What Is A Brownstone | Definition & Examples (2022)

Just as "Jacuzzi" and "Kleenex" are generally used to describe any hot tub or tissue, brownstone is a particular term with various uses that stretch far beyond its narrow meaning. In this day and age, brownstone is often used interchangeably with a row or townhouse.

What is a brownstone? How is it used in the building trade? And why does it change color when exposed to the sun?

Today, we discuss more about how this material is mined from quarries surrounding New York, Connecticut, Michigan, and other states. Brownstone has been used since the 1800s as a reliable and cost-effective material to build houses and buildings.

Get ready to take a delightful walk down the brownstone path, as this guide was written to give you all the information you need regarding this traditional building material.

The Basics of Brownstone

Let us start by talking about the fundamentals of brownstones. First off, brownstone is a soft-brown sandstone material, which is also known as freestone because it can be cut in nearly every direction.

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Brownstones can be carved into ornate designs by skilled stoneworkers who produce fancy-looking facades all over New York City brownstones. There are a multitude of uses for this versatile material, so if you are not opposed to having a brown building, it is attractive.

The chocolate brown color of the stone partially affected its rise in popularity during the 1800s. The rock contains hematite iron ore, which tends to turn the stone brown when weathered. Before the 1800s, brownstones were much cheaper and considered less desirable than more expensive materials like limestone, marble, or granite. This all changed with the arrival of "Romanticism," an intellectual and artistic movement that idealized natural settings when building a home. Brownstone does a perfect job of evoking that natural look, which is why people wanted it.

Brownstone in the 1900s

During the 1900s in New York City, brownstones became extremely popular as a building material because of their natural look and reliability. A few years before, in 1882, a federal building census was done, which showed a massive 80% of New York stone buildings used brownstone to construct these properties.

Mining improvements made brownstone even more affordable during the Industrial Revolution when steam-powered machines were introduced to replace human labor. By the mid-18th century, brownstone was one of the most desirable materials on the market, and even today, it still represents neighborhood appeal and urban sophistication.

The Quarries Where Brownstone Was Born

Before Brooklyn brownstone and South Wales brownstone rose in popularity in the upscale city streets, it started in substantial open pits called quarries.

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Portland, Connecticut

When you stand in front of any New York City brownstone, the chance is good that you are looking at a Portland brownstone from the Portland quarry. It is an easy barge commute to New York because the quarry is located along the Connecticut River.

In the 1700s, brownstone quarrying began in Portland, and many different constructions utilized the material for building purposes. Rows of houses, monuments, and churches were all built with the Connecticut river brownstone in New York.

Apostle Island Wisconsin

In Minnesota, St. Paul, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Detroit, and Chicago, many brownstone real estate used brownstone-mined from the Apostle Island quarries, located in Lake Superior, east coast of Duluth, Minnesota.

Lake superiors made it inexpensive and easy to transport apostle island brownstone, which helped further spread material popularity.

Hummelstown, Pennsylvania

Another familiar source of brownstone was a place near Pennsylvania's capital, called Hummelstown quarry. In the 17th century, Hummelstown brownstone was cut here and used in several prominent buildings along the East Coasts and upper west side of Fort Greene, including the National Exchange Bank of Baltimore, the North American Building in Philadelphia, and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington D.C.

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New Jersey

Below New Jersey is the Passaic and Stockton formations, which are geological jersey brownstone formations that extend over 200 miles across the state. The Passaic brownstone adorns the New Jersey Old First Presbyterian Church in Newark, and the Stockton formations were used for Princeton University's Nassau Hall.

Brownstone Townhouses

The terms "row house," "brownstone," and "townhouse" are often used interchangeably, but there are considerable differences. Row houses and townhouses are small buildings attached to other buildings' or townhouses' structural walls. These brownstone buildings are often placed in a row, although there can be different configurations.

In most cases, a townhouse or row house is made from brick walls from brownstone quarries, but most importantly, the front needs to have a brownstone front brick wall.

In New York City, it is most common to find brownstones only townhouses in areas like Manhattan's upper west, West Virginia, and Brooklyn heights east coast, where it sells for 36% more than many buildings on the market.

A true brownstone home has distinctive features like a spacious property of up to four or five stories and over 5,000 square feet of living space. Examples of this case include tall ceilings and carved fireplaces, some with exquisite detail and artistry.

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Many brownstones, other townhouses, and numerous government buildings have an area that leads up from the sidewalk called the parlor floor or park slope, which typically contains the dining room and living room.

These days, many brownstones have been segmented into multiple units, giving more people a chance to try out brownstone living. However, savvy investors and real estate agents reclaim some multi-unit buildings looking at restoring brownstones and reselling the home.

The Enduring Appeal of the Brownstone

When the Portland brownstone quarry shut down in 2012, it shocked the public that something so iconic would be coming to an end. Many people may want to stay in a brownstone townhouse for many reasons that we are going to discuss below:

  • One of the main practical reasons is brownstone living rose to popularity in the 18th-century protection because it can protect you from a fire hazard
  • Brownstone is less flammable than other real estate materials and, during that era, was one of the cheapest options available
  • Supply drives demands in this day and age, so no one is building new brownstones, and the remaining ones are over 1oo years old
  • The brownstone house has long been considered fashionable because of its grandeur looks and aesthetic appeal, often found in affluent neighborhoods

Maintaining a Brownstone in New York City

Nearly as long as people have been frothing over brownstone, others have talked about the stone's propensity to decay. The stone is especially susceptible to pollution and climate changes because of this porous layered composition.

If you perform regular maintenance, you can aid with the upkeep, especially if you take the following steps to lower the chances of water damage:

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  • Remove ivy
  • Inspect metal flashing to ensure it's not absorbing moisture
  • Keep gutters clear
  • Inspect metal flashings and roofs often and quickly repair any leaks
  • Apply caulk to open joints to keep water away from the party wall (door surrounds, horizontal structures, and windows)

Before buying brownstone homes, it's recommended to have a real estate engineer assess the property to see if it has any water penetration issues.


Brownstone homes are more than just property made out of a particular type of stone. It is the idea of rows of pleasant-looking stoops and houses in a tree-lined street where you can sit outside and say "Hello" to neighbors while enjoying the day.

Actual brownstone owners know that it has a connotation around community and togetherness, which is why people around the country love these homes.


What Is A Brownstone | Definition & Examples? ›

brownstone. / (ˈbraʊnˌstəʊn) / noun US. a reddish-brown iron-rich sandstone used for building. a house built of or faced with this stone.

What is a brownstone meaning? ›

Definition of brownstone

1 : a reddish-brown sandstone used for building. 2 : a dwelling faced with brownstone.

What makes a house a brownstone? ›

Brownstone living

Townhouses and row houses are narrow buildings built in a row and attached to other townhouses or buildings on one or both sides. A brownstone is a townhouse or row house made of brick and — this is the crucial part — fronted with a brownstone facade.

How many rooms does a brownstone have? ›

Normally, each brownstone apartment houses between 3 and 9 individual apartment spaces. And, the builds generally all have a small staircase, or a “stoop” that leads from the doorway down to the sidewalk. Interestingly enough, this style developed in New York due to an abundance of brownstone rocks in the area.

What do brownstones look like? ›

Brownstone is a type of sandstone “that varies in color from quarry to quarry and at different locations within a single quarry. It can be pink, red orange, or purple-ish in hue depending on minerals, clay, and other constituents,” says Devonshire.

Why are brownstones so expensive? ›

There are only so many parts of New York City with genuine brownstones — the Upper West Side, Fort Greene, Park Slope, and Carroll Gardens to name a few. Since the building of new brownstones is a near impossibility given the dearth of materials, demand has exceeded supply.

Why are brownstone houses so expensive? ›

With that being said, the chances of building new brownstones are now almost zero given the scarcity of the material. And anytime there's scarcity, there's high demand and, with it, high prices points. Consequently, brownstone houses have become a symbol of wealth because only those with money can afford to buy them.

Do people still build brownstones? ›

In fact, many of the earlier rowhouses have only a brownstone facade—the rest of the structure is brick—while later houses are made entirely of the sandstone. Today, the majority of brownstones can be found either in Brooklyn or in Manhattan on the Upper West Side or in Harlem.

How much do NYC brownstones cost? ›

Buchman, brownstone prices in the neighborhood currently run anywhere from $3.5 million to $10 million.) While brownstones have become synonymous with well-off sections of Brooklyn, they're hardly exclusive to the outer boroughs, and still pepper certain parts of Manhattan, as well.

What's the difference between a brownstone and townhouse? ›

A brownstone is a type of townhouse made of a brown sand stone that was commonly used to build these types of homes. Townhouses can be built of any material many were made of brick. If it is made of brick it is a townhouse but not a brownstone. So brownstones are townhouses but not all townhouses are brownstones.

What is it like to live in a brownstone? ›

They tend to have ridiculously high ceilings that can make even the tiniest spaces seem massive. They're usually chock-full of details like molding and wainscoting that make them feel grander than the other floors. They often have giant windows that flood the rooms with sunlight.

How old are NY brownstones? ›

Brownstone began appearing in New York City buildings in a significant way during the first half of the 19th century, and it quickly became the stone of choice for row house developers.

Does Chicago have brownstones? ›

You'll commonly find brownstones in some of Chicago's most desirable, historic neighborhoods. Expect to see brownstones in places like Lincoln Park, Old Town, and the Gold Coast.

What is a classic brownstone? ›

The classic brownstone is synonymous with a certain type of New York lifestyle. These grand yet homey row houses, built in the mid-to-late 1800s, were faced with a type of limestone that originated in quarries in Connecticut and New Jersey. This iconic “brownstone” facade is what gives them their name.

What architectural style is a brownstone? ›

The most prominent style of brownstone in New York City, the Italianate style was built from the mid to late 1800's. Usually between two to four stories high, Italianate brownstones are characterized by their feminine ornamentation, organic forms, and symmetry.

Where are the most brownstones in New York City? ›

While brownstones once peppered much of the northeast, when it comes to New York, you're most likely to find this particular style of building in Harlem, the Upper West Side, and Brooklyn neighborhoods like Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, Fort Greene, Bed Stuy, and Brooklyn Heights.

What salary do you need to live comfortably in NYC? ›

To live comfortably, a resident would need to earn at least $82,637 a year. That's pretty steep. That said, it's important to note that some New York City property management companies require prospective renters to earn at least 40 times the monthly rent.

Where are brownstones in NYC? ›

There are many brownstones throughout numerous New York City neighborhoods, especially in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Park Slope, Clinton Hill, Fort Greene, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill, Gowanus, Windsor Terrace, Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, Brooklyn Heights, Bedford Stuyvesant, and Sunset Park.

Are there brownstones in Boston? ›

Back Bay Brownstones in Boston continue to soar in popularity. In fact, these neighborhoods are some of the most desirable high-end housing areas across the nation. With traditional and vintage to contemporary doors, Boston Brownstones feature unique architectural elements and highly visible windows.

Are there brownstones in DC? ›

DC actually does have a few real Brownstones. Per the original building permits, this home, as well as 634, 636, and 638 C St NE were designed by architect George S. Cooper, and built by Cyrus Mantz. Cooper was known for designing houses throughout the city, as well as in Chevy Chase Village, Maryland.

Are there houses in New York City? ›

By this measure, there are 217,000 row houses in New York. With 761,000 residential properties total, that's more than a quarter of the residential building stock! Row houses, however, comprise only 434,000 of New York's 3.5 million housing units, or 12 percent.

What is a parlor floor? ›

By definition, the parlor floor (or parlour floor in Canadian) is the second floor in a townhouse. In its original form, the building's front steps accessed the parlor floor. The parlor is traditionally the grandest floor in the townhouse and almost always has the building's highest ceilings.

Are there brownstones in Philadelphia? ›

Philadelphia offers a wide variety of row homes and brownstones, and if you're new to the city, you may wonder about the difference between these types of residences. While a brownstone may also be a row house, the label typically refers to a specific architectural design and building material.

Is the brownstone in elementary real? ›

According to the show, the Brownstone is located in Brooklyn Heights, but shots of the exterior are actually filmed in Harlem, along 121st Street to be exact. It's a beautiful street.

Are there any Gilded Age mansions left in NYC? ›

The palatial and ornate Manhattan homes depicted on the hit HBO series 'The Gilded Age' once existed, but have almost all been demolished.

What is the most famous street in New York City? ›

The most famous street and the main artery of New York is Fifth Avenue. It connects the north and south of Manhattan. The Big Apple's most famous street is Fifth Avenue, also known as Millionaire's Row. It crosses the whole of Manhattan from north to south.

Do New York brownstones have gardens? ›

In brownstone Brooklyn, the gardens are a big draw for ground-floor apartment dwellers.

What is the difference between a brownstone and a condo? ›

We often think of apartments when we think of condos, but condos come in all shapes and sizes – even within townhouses! Some brownstones on the market right now are “condo brownstones,” meaning that within the brownstone there are separate living units which are separately owned.

What are town houses called in New York? ›

The terms brownstone, townhouse and rowhouse are often used interchangeably in New York City, and although there is overlap, there are also some subtle differences you should know about when you are house hunting.

What's the difference between a row house and a brownstone? ›

Row house: A multi-story urban house built in a style that is consistent with, even replicating, that of adjoining houses; often built by the same architect and developer. Brownstone: Any of the above structures whose facades are sheathed in brown sandstone.

Are brownstones good investment? ›

One of the major benefits of owning a brownstone in New York City is that they are typically taxed less than apartments in the city. Specifically, single-family homes, which include townhouses and brownstones or an apartment in a building with less than three-unit, are only a stay at a 6% tax rate.

Is brownstone still quarried? ›

As tastes in buildings shifted, and concrete became the material of choice, the demand for brownstone declined. A flood in 1936 and a hurricane in 1938 flooded the quarries, ending their operations.

What is a Greystone House? ›

Greystones are a style of residential building most commonly found in Chicago, Illinois. As the name suggests, the buildings are typically grey in color and were most often built with Bedford Limestone quarried from South Central Indiana.

Where is the group brownstone from? ›

How wide are brownstones? ›

Brownstones, townhouses, and row houses are long and narrow. Usually 18-20 feet wide, but 40-45 feet deep. With the stairs and foyer area usually being 6 feet wide, that leaves about 12-13 feet width for the living area on the parlor floor.

What color is brownstone? ›

While it sounds like a potentially great business idea, the problem is that (at least in historic Brooklyn) brownstone buildings come in a wide variety of colors ranging from reddish-orange to purpley-brown. This might be related to when they were built and what materials were used in construction.

Are there brownstones in Harlem? ›

The brownstones of Harlem's Mount Morris Park Historic District are some of the most beautiful in Manhattan, like this one at 105 West 122nd Street, which is breathtaking inside and out.

Where are the brownstone houses in New York? ›

Today, the majority of brownstones can be found either in Brooklyn or in Manhattan on the Upper West Side or in Harlem. Note: Over the years, the term "brownstone" has become accepted to include almost any city rowhouse, but the widespread use of the term is technically incorrect.

What is a brown house? ›

The Brown House (German: Braunes Haus) was the name given to the Munich mansion located between the Karolinenplatz and Königsplatz, known before as the Palais Barlow, which was purchased in 1930 for the Nazis.

What color is brownstone? ›

While it sounds like a potentially great business idea, the problem is that (at least in historic Brooklyn) brownstone buildings come in a wide variety of colors ranging from reddish-orange to purpley-brown. This might be related to when they were built and what materials were used in construction.

What does jowly mean? ›

Definition of jowly

: having marked jowls : having full or saggy flesh about the lower cheeks and jaw area elderly man with a disillusioned jowly face— John Dos Passos.


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