100 years ago, bungalows were popular, and put home ownership within reach [architecture column] | Architecture


Who doesn’t love a bungalow? It’s an American invention with roots in 18th-century India that took hold in 1905 and never let go until the 1930s.

All definitions agree that the typical bungalow is a small, single-story home with a low-pitched roof, a single dormer and a broad front porch. Once only a dream for working-class families, home ownership became a reality with these compact and affordable design solutions.

The concept was simple yet elegant: Elevate the structure several steps above grade using masonry piers instead of a costly traditional foundation.

The supporting rooms, including the bedrooms, bath, dining room and kitchen were organized around a central living room and fireplace. Space-saving features like built-in bookshelves, breakfast nooks and cupboards eliminated the need for bulky furniture.

The broad and deep front porch served as an escape from the hot summer days and doubled as an extra living or dining space. The second level provided additional sleeping quarters and was typically accessed by a ladder rather than a stair.

While the headroom was at a premium in the sleeping lofts, the space was well ventilated and lit by the broad dormers and windows.

HG Bungalow 6 A8 Distinctive concrete block-Lancaster c1928 .jpg

This bungalow-style home, built in Lancaster circa 1928, has a distinctive concrete-block exterior and chimney, concrete porch posts and a low-profile roof with transverse gable.

Although the “kit of parts” was the same for all bungalows, each region of the country provided a different interpretation by the materials selected and details incorporated. For example, New Yorkers would gravitate toward the Adirondack style, New England to the Colonial Revival style, the mid-Atlantic saw more Arts and Crafts and Chicago used extensive brick, while California was at home with the stucco on their Mission and Spanish Revival styles.

Regardless of location, bungalows were associated with flower gardens, goldfish ponds, victory gardens and clean, healthy outdoor living.

HG Bungalow 7 A8 Low pitch hip roof  c1928 Lancaster.jpg

This Lancaster brick bungalow, built circa 1928, has a low-pitch hip roof with a two-light dormer above a three-bay porch.

As you drive around the county, notice that bungalows are often constructed in groups or clusters, creating distinct neighborhoods.

As with most styles, World War II brought an abrupt conclusion to the bungalow era; returning GIs were looking for a different lifestyle and accommodations in which to raise their families. Interestingly, recent years have witnessed a huge resurgence of the bungalow style for all the reasons it was popular 100 years ago — affordability, lifestyle and charm!

HG Bungalow 3 A8 c1925  Columbia Ave .jpg

This bungalow on Columbia Avenue in Lancaster was built circa 1925. It has a transverse, low-pitch dormer; a broad, three-bay porch and rustic shingle siding.

What is India’s connection to the bungalow?

The word bungalow evolved from the Hindi word “banglas” (house) — a one-story house with a thatched roof and surrounded by a large veranda.

Were bungalows available in mail-order catalogs?

Sears Roebuck & Co., Montgomery Ward and Aladdin offered myriad bungalow designs in different styles and plan configurations, and with price points as low as $402 in 1913.

What was the most space-saving feature in a bungalow?

In addition to the absence of a stair, the absence of corridors saved up to 20% on the cost of square footage.

This column is contributed by Gregory J. Scott, FAIA, a local architect with more than four decades of national experience in innovation and design. He is a member of the American Institute of Architects’ College of Fellows. Email [email protected].