This post is part of a monthly series that explores the historical applications of building materials and systems through resources from the Building Technology Heritage Library (BTHL), an online collection of AEC catalogs, brochures, trade publications, and more. The BTHL is a project of the Association for Preservation Technology, an international building preservation organization. Read more about the archive here.
The classic American bungalow is a detached one- or one-and-a-half-story house with broad eaves, an open porch, and design details in the Arts and Crafts style. Though the term “bungalow” has its origins in the English description of small houses in India with wide verandas, it is now used to describe a variety of small houses with wide porches as the major design feature.
A search of the BTHL for house plan and kit home catalogs turns up several thousand bungalow variations. Stylistically, the most popular versions in America reference the Arts and Crafts movement, but variations in stucco, colonial, and Swiss chalet styles can also be found. Catalog titles like West Coast Bungalows and companies like Bungalow Craft, of Los Angeles, attest to the popularity of these homes in California. Chicago, too, has its own distinctive bungalow style, still visible among the city’s single-family housing stock. Kit home manufacturers Sears, Aladdin, and Gordon-Van Tine offered a variety of bungalow designs that were particularly popular in the Midwest.
House-plan and millwork catalogs are a great source for understanding the evolution of the bungalow plan and interior finishes. The term bungalow appeared in catalogs through the mid-20th century, with its Arts and Crafts connection was slowly phased out during that time and replaced with Colonial Revival influences. While the style of the bungalow changed, its efficient plan continues to inspire. The selection of catalogs from the BTHL below shows the rise of the bungalow in the early 20th century.
Radford’s Bungalows, 1908, Radford Architectural Co., Chicago
Radford Architectural Co. was an active publisher of house-plan and construction guides in the early 20th century. The designs in this catalog bridge the then-popular Victorian style, complete with turrets and bay windows, with the modern bungalow style inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement. Several designs take cues from the work of Frank Lloyd Wright, which would have been familiar to Radford’s team of Chicago-based designers.
The Bungalow Book, c. 1910, Henry L. Wilson, Chicago
The subtitle to this publication promises much: “A short sketch of the bungalow from its primitive crudeness to its present state of artistic beauty and cozy convenience.” What is delivers instead is a collection of plans and photos of bungalows recently constructed in California.
West Coast Bungalows, 1913, E.W. Stillwell and Co., Los Angeles
This publication stays true to its title, featuring a compilation of California bungalows. To show the potential for such houses across the country, the catalog includes testimonials of their ability to weather the harsh and variable Midwestern winters.
Bungalowcraft, c. 1908, Bungalow Craft Co., Los Angeles
This catalog features proposed designs and built houses. It also includes details of fireplaces, millwork, windows, and light fixtures, complete with bits of advice, such as “plan your roof as simple as possible, every valley means a weak place for leaking.”
Gordon-Van Tine’s Ready-Cut Homes, 1919, Gordon-Van Tine, Davenport, Iowa
This kit home catalog features many bungalow designs with descriptions and summaries of their desirable features: “well planned, modern, charming, good-looking, mission, up-to-date, deluxe and craftsman.”
Aladdin Homes Catalog No. 29, 1917, Aladdin Co., Bay City, Mich.
Aladdin sold kit homes from 1906 until 1987, but its peak years of business—the 1910s and ’20s—coincide with the bungalow’s rise to prominence. As a result, a number of bungalow designs can be found in their catalogs of those decades.
Bungalow Homes: The World’s Most Popular Plan Book, 1923, L. F. Garlinghouse, Topeka, Kan.
A major publisher of house plan catalogs, L.F. Garlinghouse published seven editions of Bungalow Homes during the 1920s. This version featured photos and plans of completed houses, mostly in the Arts and Crafts style.
Bungalowcraft: Homes Not Houses, 1921, Bungalow Craft, Los Angeles
This catalog shows the transition from the Arts and Crafts style of bungalow design to the period revival styles of the 1920s.
The Book of Bungalows: 24 Beautiful Designs, 1940, Home Plan Book Co., St. Paul, Minn.
One of the latest-dating bungalow plan books in the BTHL, this catalog features small one-story houses in the Colonial Revival style. The front porch, which was the original character-defining feature of the bungalow, has disappeared in these examples.