Historic Homes & More

The Bungalow

The name is Indian, adapted by the British in India to describe a one-story house with a porch. The Bungalow may have begun as an unpretentious house for travelers in India, but in America it swept across the suburban landscape, reaching from California to the New England seacoast with a Prairie-style variation found in between.

The basic Bungalow is a one-story house with a broad gently sloping hip or gable roof, often with rafter tails at the eave that are left exposed and decorated. Dormers are common. Typically there's a porch at the front or back supported by square posts that taper to the top. The walling may be clapboard, shingles, brick, or stucco.

Casements are common, but so are double-hung windows. Decorative windows with stained glass lights are often found in earlier examples; doorways typically have small openings for glass.

Entering the home, the open floor plan is usually evident the moment you step in the front door. It looks directly into the living room in most Bungalows. The main design element is a fireplace, typically of rough brick or stone, or even cobblestone. Unpainted wood trim was the rule at time of construction, though many Bungalows have had their trim painted in the intervening years.

The Bungalow has proved to be a rugged, adaptable, and economical design. Many early twentieth-century suburbs, from Washington to Los Angeles, from Chicago to Florida, derive much of their character from these houses, which settle nicely into narrow suburban lots.

In California, there's an upscale variation of this house, with the somewhat misleading name of “Western Stick.” Typically it presents a pair of gables to the street, one offset to one side and to the rear of the first, which usually has a porch across the front gable. In other regional variations, the Bungalow is found with Colonial, Swiss Chalet, or Tudor detailing while retaining its basic shape. The earliest Bungalows were built before the turn of the century, and the years before World War I were the heyday for the style. It went out of vogue during the years of the Depression.

REMODELER'S NOTES. Like the Cape Cod House, many Bungalows were constructed with unfinished attic spaces. These were typically low-ceiling spaces wedged into the eaves and lit by a dormer or gable windows. They may (or may not) have been finished as well as the spaces on the main floor. Renovation possibilities often offer themselves there, especially with the addition of more dormers (shed dormers being an especially practical approach to add space and light).

Many homeowners have found it rewarding to invest their own time in stripping and restoring the original unpainted surfaces of interior woodwork, but precautions should be taken to ensure that any lead paint is properly handled. Your local health department can provide guidance for testing and disposal procedures.