What Exactly is a Brownstone?

If I had a nickel for every time a buyer told me that they are looking for a brownstone in Clinton Hill or Bed Stuy, I’d be…well you know.

The next question that I always ask is, “what do you mean by a brownstone?” It might seem like a stupid question to some, but the truth be told, different people have different ideas on what a Brooklyn Brownstonebrownstone is. Some call any row house regardless of the material it’s made of a brownstone. Some call any row house that is brown in color a brownstone. Some call a row house with a layer of brown sandstone applied to its façade a brownstone.

Which idea is correct? Well, in Brooklyn New York, and the rest of New York City, the most widely accepted definition of a “Brownstone” would be a multi floor row house that has a façade made up of brown sandstone which, back in the 19th century when this type of construction was popular, was quarried in New Jersey and Connecticut. The stonemasons of that time period were artisans that liked to use sandstone during construction because it was easy to work with and allowed them to create the varied and ornate design elements you see on the exterior of brownstones today.

When brownstones were first build they were single-family homes that typically included a Garden Floor, sometime called an English Brooklyn Brownstone Basement, that was at ground level which had a front entrance underneath an exterior formal staircase that led up to the “parlor floor” above, and a rear exit door that led to a garden at the back of the house. The kitchen was generally located on the garden floor.

The parlor floor was where guests were entertained and the parlor was usually the most elaborately designed room of the house with a large fireplace with an intricately detailed mantle, beautifully crafted moldings and fantastic hardwood floors. The entrance to the parlor typically had a set of pocket doors that discreetly slid into the walls when opened. The tall windows that looked out onto the flagstone sidewalk in front of the house would be equipped with raised panel shutters that folded into the window frames when not in use.

One of the things I love most about classic brownstones is the gorgeously ornate staircase banisters some of them contain. I find it so exciting when I see an intricately carved wood banister sweeping up to the floors above, especially if it still has its original finish.

Today, most brownstones have been converted to multiple family dwellings with a lot of the original detailing lost to neglect, indelicate care or too many coats of paint. Still, if you are looking to own a home with some of the finest architecture in Brooklyn, then a brownstone might be for you.

Elaine's Signature Brooklyn Brownstone