Difference Between a Brownstone and Townhouse

by | Last updated Jun 7, 2024 | Brownstones & Townhouses, Landmarks

People often use Townhouse and Brownstone interchangeably, but this is only sometimes correct. There is a distinction between the two.


What is the Difference Between a Brownstone and a Townhouse?

A Townhouse is an attached home within a city. These are built in a row where all the homes abut each other. A Brownstone is a Townhouse whose façade is made from a brown sandstone material known as Brownstone. These homes are quite literally named after their façade material Brownstone. 

If the façade of a Townhouse is made of Brownstone, then it is a Brownstone. We refer to it as a Townhouse if it is made of anything else.

I am Jorge Fontan, an architect in New York and owner of the NYC architecture firm Fontan Architecture. In New York, we have a lot of Brownstones and Townhouses. We have renovated and restored many of them over the years. In this post, I will show a few pictures and discuss some basic Brownstone/Townhouse differentiation concepts.


What is a Townhouse?

A Townhouse is a row house located within a city and attached to the neighboring property. Townhouses are typically one- or two-family homes, usually three or four-story tall. Being connected to the neighbor’s property without any side yards is the main characteristic of a townhouse. 

Below is a picture of a row of townhouses in Brooklyn. As you can see, these are all attached, and the façades are made of brick. In this case, we refer to these as townhouses. These homes pictured here are all one and two-family homes built in the late 1800s. 

Townhouses and Brownstones were built all over New York City in the mid to late 1800s. These 19th-century homes are still around today and are commonly used for residences. Many neighborhoods in NYC with Townhouses and Brownstones have become Landmark Districts where the Landmarks Preservation Commission reviews alterations to these homes. Although many Brownstones and Townhouses have been landmarked, not all have.

Brooklyn Townhouses

Brooklyn Townhouses


What is a Brownstone?

A Brownstone is a townhouse that has a brown-colored sandstone façade. Historically Townhouses were made of various materials, but the façade must be Brownstone for the home to be considered a Brownstone. 

The picture below is of a Brownstone in Manhattan built in 1897. This home differs from a Townhouse in that the front façade is a brownish sandstone known as Brownstone. The façade material is the essential distinction. Otherwise, the houses are all very similar in their construction.

The Brownstone material is not structural. It is a veneer on the front of the wall. These homes have brick as the structural material. If you remove the four inches of Brownstone, you will find a brick wall behind it, just like the front façades of the townhouses above.

Brownstones are known for needing maintenance because this sedimentary sandstone is not the most durable material. It can deteriorate over time, requiring extensive restorations. But these homes are still very much sought after in New York.

Brownstone Façade NYC

Brownstone Façade NYC


In the photo below, you can see a close-up view of the Brownstone. It has decorative elements on the façade, which is part of the great character of these homes. The colors of Brownstones can vary. Some are very dark some are light. They can also have reddish or even orange tones in them.

Brownstone Façade Closeup View

Brownstone Façade Closeup View


Brownstone vs. Townhouse

Brownstones are Townhouses with Brownstone façades, but Townhouses are not all Brownstones. You can only call a townhouse with a Brownstone façade a Brownstone. People often conflate these terms, but it is not architecturally correct to do so.


Thank You for Reading Our Blog Post on Townhouses vs Brownstones?

I hope this was helpful. If you want to speak with an architect about a potential project, you can contact us at Fontan Architecture directly. If you are looking for an architect to work on a Brownstone or other type of project, please see our Brownstone Renovation Architectural Services.


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Jorge Fontan

Jorge Fontan

This post was written by Jorge Fontan AIA a Registered Architect and owner of New York City architecture firm Fontan Architecture. Jorge Fontan has earned 3 degrees in the study of architecture including two degrees from the City University of New York and a Masters Degree in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University. Jorge has a background in construction and has been practicing architecture for 20 years where he has designed renovations and new developments of various building types.