What Makes a Bungalow?

Congratulations! If you find yourself online today (or very late tonight) doing research on what your new-old home really is and want to know how to love and care for it, you’re in luck! If you haven’t already, you’ll be bitten by a virile little bug that will bring you to great lengths to do your home justice.

As Charles E. White, a renowned architect in the Prairie School contemporaneous with Frank Lloyd Wright, said in his 1923 Bungalow Book:

[T]he little bungalow attracts all eyes even the eyes of those who, with ample means to carry out their most cherished wishes, are yet attracted toward the sweet simplicity of the bungalow types, its freedom from pretense, and the artistic manner in which it fits the landscape.

He goes on:

Who can forgo the charm of the low, broad roof line, the little front entrance with its quaint door opening so close to the ground, the low outlines of the little building which seems to nestle to snugly in its setting and offers so little competition with Nature as it rests modestly against the sky line, instead of rearing itself aggressively above the horizon.

Before 1906, the bungalow was considered a seasonal dwelling, and flourished in areas where vacationers flocked. In 1906, Gustav Stickley wondered if perhaps the bungalow was actually the perfect dwelling for year-round living. The bungalow’s peak popularity from 1907-1925 coincided with the peak of the Arts and Crafts movement, which was a backlash to the Industrial Revolution and its treatment of people as workers and produced works as commodities. The movements rejoiced in craftsmanship and the visibility of the hand of the worker in the finished work, as well as harmony with nature.

It is ironic then, that it was modern means of production like the assembly line that allowed this style of home to flourish across the country. Home builders early in the 20th century published catalogs of homes, and aspiring homeowners could order them as entire kits and have them built inexpensively on their own sites. Gustav Stickley sold Craftsman bungalow kits through his magazine for around $1,000, and other mills and builders jumped in the game. Even Sears sold bungalow home kits!

The homes were primarily 1-story (though sometimes 2), allowing for simplicity in plumbing and electrical installation. The simple floor plan with no foyers or parlors and limited hallways meant a maximum of living space in a minimum of square footage. Thousands upon thousands of 800 to 1500 square foot homes were built across the country in what were then the outskirts of most growing American cities.

Stylistically, these modest homes were based on grander, earlier designs by custom builders and architects such as Charles and Henry Greene in California and offered details that identified them as bungalows such as:

  • Wide porches across the front of the entire house
  • Low-pitched roofs (as compared to the steeply peaked Tudor homes around the same time)
  • Wide eaves with exposed rafter tails, which often extend decoratively just past the roof line
  • Simple floor plan where one enters right into the living room
  • Fireplaces with built-in cabinetry on either side
  • Many windows offering light in every room
  • Simple wide wood trim
  • Other built-in cabinetry like buffets and bookcases

There were many variations on the theme, with dormers and gables galore, and anything from modest 800 square foot cottages, to grander 2-story homes, but all shared the Craftsman design touches and simple layout that defined this very American home.

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