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The Bungalow Book

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The Bungalow Book

Chapter 1 — The Bungalow: Historically and Intrinsically

[The following is taken from The Bungalow Book written by the widely published architect, Charles E. White, published by Macmillan in 1923. White was one of the several influential members of the Chicago School, later identified as Prairie School. Though most have been eclipsed by Frank Lloyd Wright, many made a lasting mark on American residential design. Ed.]

All that glisters is not gold, wrote Shakespeare, and the same thought applied to domestic architecture suggests the slogan that all that bungles is not bungalow. The term "bungalow" is a misnomer when applied to many American homes. To the average householder the term suggests a low, single-story dwelling with or without a second floor. In the minds of American it conjures up visions of a squatty building hugging hillside or meadow, with windows divided into little panes, verandas or porches extending along one or more sides and a low, overhanging room in the shelter of which trellises clime from the ground, covered with creeping vines. A pergola extends outwardly from a diminutive white doorway spanning a brick terrace or irregular shaped stone flagging; little children run gayly about in the garden picking bright flowers with which the sunny rooms are to be festooned.

This is an almost complete departure from the derivative meaning of the term "bungalow" as found in India.

In America, the word "bungalow" is hard-worked, vacillating, meaningless but it has become so firmly rooted in American mind that the term is now practically sanctioned by good usage. Our worthy fellow citizens in the United States are quick to seize upon foreign words and phrases and "bungalow" heads the procession, while "chaise longue," "porte cochere," "chateau," and the like proudly march in the ranks — terms used daily by the glib tongues controlled by minds quick to grasp and loath to give up new ideas, however inconsistent they may be.

Americans are great followers of fads. When the sleeping porch was first invented its merits spread country-wide and no house was complete without one. This fancy was followed quickly by others in a time when, through the medium of popular magazines, the planning and furnish of homes occupied a prominent place in the public eye; soon we had the "pantry-less" kitchen, the "wardrobe closet," the "living room," and the "sun room: to add to our list of fads. What were at first whims have now come to be incorporated in domestic architecture as component parts of modern life. Having proved fitting for the peculiar conditions of American life and having been found to contribute to the comfort of householders who are fortunate enough to have homes built along the more modern lines the fads have become facts.

The bungalow was accepted in America as an ideal. Beginning in a small way it gathered impetus to itself and quickly swept the country. For several years now the bungalow has held a high place in the esteem of the public. It seems that these little dwellings have come to stay and one may safely say now that the bungalow of the early days has developed into a really sensible type of domestic architecture, suitable to American living conditions and entirely desirable from the standpoint of architectural design, family comfort, and structural endurance.

It is true the bungalow comes to us from India where the bungalow type is accepted as normal, but the Indian bungalow is a quite different type from the American.

In India the term is applied to suburban villas as evidenced principally by the country inns or caravansaries scattered through the country side, a few miles apart, for the convenience of travelers.

These buildings are usually long and low with high-peaked roofs unpierced by gables or dormers. The rooms are on the ground floor, only, and the entire space up under the roof is devoted to an air space for purposed of insulation from the hot sun of the country. The floor plan is usually a quadrangle with rooms in suites of two, three, or four, and the distance from the ground to the first floor is but a step or two.

Bungalows of the wealthy in the cities of India are more pretentious and often reach large proportions. Owing to the great number of domestics in the retinue of the Indian of affairs, there are frequently many rooms surround and open court. Troops are housed in military bungalows with chief characteristics much like family bungalows.

In India the roofs of bungalows are usually thatched or tiles, and in every building the necessity for shelter from the hot sun is made paramount in the design. Verandas usually extend around three or four sides of the building, shading the windows within from the direct rays of the sun.

In this country the appeal that the single-story building makes as a home, curiously enough, was felt in domestic architecture long before the so-called "bungalow" came into its own. Far back in Revolutionary times there arrived in the new world with their families, settlers many of who built little dwelling of a single story which proved admirable for the small family.

In the first days of the one-story house it was probably reasons of economy that dictated the single-story plan rather than any idea of convenience or charm. A low, one-story structure cost less to build, was more quickly erected, and could be made to do for the family whose members were not too numerous. Later, when the house householder's industry provided more funds, a larger house could be built, but in the meantime one story was quite sufficient, being as much as many settlers could finance.

The history of the modern American bungalow, however, is quite a different story, present-day ideas being founded not on cost merely but on convenience, appearance, and comfort. So the modern bungalow is attractive to many regardless of cost; indeed, one might say with more or less authority that a bungalow costs more than any other type of home — that is, more per cubic foot of livable space.

The convenience of a bungalow in comparison with the convenience of an ordinary dwelling cannot always be estimated, because any good house design may be successful so far as convenience goes. Convenience, however, is truly a characteristic of the well arranged bungalow plan, because a sequence of rooms all on one floor has possibilities of greater convenience than groups on two or more floors.

This is not always strictly true as is indicated in many European houses (in some of which the rooms are all on a single floor) because European methods of keeping house are not as labor saving as American. It is a well known fact that in Europe waste steps and waste spaces are not so severely criticized as American. Service is more easily obtained there at at much less cost. Even the mistress who does her won work in Europe has usually been poorly trained in labor saving, having been born and brought up in a home in which ease of housekeeping was far from practiced, understood, or even dreamed of. Consequently, for her the number of steps from one department of the home to another, or the convenience of having light and air in each room, or the desirability of labor-saving devices is not usually taken into account.

When, as is the case in so many European homes, the scullery is at the end of a long, dark passage, or one has to go outside the house to get coals for the kitchen fire, one does not always appreciate the advantage of a tiled, bathroom, or enameled kitchen range, or a modern built-in wardrobe. But in America the convenience of rooms all on one floor is well known and quite generally appreciated. The value of elimination of stairs is generally understood by housewives who know from bitter experience what it means to travel up and down so many times a day. They know that rooms all on a single floor are easily reached with much less effort.

The modern American apartment has helped to call attention to the advantage of rooms all on one floor. Conditions in cities, where density of population dictates that many famili8es shall be housed in a single apartment building, cause thousands of people to live in this manner. It has been discovered that apartments entail much less housework. Prospective house owners visiting their friends residing flats are struck by their apparent comfort and the greater ease with which housework is done.

Unfortunately this tendency toward rooms on a single floor as arranged in the modern flat has given rise to a type of plan for bungalows which is not ideal, to say the least, for nothing could be worse so far as architectural charm goes than a bungalow arranged in the prevailing style of a flat building. The bungalow should be something more than this: something that indicates greater imagination that the ordinary flat-building layout with its living room in front, followed by dining room, bedrooms, kitchen , and bathroom, connected by the long corridor so often seen in an apartment.

A bungalow should be a home with all the charm and individuality of the approved house of two stories.

There is something cozy about a bungalow, inside as well as outside, and this most desirable quality makes an appeal to many who, having viewed with satisfaction the better class of bungalows feel a tug at their heartstrings and a desire to create the same type of building for their own home. At the same time an architectural effect on attainable with any other type of building is made possible in the bungalow. Who can forgo the charm of the low, broad roof line, the little front entrance with it 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.

The diminutive seems to appeal intensely to humans; the 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.

The adaptation of the bungalow from Indian to American conditions has so changes its design that it is no longer recognizable, but the word "bungalow: has remained and will probably always exist as an architectural term applied to the low, single-story or story-and-half cottages with which we are familiar.

The increased cost of building in the United States as compared with India and the restricted size of building lots here brought about the first modification in the American style of bungalow. In the United States it is necessary for purposes of economy to build more compactly, so the first step was to utilize the space under the low roof for bedrooms instead of merely employing it as an unfinished attic. When bedrooms are located on the second story the number required on the first story are, of course, lessened and the size of the building is reduced by that much. At the same time, on a fairly wide building the peak of a sloping roof is quite high enough to house bedrooms without adding anything to the roof height. In other words, the space is already there, and can be used by merely piercing the roof with dormer windows or gables to light and air the bedrooms at much less expense that if the bedrooms were built all on the ground floor.

Another innovation in the American bungalow is the arrangement of rooms in the American fashion, grouped about a central room, hall, or court. In India, bedrooms usually open from a long connecting corridor and for that reason Indian buildings are usually long and rambling. Under American conditions buildings are frequently more nearly in the form of a square or rectangle, a more economical type.

There are numerous advantages the bungalow has over other types of domestic architecture, advantages peculiar to the bungalow and not obtainable in other homes. As has been said, the first of these is the convenience of having most of the rooms on one floor. In bungalows containing one or more bedrooms ont he second story this does not strictly apply, but in many buildings the owner's bedroom is on the ground floor with extra rooms on the second story, and without doubt it adds to comfort and reduces housekeepers' cares to have even one bedroom on the first floor.

Another architectural advantage of the bungalow is the possibility it offers on the way of charmingly picturesque design. a bungalow is low on the ground and for that reason does not attract the eye obtrusively. It can be made to "grow up out of the soil" more perfectly, perhaps, that can be done in a two-story building and this is always an advantage where the exigencies of good taste in design require that the building when complete shall look like the part of the landscape — as though it has always existed there, not like a new and shining blot on the horizon.

It is a peculiarity of the bungalow that it may be used with equal success on the prairie lot, at the seashore, in the hills, or on mountain sites. Thus it offers a wider range of possibilities than any other type of structure. The low, horizontal, simple roof line partakes of the spirit of the prairie and compose pleasingly with it but on the hillside the effect is no less pleasant. When viewed from a lower elevation the underside of the overhanging roof of a bungalow produces a picturesque effect quite in harmony with rugged surroundings. At the same time the bungalow type of plan may be made as "rambling: as is necessary in any landscape, with great facility. On a hillside the different rooms can be stepped up on varying levels by means of terraces and still preserve the bungalow spirit.

A very good plan especially adaptable to the bungalow is the "patio" type consisting of rooms arranged around three sides of a hollow square. This is a charming arrangement and, alone, makes the bungalow a valuable contribution to the fine arts and justifies its existence as an individual style of domestic architecture. Strangely enough, less expensive e materials can be sued in a bungalow than in other types without offending the esthetics. Somehow people view bungalows a rather "rough-and-ready" and they will tolerate and even admire rough-boarded exteriors, stained or unstained, when in larger two-story dwelling the same construction would be dubbed "cheap." A rougher grade of brickwork, stonework, or cement seems to find its place consistently in the bungalow. Indeed, often rough work of this sort is more desirable than the more perfect workmanship required in more pretentious structures. Many designers have created reputations for themselves by the treatment of bungalow sin this rough, artistic way using materials of less expense and applying them in a free and less laborious manner.

Among other advantages which maybe mentioned in favor of the bungalow are the lesser thicknesses of walls required in a single-story building of brick, stone, or other masonry materials. The distance from ground to roof is so much less in a one-story bungalow that masonry walls can be reduced to the minimum without impairing the stability of the structure. Then, with a bungalow arrangement of rooms longer vistas from room to room are possible and that delightfully architectural and decorative effect secured by glimpses through doorways from one room to another is increased by the bungalow plan, which is usually so much more extensive on the ground floor than in the ordinary two-story dwelling.

Source: White, Charles E. The Bungalow. The Macmillan Company, New York. 1923.

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