space-and-company-trinityBY STEVE DRABKOWSKI (
There has been a great deal of talk in the past few years about the growing “Tiny Home” movement. Every few months another article pops up online about another hand-built mini house and how wonderful it is to live in such a charming home. This is not a new concept, here in Philadelphia we have been building them for about 200 years. I am talking about the Philadelphia Trinity house.
The Trinity is a compact urban house, usually about as deep as it is wide, and it has 3 floors plus a basement. Each floor is one room, hence the name Trinity, sometimes called “father, Son and Holy Ghost” houses. Trinities are found throughout Center City, Queen Village, Fishtown and other older parts of the city. These houses were built primarily in the early 19th century, from about 1800 to the 1850s, as a way to provide economical housing on ever more expensive land. Trinities were built to house working class tenants and homeowners.
In Center City, you will find them tucked away on what some refer to as “The Little Streets”. There are the little narrow streets that developers cut through larger blocks in order to make the land more valuable. The frontage on the “Big” streets such as Spruce, Pine, Walnut etc was for the large townhouses and mansions and the “Little” streets such as Camac, Quince and Jessup St were for cheaper housing and other purposes such as workshops and carriage houses.
Today, Trinity houses are in demand as a charming and efficient way to live in the city. Since they do have such a compact footprint, often about 15ft by 15Ft, they can be a bit of a challenge. Often, the kitchen will be in the basement and you will find that the staircase in a trinity is a narrow, steep and tight way to get upstairs. Big furniture will not work in a trinity, so if it has to go upstairs, it has to be taken apart or lifted in through a window.
There are also what is known as “Expanded Trinities”. This is a Trinity that has an addition built in the rear, usually to house a kitchen. In many cases these were done in the late 19th and early 20th century to update these homes and provide modern kitchens and baths with indoor plumbing.
So, if you want a “Tiny House in the city”, take a look at a classic Trinity. Those who live in them, love them.

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