The Greystone: Chicago’s most iconic building style that has developed nationwide notoriety due to its unique, sophisticated appearance. These understated yet beautiful homes are a staple in many Chicago neighborhoods in the same way that brownstones are in New York.
Contrary to popular belief, the term “Greystone” actually has little to do with the size, type, or location of the home; rather, it refers to the limestone building material that is used on the home’s facade, giving the homes their namesake “grey” appearance. At Middlefork, we have built and renovated a number of greystones and they’ve truly become some of our favorite projects to work on! Creating or preserving a home that reflects a piece of Chicago history makes us proud Chicagoans and these homes provide a bit of beauty to any neighborhood they grace.
Chicago greystone characteristics
- Limestone facade: The one thing that characterizes all greystone buildings is the use of limestone on the front exterior. The limestone used in these homes is almost exclusively sourced from Bedford limestone quarries in Indiana dating back as far as the late 1800s. There are other limestones that are used, though, such as Kansas Cream (which has a more tan, creamy tone) and Red Sandstone (which has a reddish tone).
- Main floor layout: The majority of greystone homes were built in the late 1800s/early 1900s, a time which required a specific home layout for the lifestyle of the day. The kitchen of these homes is almost always located at the back of the house with direct access to the alley. When these historic homes were built, this was an intentional design choice in order for deliveries to be conveniently dropped off directly into the kitchen.
- Long, narrow homes: Similar to many other styles of homes in Chicago, greystones are typically tall, long, and narrow in order to fit the standard 25’ x 125’ Chicago lot size.
- Grand entrance: Another quality that is common in greystones in the appearance of the front door and stoop. Wide stone stairs typically lead up to a front door that is offset to one side of the home while the other side has a protruding bay window sometimes overlooking a small garden or courtyard.
- Spacing: Unlike New York brownstones that are stacked directly next to each other, there is typically a few feet of space between greystones. This spacing allows for more light to enter the center of the home and prevents the interior rooms from being too dark. It is also a result of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and the goals of (1) allowing firefighting from the front of a lot to the rear of the lot, and (2) mitigating the spreading of fires from one home to the next.
Why are greystones so common in Chicago?
A major contributor to the popularity of greystone homes in Chicago was the housing shortage that resulted from the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Masses of multi-unit greystone buildings went up in a short period of time as a way to provide housing for those displaced by the fire while still maintaining an attractive appearance of a single-family home on the exterior. Also, wood-framed homes were discouraged after the Fire. Today, there are approximately 30,000 greystones in Chicago, the grand majority of which lie in the “Greystone Belt,” an area that spans about three to seven miles from Chicago’s downtown Loop and includes neighborhoods such as:
- Lincoln Park
- Logan Square
- Wicker Park
- Humboldt Park
- East and West Garfield Park
- North Lawndale
- Greater Grand Crossing
- Washington Park
- Hyde Park
Several years ago, the Historic Chicago Greystone Initiative was established in order to preserve historic Chicago greystones by repairing any external damage that has been sustained over the years as well as upgrading the internal systems to accommodate contemporary living. Greystones are an important marker of Chicago history, which is why we place special importance on sustainably renovating or building new greystones across the Chicago area at Middlefork Luxury.
Explore these greystones that we have built or restored over the years at Middlefork!
–Turn of the century-style greystone