The short answer to "What is a bungalow?" might be: a one-story or 1 1/2-story house with a pitched roof and a porch. Or, an academic might say the style represents the Arts and Crafts movement or a design derivative from India. These are all correct answers, which is why it can be tough to precisely define the style. But despite occasional misapplication of the name, bungalows are generally as easy to identify as they are charming.
Thatched Bangla Beginnings
The original bungalow design was borrowed from housing in 19th-century Bengal, India, where British officers used "bangla" or "bangala," small, one-story travelers' retreats. The Craftsman magazine published an article in 1906 that proposed bungalows as economical housing. The handcrafted, natural-materials-based Arts and Crafts movement dovetailed nicely with the concept of bungalow, and a hybrid of both styles was widely produced to fill the need for permanent American homes. The introduction of the kit home, a prefabricated, shipped-to-assemble, single-family home, merged bungalow style with well-made but mass-produced flat-pack housing that more and more Americans could afford.
Small But Spacious
Bungalows might be on the small side, but their open floor plans create an expansive sense. Typically, all of the public rooms, and often the bedrooms, too, are on the main or only floor. The front door might open into a hallway that runs from the front to the back of the house or into a living room connected by a large open arch to the dining room that opens directly into the kitchen. All common rooms might be clustered around the living room with doors that close for privacy only on bedrooms and bathrooms. The challenge of decorating an open-plan house lies in coordinating paint and decor colors that are visible from one room to all adjacent spaces.
Up on -- or Under -- the Roof
Roofs are no longer made of thatch, but the original charm sticks with steeply pitched gables and bedrooms tucked into an attic, lit by dormer windows. The 1 1/2-story bungalow provides a garret for the resident artist, a combined playroom-sleep space for the rambunctious brood, or a master suite perched above the general fray. Consider raising the roof, literally, to add more space to an upper level, or building a deck over a porch or first-floor addition on the back of the house to create indoor-outdoor space while preserving the curb appeal of the architectural style.
Vogue for Verandas
Not all bungalows have a generous front porch, but it is a hallmark of the design. Large bungalow verandas are common. The wide roof overhang protects the porch from the elements and keeps it shady in summer. Bungalow communities were meant to create a sense of neighborhood, just as the open-plan interiors emphasized family interaction in a society without a "downstairs" servant class. So, exploit that porch. Furnish it with rockers, a swing, wicker tables and chairs. Make it a spare but comfortable outdoor room to hail neighbors from or settle into on a balmy day with a pitcher of lemonade and a good book.
- Photo Credit pink_cotton_candy/iStock/Getty Images
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