Learn about Life in the 1920s

A Description of the Bungalow Style House of the 1920's

THE term "Bungalow" provides a curious example of how we Americans overwork a word that is euphonious and the meaning of which, because of the word's comparatively recent assimilation into the language, is somewhat uncertain. One hears nearly every type of country or suburban home called a bungalow, provided only that the house is somewhat informal or picturesque in its lines. Someone has facetiously remarked that in the new dictionaries a bungalow should be defined as " a house that looks as if it had been built for less money than it actually cost."

It seems worth while, in view of the popular misconception of the word's actual significance, to look into its derivation with the purpose of finding out just when it may properly be applied and when it is a misnomer.


According to the authorities, a bungalow is a "Bengalese house," but it is not the typical native's home in India. These are of an entirely different type from our conception of the word. The only bungalows to be seen in India are the "Rest Houses," erected by the English government along the main roads of travel. These are inns or hotels, consisting of a large central building divided in the middle by a hall separating large rooms, with a kitchen in a separate building that is reached through a covered passageway. In these Rest Houses the bedrooms are in still another adjoining structure, always a long low building with the bed-chambers opening upon a straight corridor. A low, rambling mass, with wide verandas, overhanging eaves, floors of stone or concrete and single-story construction, are the characteristics of the true Indian bungalow. There is never a second story, never dormer windows to break the long simple roof planes that appear to come down, particularly at the ends or corners, nearly to the ground.

In adapting this type of building to our own needs, we realize at the very outset that there are two forces working against the adoption of the true bungalow characteristics. One of these is the element of cost; a building with all its rooms upon the ground floor is the most expensive kind to build. There is more wall surface and roof area in proportion to the enclosed space than in a building of two or more stories. Then, too, there is a common prejudice against having our bedrooms on the ground level, particularly since we do not have to contend with the burning heat of India. There the deep air space enclosed in the roof above low ceilings is a necessary protection against the sun. With us the air space above even the second-story rooms is sufficient for protective purposes, this being about six or eight feet high in a bungalow that is twenty-five or thirty feet wide. When we meet the problem of lighting and ventilating these bedrooms, however, the main difficulty of adapting the bungalow type becomes apparent. With the addition of dormer windows the attractive simplicity of the roof is at once spoiled. To secure head-room in the bedrooms the whole roof must be raised, and with this change the building loses at once its similarity to the real bungalow. So if we are to be free to call our summer home a bungalow it should have all of its rooms on the ground floor.

Granting, then, that our bungalow shall be a one-story affair—or at least that any space on an up- per floor shall be of minor importance, without the necessity for much outside light, let us look into the matter of planning the main floor. Simple as a bungalow appears outwardly, an economical arrangement of living-room, dining-room, service and bedrooms, with means of ready intercommunication, is not easily accom- plished. The first rough draft of our floor plan will probably reveal the fact that we are wasting twenty-five per cent. of the whole area in hall space. As has been said above, the true Indian bungalow usually has its bedrooms strung along a long straight corridor. While that is to be expected in a hotel, it is assuredly not desirable in a private dwelling. It is a difficult matter to lay down any hard-and-fast rules for bungalow planning, but I think it will usually be found that an arrangement providing for a large living-room or hall extending through the middle of the building from front to rear, from which open at both sides the bedrooms and dining-room, with the kitchen and service portion extending out beyond the latter, will form an excellent basis upon which to develop the final layout. With this scheme the bathroom, or bathrooms, may offer some difficulty, though these may probably be planned to come between two adjacent bedrooms, opening into each. This matter, however, will be discussed in greater detail in the chapter on planning.

The piazza, of course, is one of the essentials, but it will be well to provide for this so that it will not darken too much of the interior. Usually there is no great objection in having it cross the bedroom windows, since these rooms are not required to be so bright. In the typical arrangement that has been suggested, the piazza could be carried across the entire front or rear, as the exigencies of the land may require, its roof being broken, in the space adjoining the living-room, by a section of uncovered rafters in a sort of pergola motive, upon which not-too-enthusiastic vines may be allowed to climb.

As to the materials of which the bungalow shall be built, there is a fairly wide choice—shingles, cement, field-stone, logs, slabs on an ordinary stud frame, or even common rough boards, overlapping if nailed horizontally to the framework, or battened with narrow strips if put on vertically from sill to roof-plate.

Logs, while undoubtedly picturesque and harmonious with the informal character of the building, are usually unsatisfactory. Their use requires skilled and experienced labor and, even when well put together, they are apt to give trouble after a year or so, through the visitation of borers that get under the bark and start decay. Slabs, which are the first cuts from the four sides of a log, are usually obtainable at a very low cost if there is a sawmill within convenient reach. These are nailed to the outside of a common stud frame, horizontally, the width of the " chinks" between adjacent slabs being kept fairly narrow by alternating the butt ends. If the studding is to be sheathed on the inside there need be no attempt to caulk these chinks tightly, but if no inside finish is planned, the wall can be made reasonably tight by putting the slabs on a preliminary outside sheathing of the roughest sort of unplaned boards. These, of course, should run at right angles to the length of the slabs. Still another method of making tight a slab wall is described in the following pages, in which instance strips of wire mesh were tacked over the backs of the joints to support a caulking of cement-and-hair mortar. The inside of the studding was then covered with a slab wainscot of birch with a rough fabric, such as burlap, above it.

Shingles, siding or rough boarding offer no special difficulties in construction, and these materials may either be left to weather to a silvery gray or stained with one of the readily obtainable shingle stains.

When we come to the matter of the inside finish, there is opened up a great field for the expression of individuality. Even though the bungalow must be kept down to the bare essentials, with no covering at all for the stud frame, there is an opportunity for avoiding the commonplace merely in the carefully studied spacing of the studs or upright members. Do not be content to have these appear just as the carpenter finds it convenient to place them; have them symmetrically spaced on either side of center openings, with the horizontal member forming the window-sills carried all the way around. Then, too, if the slight additional expense be permitted, the studding may be covered with one of the widely advertised wall-boards, a thin but rigid material that may be painted or, better still, covered with a rough fabric in cool gray, apple green or a pleasing shade of brown.

If the bungalow walls are built of one of the more substantial materials, such as cement, there are great possibilities in working out interesting surface textures for the interior, with the use of inset tiles to gain the desired spots of color. But more of all this in the following chapters.

No bungalow is worthy of the name without at least one big fireplace for the living-room, and if additional ones may be built in the bedrooms, so much the better—these will be fully appreciated in early spring and late fall. Stonework seems to har- monize best with wooden walls for the chimneys and breasts, and rough brick, tile or cement, if the latter material is employed throughout the building. In any case make sure that the fire-place and its flue are built along scientifically correct lines—a fireplace that smokes is of less real practical value than a gas-log.

Just a word regarding foundations. With walls of concrete, stone or brick, the foundation underpinning will, of course, have to be of concrete or stone, carried to bedrock or to a solid footing below the frost-line. With bungalows of wooden construction considerable expense may be saved by building on piers of masonry or even on locust posts that are set well into the ground, resting upon a broad flat stone footing. If this form of foundation is chosen be sure that the sill girders, set on the posts for the support of uprights and floor joists, are as near the ground as convenient. The space between the posts should be latticed. In other words, keep the building low down on the ground if it is to merit the title of bungalow.

Source: "Bungalows" by Henry H. Saylor 1926




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