NYC Townhouse Architects

by | Last updated Mar 22, 2024 | Architectural Services, Renovations

You will need an architect if you are looking to renovate a Townhouse or Brownstone. An architect will work with you on the home’s design and produce drawings and documents for construction and permitting. 

I am Jorge Fontan, an architect in New York and owner of Fontan Architecture, located in Manhattan. At our architecture firm, we work on various project types, including Townhouse and Brownstone renovations. In this post, we will look at a few examples from our projects and discuss some issues you will want to consider for your renovations.

I will not be differentiating between a Townhouse and a Brownstone in this post, but you can see another post we wrote discussing The Difference Between a Townhouse and Brownstone


Townhouse Restoration / Rehabilitation 

When renovating your townhouse one of the first things to do is assess the original character and condition of the existing architecture, you may have details that you want to restore and keep. Some people will want to get rid of everything and sometimes finding a good balance between new and old is the best way to go.

Below is a picture of a wooden banister in a one hundred and forty year old Brownstone we renovated. This wood work was in relatively good condition and the client wanted to keep it. It needed to be sanded and refinished but was quite a nice detail to maintain in the home.

Original Wood Banister in a Landmark Brownstone in NYC

Original Wood Banister in a Landmark Brownstone in NYC


Check for Landmarks

The first step in renovating a townhouse is to see if it is a Landmark or in a Landmark District. If it is subject to Landmarks, all work must be approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). LPC will strictly review exterior work. Even interior-only renovations must be approved by LPC, although this tends to be more straightforward.


Assessing the Exterior

Old townhouses can need lots of work. We often replace the windows on these old houses when renovating. The window replacement will be more complicated if it is subject to LPC review. We wrote another post on Replacing Windows in a Landmarked Townhouse if you are interested.

Renovating a Townhouse in NYC

Renovating a Townhouse in NYC


Structure / Supporting Walls

The perimeter masonry walls of a New York Townhouse are usually built in three wythe of brick. Three wythes of brick are three bricks wide. These are your bearing walls. I am constantly meeting people who assume there are no other structural walls in a townhouse, which is often wrong. Usually, the wall parallel to the stairs that runs from the front to the back of the house is also a supporting wall. Removing this wall usually requires structural work, but it is doable. If columns are running down the length of the cellar, that is a strong indication that these walls may be supporting the floors above. Only an architect or engineer should determine if a wall is structural.

I wrote another post if you want to learn more about Townhouse Structural Wall Removal.

Townhouse Structural Wall Removal

Townhouse Supporting Wall Removal


Townhouse Additions

If you own a New York Townhouse and are interested in Building an Addition, here are a few things you need to consider.

Before you can build an addition to any building or townhouse in NYC, you need to know your Development Rights. Development Rights, often called Air Rights, are the extent to which you can develop a property. For example, zoning will dictate the maximum floor area allowed and the maximum building height, and setback, to name a few restrictions. There will be even more restrictions if you are in a contextual zoning district.

The first step is to get a property survey and a zoning analysis/zoning report. A land surveyor does the Land Survey, and an architect like me does the Property Zoning Report. The zoning report will let you know if you can build and how much you can add. Below is a photo of a rooftop addition we designed on a Landmark Brownstone in Manhattan. Building an addition on a Landmark Townhouse will be more complicated to get approved, and you will have more restrictions on the design than you might like, but it is certainly possible.


Townhouse Renovation Budget

You will need to figure out a budget for your townhouse renovation. The budget for renovating a townhouse in NYC will vary depending on the scope of work. Before starting your renovation, you will need to get bids from contractors, but you can discuss the budget in the early planning phases. Architects like me tend to throw out budgets in a cost-per-square-foot range. This type of speculation is a good starting point.

I generally simplify renovation budgets by outlining Three Factors Affecting a Renovation Budget. Scope of Work, Whom You Hire, and What You Purchase are the factors.


Townhouse Interiors

As an architect, we also work on interiors. I am not going into any detail on this here, but I will share a few pictures below from a full gut renovation we completed. The home is all about the interior space. Everything must be thought out, from the layout to materials and lighting.

Brownstone Kitchen Renovation Architect

Brownstone Kitchen Renovation Architect


Here is another view of the same kitchen looking in the opposite direction.

NYC Kitchen Ideas

NYC Kitchen Ideas


Townhouse Renovation Architect

As an architect working on Townhouse renovations, I can assure you there are many factors to consider. Luckily you can hire a professional to help you throughout the process. The number one tip I give my clients is that you do not have to feel like you need to have everything figured out on day one. Take it step by step, decision by decision.

We have another post that has more information on Townhouse Renovations if you want to check it out Renovating a Townhouse in NYC.

Interior of new windows in a Brownstone

Interior of new windows in a Brownstone


Thank You for Reading Our Blog Post on New York Townhouse Architectural Services

Please feel free to post questions or comments below. If you are interested in discussing a specific project please contact us directly to speak with an architect.


Contact Fontan Architecture


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.