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How Well Do You Know DC Rowhouses?

A guide to the features that define different styles.

Okay, yes, sure: DC is a city of monuments and museums and those federal buildings every American knows. But it’s also, crucially, a city of rowhouses, and that important history is explored in a deeply researched new book, The Row House in Washington, DC. We asked author Alison K. Hoagland for a guide to some of the styles you’ll find around town.



These homes in Southwest are some of the city’s oldest, built in the 1790s.

The city’s earliest rowhouse style stretches back to the 18th century. “They can be either simple and plain—and easily overlooked—or elegant, depending on the ornament. This is what most people lived in during the first half of the 19th century. And there’s still a lot today.”



Bracketed cornices are very Italianate.

These are marked by “a heavy cornice and some ornament over the window,” Hoagland says. They flourished here from roughly 1850 to 1880. In 1871, the city began allowing bay windows, “which ended up being a symbol of the middle class. They were a status thing.”


Queen Anne

Multistory bay windows really pop.

A popular style in the late 1800s, Queen Anne boasts design flourishes that are hard to miss. “This is where there’s a lot of action going on in the front of the house. Just real busyness and liveliness to the facade. This is my favorite. I like it that they’re wild, you know?”



Front porches are a familiar feature.

“I put it in quotes because I’m not sure an architectural historian would recognize this as Colonial, but it’s what the ads call them,” Hoagland says. Builders like Harry Wardman erected swaths of these in the early 20th century when housing needs boomed.



Clean lines and large windows are common.

They don’t get as much attention as their more ornate cousins, but as with midcentury architecture in general, the style’s getting more popular. “It’s just a generational change,” Hoagland says. They tend to be small, but with lots of natural light. “The modern can be very minimal. They were not grand.”

This article appears in the June 2023 issue of Washingtonian.

Politics and Culture Editor

Rob Brunner grew up in DC and moved back in 2017 to join Washingtonian. Previously, he was an editor and writer at Fast Company and other publications. He lives with his family in Chevy Chase DC.