Interestingly enough, this quintessential American house style originates from the Bengal region of South Asia. The word "bungalow" comes from the Indian word "bangalo," which refers to things designed in the "Bengali style."
During the mid-19th century, English colonists living in India hoped to combat the country's hot, dry climate by adding covered verandas, wide roofs, and open floor concepts to traditional local dwellings, thereby creating better air movement and cooler living spaces.
The popularity of the house style made its way across the world to England, Australia and finally, around the turn of the 20th century, to California, where its low profile and affordable price tag were welcomed by America's rising middle class.
From 1900 to 1930, bungalows made a steady march across the country, from the West Coast to the East Coast and everywhere in between (like Starbucks!). The style's inherent adaptability led to the evolution of many bungalow sub-styles, including: the California-style, the Arts and Crafts ("Craftsman") style, the Prairie-style, the Chicago-style and the Cape Cod.
Generally maxing out at 1.5 stories, the bungalow presents a low profile. A large steep roof overhangs at the sides of the house, creating large, shady eaves. Harkening back to its Indian origins, the first floor presents an open floor plan, each room moving effortlessly to the next.
Many bungalows also boast a loft or vaulted ceiling, connecting the first floor to the second. The second story – when there is one – houses the bedrooms, with pitched ceilings and additional storage space nestled under the eaves of the roof. You will not find many attics in these homes.
Aesthetically, the traditional bungalow makes use of natural materials and simple ornamentation, a nod to the middle-class craftsmen and woodworkers who made the style popular. Porches, verandas and patios extend the home's living space to the out-of-doors, offering additional areas to visit and repose.
Often, the bungalow's exterior reflects the decorative sensibilities of the region in which it resides. From the stucco siding and tiled roofs of the California bungalow, to the white washed exterior of the beachy Cape Cod, bungalows have developed personalities as diverse as the people that inhabit them.
How to know a bungalow is right for you
The Bungalow might be perfect for you if:
- you are just starting or just finishing a family. Their modest, efficient size is ideal for young families and empty-nesters alike. It's a cozy style, but not cramped (remember that open floor plan?). It is a "just right" size that offers ample sleeping and living space, but doesn't overwhelm with superfluous spaces that demand cleaning and maintenance. The other plus? This modest size often comes with a modest price tag. Another reason to love it.
- you love porches or patios or verandas. The porch of a bungalow is not just lip service either. It is often large enough to be another room in warmer weather, wide enough for ample seating and gathering. If sitting on a porch swing on a summer evening is your idea of heaven, then this just might be your house.
- you want to own a piece of Americana. The bungalow is such a stalwart of American house design, living in one is like living in a piece of American history, like baseball and apple pie. Like the Victorian, these homes often each have a history of their own, and have seen many families pass through their doors. If historic preservation is your thing, these homes offer a wonderful opportunity to research and renovate to your heart's content. History is in your hands.
How to know a bungalow is wrong for you
This might not be your dream home if:
- you want extras. Remember, these houses were built to be modest and efficient. Generally speaking, "efficient" does not mean large, walk-in closets, extra bathrooms, or extraordinary storage. It also means no entry hall or mudroom; in most bungalows, the front door opens into the living room. If you are organized and minimalist, you will be fine, but if you are hoping for a spacious attic and room for your piano collection, you might want to keep looking.
- you are very tall. That cooling roof often creates deeply sloped ceilings in the house's bedrooms. If you are a particularly tall person, take the time to walk around and make sure that you are going to be comfortable with the height of the ceiling on the second story. While cozy can be a good thing, not being able to stand up straight in your own bedroom rarely is.
- you do not want to pay for maintenance. This is a little bit of a catch-22. The house's aforementioned modest size does lend itself to a fair amount of self-maintenance, after all, you can reach almost all of the exterior with a two-story ladder. However, depending on the materials that were used to adorn the house, repairs can be difficult for the average DIYer. Stucco siding, Spanish roof tiles, double-hung original window, copper gutters: all of these would be better left to the hands of a professional, and professionals cost money. If you are someone who just cannot stomach the idea of hiring out for repairs, assess any bungalow for these kinds of liabilities before you buy.
"Bungalow Architecture of the 20th Century." Antique Home, http://www.antiquehome.org/Architectural-Style/bungalow.htm. Accessed Sept. 5, 2016.
Historic Chicago Bungalow Association. http://www.chicagobungalow.org/about-us/what-is-a-chicago-bungalow. Accessed Sept. 5, 2016.