The Classic Chicago Three-Flat

The three-flat is an iconic building in Chicago: just look down any street between the Loop and the suburbs, and chances are you’ll see one. For today’s post I am excited to collaborate with local artist Phil Thompson of Capehorn Illustration (check out more of his Chicago work here and his Instagram here). His illustrations of Chicago three-flats from three different neighborhoods perfectly encapsulate this classic building type and I hope you enjoy them as much as I do! But first, some details on the classic Chicago building.

So what is a three-flat and why are they so popular?

The two-flat and three-flat buildings are apartments on a more intimate scale: they feature two or three apartments, generally one per floor.  They are inextricably linked to Chicago’s immigrant population in the early 20th century. A two-flat or three-flat was a stepping stone towards the American Dream–in Chicago, a step away from tenement living and a step towards a single-family bungalow with a modest lawn. Immigrants could work towards owning these buildings and profit off of the rental income from the extra unit.

How do you recognize a three-flat?

Of course there are the three floors but there are other distinct features, as well. These two-flats and three-flats date generally to 1900-1918, are of brick or stone construction, and are in the Italianate style. Often there is a projecting bay and a decorative cornice, and the door can be found at one side of the front facade.

Next time you’re in Chicago, keep your eye out for two-flats and three-flats. Like brownstones in Brooklyn, they are iconic to the area. The Chicago Architecture Foundation estimates that there are more than 76,000 2-flats in Chicago, so chances are good you’ll see one… or several!



Sources and further reading:

Check out Capehorn Illustration!

The Chicago Architecture Foundation has a great article on Two- and Three-flats. Also check out The tale of the Chicago two-flat (includes a podcast episode if listening is more your thing!).

Also see The Tale of the Two-Flat on WBEZ (P.S. Curious City is the best. Definitely have a listen if you’re interested in Chicago culture, history, and architecture).

You can read more about the Chicago bungalow here.


6 thoughts on “The Classic Chicago Three-Flat

    1. Wow, very cool history. Thanks for sharing! I am pretty new to this architectural type, being from the west coast, but it’s so quintessential to Chicago and the connected history and stories.


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