24 January 2009

Californian Bungalow: Australia's Favourite Interwar Home

The first American house to be realistically called a bungalow was illustrated in 1884 in Arnold Brunner's Cottages or Hints on Economical Building; it was called Bung­alow With Attic. The attic was acceptable, since all main living quarters were indeed located on the ground floor.

To keep costs down, the parts of prefab­ric­ated bungalows were mass-produced in a factory, numbered, loaded onto a train. They could be sent to any part of the country where a skilled carpenter could put them together in a day by following the instruct­ions provided. The most famous of these mail-order firms was Sears, Roebuck and Co.
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Within the Arts and Crafts Movement, the bungalow was a progressive architectural design that proliferated in the USA in the early part of the C20th. Cal­led Craftsmen bungalows, these bungalows were small cottages that had specific architectural features:
1. Low-pitched roof lines, gabled or hipped roof
2. Deeply overhanging eaves
3. Exposed rafters or decorative brackets under eaves
4. Large front porch beneath extension of main roof
5. Tapered, square columns supporting roof
6. Double-hung windows
7. no more than 1.5 stor­eys high
8. Frank Lloyd Wright design motifs
9. Hand-crafted stone or woodwork
10. Mixed materials, that suggest a cosy cottage.
11. stone chimneys, gabled dormers, sloping foundation
12. inside: built-in cabin­ets, shelves & seating.

You can see an entire Pasadena neighbourhood full of these lovely Craftsmen bungalows in L.A. Places
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Craftsman bungalow, California, 1.5 storeys

In Erica Swanson's blog, we find that the bungalow was part of a movement that provided hous­ing that the working class could afford. Many people were choosing to make a move to the west for its warm, arid climate and it was because of this that the Craftsman Bungalow reached its full potential in California. The San Gabriel Valley lends well to Craftsman homes because of the broad front porches that is a common feature of the architectural style, which allows a homeowner to take full advantage of the year round sunny weather that is typical to the Pasadena area. Craftsman bungalows had to be affordable, but they were far from shoddy. Bungalows were built with old-growth timber, real plaster, wooden windows and doors, and the built-ins that are now mostly found in high-end homes. It is because these homes were built so well that many Craftsman Bungalows still stand today.
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Imported originally from California in 1916 by a real estate agent, the first Australian Californian bungalow was erected in Sydney. The bungalow become the favourite house style in Australia immediately after WWI, when it quickly spread across all Australian towns and cities. It was a solid and respectable house, serving the two great needs that made it so popular in California: affordability and suitability for a dry, warm climate.
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Timing was everything for the bungalow in Australia. Tim Durbridge at The Durb Net  showed the British idea of Garden Cities was taking firm hold of the minds of Australian town planners. Here was a means of fostering the egalitarian Australian ideology. It also ensured that new development improved land values since zoning disallowed cheap, owner-built haphazard housing. Blending with its natural surroundings in the sun splashed bush, great for the family to sleep out and gaze at the Southern Cross, the bungalow provided privacy, excellent plumbing and much respectability in Australia’s new Garden Suburbs.
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Were our bungalows any different from those built in the USA? Single-storey homes in Australia were absolutely the norm, rather than 1.5 storeys. Utilities could be installed more easily than in a two-storey house and there were no staircases for the elderly and children to navigate. The Australian back yard had to be big enough for the entire family, for dogs, cubby houses, cricket games and a chicken shed. The front garden could be smaller, but it had to be surrounded by a decent fence. And the building materials were specifically Australian.
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I suppose the earliest designs in Australia were based on craftsman design principles. Houses were built low, with shallow, low pitched roofs of terracotta shingles or roofing slates, exposed rafters and beams showing from under the roof. People loved materials with a rustic, natural look. Mixed materials were used, to add to the cot­t­agy look: stone, brick and timber, earthy materials were used in Australia [whereas in the USA they had used wood shake shingles, river rock and clinker brick]. A gable roof faced either the front or side always and although the building could be asymmetrical, masonry veranda piers were remained very popular. Windows had small panes and were arranged in casements. Front doors were typically high-waisted and decorated with leadlight.
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Californian bungalow, Melbourne, asymmetrical
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The interior plan was left to the family’s preference, but typically featured a central hallway, the good rooms at the front of the house and the kitchen and laundry at the back. Two bedrooms were initially built – if families needed a third, it would have to be added under the roofline or tacked onto the back at a later date. Panelled walls had a plate shelf, and built in furniture, such as window seats, bookshelves and fireplace nooks.
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Knight and Harwood floorplan, Melbourne
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In the Australian bungalow, simplicity and craftsmanship could harm­onise in a truly aff­ordable house. So although Australians didn’t build bungalows until 25 years after the Americans started, they quickly became Australia’s most popular home. And remained so until WW2.
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Good reading:
Butler, G The Californian Bungalow in Australia. Origins, revival, Source Ideas for Restoration, Lothian, Port Melbourne, 1992
Winter, Robert American Bungalow Style, Simon & Schuster, 1996.
The blog Melbourne Our Home has internal and external photos of a renovated Melbourne bungalow, retaining as many original features as possible.

19 comments:

larkspur said...

I love your posts. I am a grad student in Land Architecture and there is a lot of crossover. Bungalows give me butterflies. Thx.

Hels said...

From: Tim Durbridge
Sent: Monday, January 26, 2009
Subject: bungalows

Thank you very much for citing my essay on my Californian bungalow. I'm delighted you were interested.
I have added a link to your blog on the Bungalow page of durb.net

I enjoyed reading your blog on the bungalow and on Bauhaus. What an extraordinary thing the web is.
Thanks
Tim.

Hels said...

From Katy:

Hi Helen
My name is Katy and I am the recent purchaser of a gorgeous 1920s Melbourne bungalow!

I came across your excellent web site on bungalows and I was wondering if I could please have permission to link this in my new blog (http://bungalowdreaming.blogspot.com)?

Many thanks,
Katy

Hels said...

Marilena said...

Dear Helen,
I was just reading your information on the Californian Bungalow and it was very interesting…thank you.

I am a little confused though! I have a Californian Bungalow which I will be renovating in the next six months. It is quite unusual and I have been on various websites, especially in Pasedena to see if I can see the same type of Bungalow that I have….and cannot find anything like it.

Maybe you can help with the style as it is not typically structured as what a normal Bungalow would be.

Yes…it has all the thing that you have written, eg ( Low-pitched roof lines, gabled or hipped roof, Deeply overhanging eaves, Exposed rafters or decorative brackets under eaves, Large front porch beneath extension of main roof, Tapered, square columns supporting roof, Double-hung windows, Hand-crafted stone or woodwork,. Mixed materials, that suggest a cosy cottage, stone chimneys, gabled dormers, sloping foundation,. inside: built-in cabin­ets, shelves & seating.).

But it also has a sitting room situated off the lounge room, a vestibule instead of a corridor and it is a three-fronted Califor-nian house with two front entranc-es. One of the rooms is also six-sided instead of four-sided, that is why I am a little confused. Could it be possible that this is NOT a Californian Bungalow. It was built in the 1920’s so the era is the same.

I just wanted to know if you have ever come across a style like this and that you can shed some “light” on this type of house. Any information would be a great help.

Many thanks.
Marilena

Helen answered....

Marilena
Yours sounds as if it absolutely IS a Californian bungalow, from which you will derive enormous pleasure. But the original design was suited largely for 2 adults, 2 children, no extended family and no staff. People soon found that if they wanted to expand at all, they had to be resourceful.

The most common strategies were to add a room on at the back of the house (Australia), to go up into the attic space (USA) or to close in the porch (Britain).

With your house, it sounds as though granny came to live with the family so they gave her one room of her own and her own front entrance.

Have a super time, renovating the bungalow back to its original loveliness,
Hels

Hels said...

Sharon and Thomas said.....

Hi Helen,
We have visited your site and find it so interesting. We currently own an un-renovated workers cottage style Californian Bungalow in East Brunswick that we are now ready to do some major works on. We are actually even considering demolishing and rebuilding in the classic C.B style. We were just thinking that perhaps you had some great contacts for appropriate architects that are passionate about this style home, and passionate about this part of Melbourne and the beautiful style of homes here. Any information would be greatly appreciated,


Hels said....

I don't know any architects who specialise in this type of housing, but I do have a useful book that will help you: The Californian Bungalow in Australia
by conservation architect Graeme Butler. Find guidelines for the renovation of bungalows, with sections on interior planning and design, colour schemes, lighting, exterior finishes and garden styles.

Hels said...

Mark said...

Hi Helen,

Thank you for your wonderful blog. I am in my first year of studying building design and as part of a history subject I am required to give a short presentation on Cal. Bungalows, particularly in Queenscliff VIC.

I am hoping you can help me with some general information about these beautiful buildings. I have noticed that some bungalows will be adorned with small terracotta ridge finials and as far as I understand these were an added feature borrowed from other styles of architecture.

Could you help me shed some light on these curios little gargoyles? What style they might have come from? And are they particular to a style of bungalow, such as the earlier craftsmen style you mentioned in your blog?

Many thanks,
Mark.


Helen said...
I am delighted you are doing some historical research on the beloved Californian bungalow. The subject deserves attention.

I can't find any small terracotta ridge finials in my hundreds of photos of bungalows, so that leads us to a number of possible conclusions e.g.
1. they were loved by a particular builder in a particular region and are not found elsewhere.
2. they were added, not when the bungalows were built in the interwar period, but at a much later period.

Do you have any 1920s and 1930s photos, with the terracotta ridge finials in place?

Alecia said...

Hello Hellen, great site, we have a Californian bungalow and love it! Like many of the comment here we are also about to start an extensive renovation/extension. I look forward to reading your site more.
Is it ok for me to reference you on my blog? www.worst2best.wordpress.com

Hels said...

Alecia

good luck with the renovations. It is hard work getting the architecture and decorative elements right, but worth every moment and every penny.

Certainly reference this post :)

George said...

Hi Helen

Love your site which I came across whilst searching for info on California Bungalows (I own one in Coburg).

Terrific mix of art, history and architecture (if there was a section on aviation it would pretty much encompass all my interests).

Will be checking frequently.
Thankyou
George D

Hels said...

George

great topic, isn't it. After all, it is a long time since the first Californian bungalow was erected in Sydney in 1916.

I do travel as well, but no aviation.

Hels said...

larkspur

the older I get, the more passionate I am becoming about bungalow homes. They used a totally sensible design for the interwar years, and I think they are becoming suitable for our economies once again.

Outdoor living direct said...

I love to have simple home like this.

Hels said...

Outdoor

I would too.
We are still living in the family home, even though the boys are married and gone. My ideal home for this stage of life would be a 2-bedroom bungalow, with one large living room and plenty of trees and back yard space.

Anonymous said...

"They could be sent to any part of the country where a skilled carpenter could put them together in a day by following the instruct­ions provided."

A day, as in one day?

Oprah beth said...

Your Bungalow seems to be very beautiful and lavishing. Great to have such an accommodation, keep sharing.


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Hels said...

Oprah beth

Thank you. I am amazed and delighted that of all the posts I have written, the Californian Bungalow is the one that has always captured peoples' attention. It was written in January 2009!

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Hels said...

Anon
although this post was written way back in Jan 2009, it has remained by far and away the most popular post I have ever written. So thank you.

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