Tuesday, March 26, 2019


Bungalow with a classic "six pack"
floor plan, from a 1922 plan book by
E. W. Stillwell and Co,—also the
authors of the quote at the opening.
“It is better to build a small house than to overburden the budget with debt for a larger one. A beautiful small house is just as expressive of character, aims, and aspirations as the large house. Mere size is a waste of money and human endeavor.”

This prescient advice, so apropos to the world we now live in, comes not from a modern-day tree hugger but rather from a California bungalow plan book of 1913. The humble little bungalow was a reply to the excesses of the Victorian era, and a very successful one: it went on to dominate the national housing market by the end of the 1920s. California bungalows are characterized by a simple, rectangular one-story floor plan, a prominent front porch, and a stucco exterior. 

Classic California bungalow of a type that was built across
the nation. Note the trademark tapered porch columns.
But the style’s most important distinction lies in its philosophy of simplicity, which was in calculated contrast to that of its bulked-up Victorian predecessors. Bungalow floor plans were extremely compact, sometimes having no hallways at all—in some bare-bones plans you can step directly from the living room into a bedroom. Exterior lines were emphatically horizontal rather than vertical, and plain stucco surfaces replaced the bombastic amalgam of siding, shingles, and ornament that typified Victorian architecture. 

Built-in sideboards and other cabinetry
are bungalow hallmarks.
The bungalow’s keep-it-simple credo seems especially timely in today’s era of vast, overblown houses. There’s a lot to be said for a home plan that doesn’t waste space just to impress the neighbors.

So popular did the bungalow style become that virtually any town in the country is likely to have a picturesque row of them on some street or other. They're particularly plentiful in cities whose populations exploded during the boom years of the 20s—most notably, in Los Angeles. 

The bungalow’s trademark is its massive front porch, which is carried on a pair of improbably stout “elephantine” columns. Ingenious builders came up with infinite variations on this porch design so that, despite the basic similarity of the bungalow plan, each home maintained its own personality.  They added further variety by varying such small details as window muntins and rafter tails.
Bungalow bathrooms often featured bathrooms with
extensive tile work in wild color schemes.
(Image courtesy Brad Dixon, The New York Times)

Bungalow interiors commonly feature built-in furniture such as  sideboards in the dining room and built-in bookcases flanking the fireplace. A precious few examples retain their original bathrooms, featuring pedestal sinks and ceramic tile work in vibrant color combinations such as yellow and black or maroon and pink. 

Bungalow drawbacks? A few. Privacy can be nil, since the basic "six pack" floor plan means that rooms often open directly onto one another rather than into a hallway. Bungalow kitchens are rudimentary at best, since they were designed to accommodate only a free-standing range, a small icebox and a sink and drainboard along with a few wall cupboards. These shortcomings have led most original kitchens to be remodeled several times over, with varying degrees of success. 

Historical photo of a "model" bungalow kitchen, which
was made intentionally small in reaction to the vast
and complicated kitchens found in Victorian homes.
Structurally, bungalows can suffer from settlement problems due to their minimal foundations. Many are built too close to the ground, so watch out for dry rot and termite damage as well. The old gravity  heating furnaces and galvanized-steel water piping used in these homes are also a frequent source of trouble, but the good news is that, in most cases, the home’s simple floor plan makes upgrades fairly straightforward.

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