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.


9 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.


  1. Hi,

    This is great.

    I’m trying to find architectural drawings/floor plans for a 3-flat in Rogers Park. Would anyone be able to direct me to a source?




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s