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Historically in the United Kingdommarker, Irelandmarker and in many other countries, a townhouse (or a "house in town") was a residence of a peer or member of the aristocracy in the capital or major city. Most such figures owned one or more country houses in which they lived for much of the year. During the social season (when major balls and drawing rooms took place), and when parliament was in session, peers and the servants moved to live in their townhouse in the capital.

In North America and Australia, the term townhouse is also commonly used to refer to what is known as terraced housing in Britain.

Britain and Ireland

In the United Kingdom and Ireland most townhouses were terraced. Only a small minority of them, generally the largest, were detached, but even aristocrats whose country houses had grounds of hundreds or thousands of acres, often lived in terraced houses in town. For example the Duke of Norfolk owned Arundel Castlemarker in the country, while his London house was a terraced house called Norfolk Housemarker in St. James's Squaremarker - although that particular terraced house was over 100 feet (30 metres) wide. However, the British and Irish architectural term for a house with party walls with its neighbours on both sides was always "terraced house", not townhouse. There was little difference between the more modest terraced townhouses of less opulent members of the aristocracy, and the terraced houses of wealthy middle class Londoners, but they were generally located in different districts.

Many aristocratic townshouses were demolished or ceased to be used for residential purposes following the First World War. In the post World War II period large terraced houses in general in London and other British cities were divided into flats or converted into offices. However, in the early 21st century this trend is being reversed to some extent, as there is less demand for old houses as offices nowadays since open plan layouts are preferred, and the number of very rich people in London has risen. For example, in 2004, the Grosvenor Group sold two grand terraces houses in Belgrave Squaremarker which had been in office use, for reconversion to family houses. The asking price was £12 million each.

Nowadays British property developers and estate agents often call new terraced houses townhouses, probably because the aristocratic pedigree of terraced housing is widely forgotten, and for many people the main mental association of terraced housing is with working class terraced housing, especially in poor districts in the north of England. "Townhouse" still has more exclusive connotations.

Canada and United States

In the United States and Canada, a townhouse has two connotations. The older predates the automobile and denotes a house on a small footprint in a city, but due to having multiple floors (sometimes six or more) it has a large living space, often with servant quarters. The small footprint of the townhouse allows it to be within walking or mass transit distance of business and industrial areas of the city, yet luxurious enough for wealthy residents of the city. In areas so densely built that detached single-family houses are uncommon or almost nonexistent, ownership of a townhouse connotes wealth. Some examples of cities where townhouses are occupied almost exclusively by the wealthy are New Yorkmarker, Chicagomarker, Bostonmarker, Philadelphiamarker, Torontomarker, and San Franciscomarker.

"Rowhouses" are similar, and consist of several adjacent, uniform units originally found in urban areas on the east coast such as Baltimoremarker and Philadelphiamarker, but now found in lower-cost housing developments in suburbs as well. A rowhouse will generally be smaller and less luxurious than a dwelling called a townhouse.

The name "townhouse" or "townhomes" was later used to describe non-uniform units in suburban areas that are designed to mimic detached or semi-detached homes. The distinction between dwellings called just "apartments" or "condos" is that these townhouses usually consist of multiple families, usually multiple floors. The traditional "townhouse" apartment is a two bedroom unit with the living room in the front on the lower level, kitchen in the back. Two bedrooms are on the front and back of the upper level with a single bathroom between. This style has become less popular in areas where it has been adopted by rent control or HUD apartments.

In Canada, and especially in Ontario, townhouses are split into two categories:

  • In condominium townhouses, the purchaser owns only the interior, while the building itself is owned by a condominium corporation. The corporation is jointly owned by all the owners, and charges them fees for general maintenance and major repairs.
  • Freehold townhouses are exclusively owned, without any condominium aspects. In the United Statesmarker thise type of ownership called fee simple.

"Stacked townhouses" have multiple units vertically (typically two), normally each with its own private entrance from the street.

Asia, Australia and South Africa

In Asia, Australia and South Africa, townhouses are generally found in complexes. Large complexes often have high security, resort facilities such as swimming pools, gyms, parks and playground equipment. Typically, a townhouse has a Strata Title, i.e. a type of title where the common property (landscaped area, public corridors, building structure etc.) is owned by a corporation of individual owners and the houses on the property are owned by the individual owners.

In population-dense Asian cities dominated by high-rise residential apartment blocks such as Hong Kongmarker, townhouses in private housing developments remain almost exclusively populated by the very wealthy due to the rarity and relatively large sizes of the units. Prominent examples in Hong Kong include Severn 8, in which a 5,067 square foot townhouse sold for HK$285 million (USD$37 million) in 2008, or HK$57,000 (USD$7,400) per square foot, a record in Asia, and The Beverly Hillsmarker, which consists of multiple rows of townhouses with some units as large as 11,000 square feet.

Commonly in the suburbs of major cities an old house on a large block of land is demolished and replaced by a short row of townhouses, built 'end on' to the street for added privacy.

See further at semi-detached.

See also

Famous townhouses

Among the most famous townhouses are:

Georgian Dublin consisted of five Georgian squares, which contained the townhouses of prominent peers. The squares were Merrion Squaremarker, St. Stephen's Greenmarker, Fitzwilliam Squaremarker, Ruthland Square (now called Parnell Square) and Mountjoy Squaremarker. Many of the townhouses in these squares are now offices while some have been demolished.

165 Eaton Place - residence of the Bellamy family in "Upstairs, Downstairs"

Additional reading

  • Daisy, Countess of Fingall, Seventy Years Young (The acclaimed autobiography of an Irish peer's wife, covering the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Though currently out of print the book is periodically reprinted.)

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