interesting because they are such a valuable commodity and represent the most beautiful architectural archetype in Brooklyn, if not the entire city,” design studio Ten to One Founding Principal Garrick Jones told Brownstoner, adding, “but they’re really quite down to earth because of the inviting and social nature of their stoops.”


Acanthus-inspired brackets on Italianate brownstones. Photos by Suzanne Spellen

A little brownstone history

Edith Wharton panned their “uniform hue,” which “coated New York like a cold chocolate sauce.” Jane Jacobs found inspiration in their high stoops, which helped create closely knit communities. Abandoned as “obsolete” in the 1950s, now they are experiencing a revival.

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Brownstones can also be found in Brooklyn, Manhattan and other parts of New York City, as well as New Jersey, Boston, and Philadelphia. Brooklyn neighborhoods particularly known for their brownstones include Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, Fort Greene and Bedford Stuyvesant.

Brownstones give Brooklyn and other 19th century residential enclaves that were home to the middle classes a distinctive character and identity. Without them, New York City would be a very different place.

Brownstone Brooklyn houses

Brownstones on President Street in Carroll Gardens. Photo by Cate Corcoran

Brownstone Brooklyn houses

A brownstone doorway in Fort Greene. Photo by Cate Corcoran

[Top image from @barbara_nyc]