From NYTimes writer Constance Rosenblum: "The New York townhouse has been through a lot since it began appearing in profusion in the 19th century. "These stately buildings started life as single-family houses sheltering comfortable middle- and upper-class families and their servants. By the Great Depression, most had been chopped into single-room apartments, the unlucky among them getting the greatest wear, as rooming houses for the down and out.
"In the ‘60s, plucky young New Yorkers with more enthusiasm than cash began buying these down-at-the-heels beauties and spiffing them up for their families, usually retaining tenants who provided rental income and in many cases were impossible to dislodge.
"In the past few years, the historic townhouse has started to come full circle. Thanks to the growing appetite for larger and more luxurious private urban dwellings among people happy to pay upward of $10 million, many townhouses have been returned to the elegant single-family homes they once were.
"'These houses have always been commodities — they were built, after all, by real estate developers', said Patrick Ciccone, a preservationist who is preparing a revised edition of 'Bricks and Brownstone', Charles Lockwood’s landmark 1972 study of the New York townhouse.
"Dexter Guerrieri, the president of Vandenberg, the Townhouse Experts, and other townhouse watchers attribute the shift in part to a desire for bigger and more opulent homes that provide a degree of privacy unavailable in condominiums and especially co-ops. These homes also often offer other benefits: Residents can have a garden; they can own a dog without asking anyone’s permission. Many of these houses are in picturesque neighborhoods with an embracing sense of community.
"Because supply is limited — estimates suggest that fewer than 10,000 pre-World War I townhouses survive in Manhattan, with perhaps 50,000 citywide, mostly in Brooklyn — operating in this market can be highly profitable.
"For couples like Doug Derryberry and Serena Mulhern, whose home must double as a work space, the benefits of a spacious and flexible townhouse are considerable. When Mr. Derryberry maintained a studio elsewhere, the shuttling from place to place, often with quantities of unwieldy equipment, made a hectic schedule even more demanding.
"Critics bemoan the reduced street traffic and less lively street life — fewer delis and dry cleaners — that come with lower density. Critics of the shift also cite the gradual disappearance of the townhouse rental apartment, leading to a small but palpable depletion of the city’s housing stock." Full article here.