Near as I can guess, this row of 19th century trinities in a delightfully secluded row near Rittenhouse Square was given a sort of Venetian stucco treatment in the early 20th c., complete with porthole windows, Juliet balconies, and mosaic tiles.

“TRINITIES,” IN PHILADELPHIA PARLANCE, are three-room, three-story houses — one room per floor — built between the 1790s and 1840s.  They’re cozy, charming, evocative, historic, and, some might add, un-livable.


Rear unit of my ‘double trinity’ in South Kensington. The property consists of two back-to-back trinities under one roof.

Trinities are not for everyone, especially those with king-size beds. The smallest are only 100 square feet per floor. There’s a lot of going up and down stairs — narrow, twisty stairs at that. (Good knees a plus.) They’re fine for singles and couples; babies and dogs could be difficult.


They’re cherished archetypes in Philadelphia (I know there are also some in Baltimore and perhaps other cities, but Philly abounds in them). I’ve never seen or heard of such a tiny house in New York — correct me if I’m wrong.


You can see very early trinities lined up on Elfreth’s Alley in Old City, but trinities are not just historic curiosities. They’re all over Craigslist, and real-estate websites, for 249K and up in the very best neighborhoods.


I’ve owned a trinity in South Kensington since 2007 (all pictures in this post except the top one). I paid $135,000 for it. In fact, it’s two trinities, back-to-back under one roof. The rear unit was vacant; I fixed it up nicely, but it still took a while to find a tenant. One woman said the stairs gave her vertigo. Someone else used the word claustrophobic. But when an agile young man bounded up and down those stairs with a big smile on his face, I knew I had the right guy.


Trinities are found throughout the city, in Fishtown, Queen Village, the Graduate Hospital area, in Center City — often on narrow, cobbled alleys.


I fell in love with another trinity, above, near Rittenhouse Square, after spotting it for rent on Craigslist. I wanted to live in it so badly, I almost took it as a pied-a-terre, but decided that was silly (I don’t need a pied a terre, though I like the sound of it). This was last fall, and guess what — it’s still for rent! The price has come down from $2,000 to $1,850/month. This for a whole house, albeit a small one, in one of the best parts of town.


As of this writing, there was a trinity for sale for 299K in Center City, and one for 249K in Queen Village. This greedy old-house fanatic wants another Philadelphia trinity!