Posts Tagged ‘Tea Porches 19th Century Row Houses’

Tea porches were once popular in city houses—this 1830 Greenwich Village home still has one

March 13, 2023

There are many reasons to swoon over 18 Commerce Street, a three-story Federal-style dwelling built in 1830 just inside this cowpath-like Greenwich Village side street.

The tidy red brick and white trim, the slender columns flanking the front entrance, the black shutters with crescent moon cut-outs, and the twin dormer windows matching those of the house next door—its a vision of Village tranquility and loveliness.

It’s also a house similar to many others in this part of Greenwich Village, built at a time when the city center was crowded with residents and easily transmissible diseases. The suburb of Greenwich, along the Hudson River, became a popular escape for families who could afford to move north and build (or rent) one of the new fashionable row houses.

But Number 18 has more to it than its graceful street-facing facade. Go around the corner to Seventh Avenue, where the back of the house can be seen.

On the second floor above a first-floor patio is a “tea porch”—an architectural feature that typically overlooked secluded backyard gardens and greenery. Here, in the refined Greenwich Village of antebellum Manhattan, homeowners would sit and take their afternoon tea.

Tea porches, or tearooms, were once common in New York City houses in the mid-19th century. This second-floor tea porch was likely added in the decades after Number 18 was built, according to Off the Grid, Village Preservation’s historical blog.

“Though a rare surviving architectural element today, the tearoom (also known as a back porch or tea porch) was an original feature of Greek Revival row houses throughout New York City in the 1840s and 1850s,” states Off the Grid.

The tea porch at Number 18, once visible only from the interior of the block, probably felt very private in the 19th century. That privacy ended when Seventh Avenue was extended through the Village in the late 1910s, slicing through the block and putting the tearoom on view from the street.

Later homeowners seem to have tried to restore some privacy, building the brick fence and installing a barn doors–like gate, though I’m not sure when those features first appeared. (The fence and gate can be seen in this photo from 1939-1941, below.)

If an authentic 19th century tea porch isn’t enough to make Number 18 one of the most charming homes in Greenwich Village, consider the house’s other amenities: four bedrooms, five wood-burning fireplaces, wood-beamed ceilings, and a private parking spot just inside the gate in front of a patio, according to a Curbed article from 2017.

Oh, and there’s a secret basement room accessed only by a tunnel, states Curbed; a resident of the house who happened to be outside when I strolled by said that the room was used to keep food items cold in an era before refrigeration.

A private tea porch and other examples of Antebellum enchantment come at a cost these days. The Curbed article includes gorgeous real estate listing photos and a price: monthly rent ran $25,000.

[Fifth image: NYC Department of Records & Information Services]