Bungalows were recently dubbed “Britain’s favourite home” in a Halifax survey, yet apparently we are not building enough of them. Although Nick Boles, the planning minister has called for more bungalows to be built, developers are reluctant to construct low level living accommodation – presumably because they require more space and are therefore less cost effective per square foot to build than apartment blocks.
Conversely, despite their “popular” and “desirable” tags, bungalows also have a stigma attached and are viewed with scorn by property snobs, who deride them as outdated and stuffy. As long ago as 1927, the term “bungaloid” was used as an insult.
Our enduring relationship (good or bad) with bungalows goes back much further though, to the 17th Century when the term bungales (from the the Indian word Bengali meaning a house in the Bengal style, traditionally, a one story detached property with a wide veranda) was used to describe the humble dwellings or hovels used by English sailors of the East India Company. These later became the grander colonial homes we now associate with the British Raj.
Bungalows were adopted in Britain in the 19th Century and became highly fashionable, particularly in seaside towns such as Westgate-on-Sea and Birchington, where their status was elevated even further by the pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti who died in a bungalow there. The Arts and Crafts movement in both the UK and America took the bungalow to heart and during the early part of the 20th Century bungalows become a stylish, much sought after form of architecture, promoted by the Ideal Home Exhibition.
Popularity of the bungalow took off in Great Britain between the two world wars because of the changing needs of the lower middle classes, who were moving from rented homes to private houses. Inexpensive to build, bungalows were the ideal solution as they offered convenient, affordable living on one level and provided a good degree of privacy.
There are some superb examples of bungalows to be found, particularly British colonial style ones with thatched roofs, wide overhanging eaves and roomy verandahs. Arts and Crafts bungalows are attractive buildings in their own right and a testimony to the individuality of that design movement. American versions are often built from clapperboard with distinctive front gables and entrance porches.
But, alas, no one appears to have been paying attention to the design aesthetics of the British bungalow from the 1970s onwards. The majority of bungalows that you see on the market across the country – whether 30-40 years old or contemporary built – are unimaginative brick boxes, built by local builders on behalf of enthusiastic but ignorant clients. The end results, lacking any architectural credibility whatsoever, speak for themselves.
There is no reason why bungalows shouldn’t deserve the same aesthetic attention as other homes. Yet, because of their suburban, homely origins they seem forever destined – in the UK certainly – to be unimaginatively designed to the point of being hideous. In rural areas, you often find bungalows in the most stunning locations with wonderful views, but little else to recommend them.
In complete contrast, the modern Florida (US) bungalow has been elevated to a stylish architectural form known as a villa, even though the footprint is just a simple rectangle. The internal layouts are spacious and inviting with an open plan kitchen, breakfast area, utility room, living and dining room areas, at least three bedrooms – all with en suite bathrooms, a double garage and, of course, a swimming pool. They are designed according to a straightforward, but flexible template, allowing for different floor plans – no different really to the American Craftsmen bungalows of the Arts and Crafts movement, which were sold in kit form from catalogues produced by the likes of Sears Company and The Aladdin Company.
These catalogues can still be viewed on the internet and they make fascinating reading, with their promises of individuality combined with good taste, graceful columns, neat porches, light-filled, well ventilated rooms, sturdy construction, economical upkeep, dignified lines and up to date floor arrangements.
I would happily order one today as they put our British bungalows to shame.
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