Townhouse Architecture: A Guide to Styles and Design Features
Townhouses are affordable, low-maintenance homes that share at least one side wall with a neighboring house.
Townhouses are cheaper than single-family homes in metropolitan areas with little acreage. Sometimes, a homeowners organization (HOA) or the developer maintains the exterior, making these dwellings low maintenance.
What Is a Townhouse?
A townhouse is an attached home sharing some walls with similar houses. Townhouses are often two or three stories tall with a layout similar to a single-family home.
Some townhouses include small outdoor spaces, such as backyards.
Townhouses were popular in the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries. They were standard in urban locations where land was scarce. Townhouses trace back to ancient Rome, where they were known as “Domus.”
Townhouses became popular in London and Paris in the 1600s. In New York City, they evolved into a more practical design known as row houses. They’re now found worldwide in various styles, from classic to modern.
Common Features of a Townhouse
While townhouses vary in architectural designs, some standard features include the following:
- Attached dwelling
- Two or three stories
- Similar layout to a single-family home
- Shared walls
- Smaller outdoor spaces
- Shared amenities
- Private driveways or garages
- Variety of styles
Popular Townhouse Architectural Styles
Also known as the Adam style, the federal style was popular in the United States between 1780 and 1830. It influenced many townhouses built in Northeastern cities like Boston, Philadelphia, and New York.
The federal architectural style originated in England during the late 18th century. It got its name from George Washington’s Federal period. Neoclassicism had a big impact on Federal architecture. The style features symmetrical facades and classical elements like columns or pediments. Federal-style houses also have a balanced appearance.
Greek Revival architecture was prominent in the United States in the 19th century. It’s prevalent in the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, and New England. The style gained popularity during the 1812 war and Greece’s war for independence.
Characteristics of the style include columns, pediments, and full-height or full-width porches. Greek revival townhouses have a front door with small rectangular windows. Most feature gabled or hipped roofs with wide trim on the roof cornices.
American Italianate architecture coincided with the Picturesque style and Italian Renaissance architecture. Italianate townhouses have round-arched windows and doors, high cornices, and bracketed eaves.
In the Northeast, Italianate style shaped many townhouse designs. Grand facades and vast gardens are characteristic of this type of townhouse in Boston, Philadelphia, and New York City’s Chelsea Historic District.
Queen Anne architecture has rich, artistic details, asymmetrical facades, and a romantic, scenic aspect. It has steep cross-gabled roofs and vertical windows. The exterior features are projecting wings, porches, balconies, and chimneys with ornamental pots.
Large cut stone foundations and a wooden “gingerbread” trim in scrolled and rounded “fish scale” motifs are also common in Queen Anne townhouses. English architect Richard Norman Shaw and American architect Henry Hobson Richardson popularized the style in the South and West. Wood gives an artistic expression to patterns and details on Queen Anne townhouses.
What Distinguishes a Townhouse From a Condo?
In a townhouse, the homeowner owns the interior and exterior of their unit, including outdoor spaces, like yards or balconies. In a condo, the homeowner only owns the interior of their unit. The homeowners’ association owns and maintains the exterior and common areas.
Townhouses are often larger and more spread out than condos with multiple floors and separate outdoor spaces. On the other hand, condos are smaller and more compact. As a result, they have fewer outdoor spaces and more shared common areas.
In a townhouse, the homeowner handles maintaining and repairing the interior and exterior. Condos are cheaper and common in urban and populated areas. Townhouses are more prevalent in suburban or residential areas.
The Pros and Cons of a Townhouse
- Lower upkeep and maintenance costs than single-family homes
- Access to communal facilities
- Cheaper than single-family dwellings
- Neighborhood living
- Greater sense of security
- Potential to remodel and customize
- More energy efficient than larger homes
- Limited space in the yard for outdoor hobbies or gardening
- Possibility of strict pet laws
- No garage or limited parking
- There isn’t much storage space
- Lower resale value than single-family properties
- Likelihood of neighbor disturbance and noise
- Shared walls with neighbors
4 Things to Consider When Purchasing a Townhouse
Location affects access to amenities, value, safety, and the resale worth of townhouses. Consider the crime rate, emergency services, and natural disasters when choosing a location. The location also influences the sense of community and the quality of neighbors.
2. Size and Layout
The amount of storage space in a townhouse depends on its size. There is more space for furniture and household items in a bigger townhouse. The area for entertaining visitors depends on its size and layout as well.
3. Consulting a Real Estate Agent
Real estate agents guide buyers and sellers through the home-buying process. They are familiar with the local market. Real estate brokers provide information on neighborhoods, properties, and pricing patterns.
4. HOA Fees and Rules
Homeowners’ association (HOA) fees and guidelines are worth considering when buying a townhouse. HOAs charge monthly or annual fees. The association maintains and improves common spaces, including swimming pools, playgrounds, and landscaping.
These fees might vary depending on the townhouse’s size, location, and HOA features. When buying a townhouse, ensure you can afford HOA fees and are familiar with the HOA guidelines.
How Much Does a Townhouse Cost?
The cost of building a townhouse varies depending on size, complexity, location, materials, and labor. On average, a townhouse costs $125 per square foot to build. A 1,500-square-foot townhouse would cost almost $187,500 to build.
A 2,500-square-foot townhouse would cost around $312,500. These are basic estimations, and the actual cost may vary depending on the project. It’s best to obtain detailed quotes from contractors or professionals for a construction job.