Row House Architecture: The Origins and Variety of This Style
A row house is a common architectural style in large historic cities worldwide. While it has origins as low-budget housing, row houses have a unique style beloved by many home buyers.
Row homes are desirable in cities with charming historic districts like New York and Boston, where they are most plentiful.
What is a Row House?
The term row house is literal – a row of connected houses. These dwellings share sidewalls and a roofline with neighboring homes. They can be single or multi-family units.
Other terms for row house include terraced house, row home, and rowhouse.
Some value the historic character and bustling neighborhood where you find typical row homes.
Consider these important pros and cons before investing in a row house.
- Cost – Row houses are cost-effective and offer some of the same amenities as single-family homes.
- Maintenance – Row homes are easier to maintain than single-family homes because the yards are smaller and owners share some of the maintenance costs with each other.
- Privacy – Rowhomes offer more opportunities for privacy than other types of shared housing, like apartments. These include private yard spaces and unshared floors and ceilings.
- Sustainability – Row homes are more sustainable than single-family homes because the same number of people can occupy less ground space.
- Community – Row homes are an important part of many communities. They form a stabilizing influence to help ensure the future success of the community.
- Narrow Layout – The narrow layout can be challenging for a large family to navigate.
- Privacy – Row homes offer less privacy than stand-alone homes.
- Parking – Row homes have limited parking, a challenge for families with driving children or where row homes have been converted to multi-living spaces.
- HOA Fees – The HOA fees for row home communities can be pricey. These include shared expenses for yard and exterior maintenance.
Origins of Row Houses
Row housing originated in Belgium and the Netherlands in the 16th century. They came to London and Paris in the 17th century.
In the 1700s, the row house made its way to Philadelphia. After that, row homes began appearing in the U.S. in New York, Boston, and Baltimore. The design allowed architects to fit many homes into small spaces.
Architects designed row houses to provide low-cost housing to the burgeoning middle-class working family – a step up from railroad apartments. As a result, these row house districts developed a unique character and history in each city.
Row houses also appealed to the upper middle class in a way that smaller apartments did not. Row houses, and their fancier cousin, the townhouse, were a way that wealthier people could enjoy a home in the city and more rural districts. Row houses in affluent neighborhoods enjoyed more decorative design styles.
Row House Architecture
Here are five key features of row house architecture:
- Height – Most row houses are between 2-5 stories high.
- Uniform Style – Row homes share similar external architectural characteristics like window type and moldings. Modern homeowners may differentiate their homes with unique paint and design elements.
- Individual Entrance – Row homes each have their own entrance, unlike apartment buildings. Subdivided row homes that investors have converted into apartments share the same entrance.
- Connection – Row homes are connected to the others using the same side walls and sharing the same roofline.
- Windows – Row homes do not have side windows – only front and rear windows.
Row House Styles
Here are five of the most popular row house styles you will encounter.
- Italianate – Row homes that are two-four stories high, many with brownstone facades. These have bold projecting forms like cornices and repetitive forms.
- Federal – Modest and simple style homes with brick facades, metal or slate roofs, wrought iron handrails, and wood paneled doors.
- Greek Revival – Simple lines with bold architectural features that mimic ancient Greek motifs, prominent columns, and grand entrances.
- Victorian – Row homes with a high-pitched roof, gable trim, bright painted colors, and colorful stained glass.
- Georgian – Brick row homes with large windows and an entrance at the street level.