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YOU’VE HEARD OF THE TINY HOUSE MOVEMENT? They invented that in Philadelphia a couple of centuries ago. The compact ‘trinity houses’ of the late 18th and 19th centuries are now much-coveted for their coziness, charm, and economy. And a dollhouse can be quite livable for 1 or 2, once you get used to the stairs.
This c.1830 trinity, set off the street behind a larger row house, is new to market and very well-priced. It’s in Queen Village, one of the city’s quietest and most attractive neighborhoods. I happen to own a building just around the corner from this one, so I know the area well.
There are actually four floors of usable space: kitchen/dining on the basement level; a living room with fireplace on the ground level; a hall, ‘dressing room,’ and full bath (with fireplace!) on the 2nd floor; and a large open bedroom with a sloping ceiling at the top of the house, for a grand total of about 600 square feet.
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!