Buster Keaton’s classic “One Week” from 1920 depicts his comic attempt to assemble a mail order bungalow.
Deciphering what Bungalow means can be very confusing. That’s because the term Bungalow doesn’t relate to any specific architectural style – bungalows were designed in all kinds of different architectural styles- basically whatever sold well and was popular during the early 20th Century (1910’s to 1930’s).
Examples of Different Bungalow Styles Left to Right (Dutch Colonial, Tudor, Craftsman, Craftsman, Spanish, Victorian)
The most popular bungalow styles were: Cottage, Cape Cod, Spanish, Colonial, Dutch Colonial (with its gambrel roof), and Tudor. There were exotic styles too like Spanish Mission Style, Japanesque, Foursquare, and Swiss Chalet, but they were less popular. Sears & Roebeck had over 500 different designs to choose from. The top selling designs were frequently copy catted between competitors so it can be difficult sometimes to pin point the exact model and manufacturer of the most popular bungalow designs.
Bungalows are not distinguished by their architectural style, but instead by how they were built. Bungalows came in pre-cut kits that were easy to assemble and could be purchased from mail order catalogs. Bungalows were the first mass produced housing.
Picture of Sears & Roebuck Catalogs from Oklahoma Houses by Mail
Sears & Roebuck Ad- showing bungalow precut kits with numbered Pieces that were easy to assemble
Bungalows were modest in size, typically 5 to 8 rooms, with 2 to 4 bedrooms, and one to two bathrooms (Image living with *gasp* only one bathroom now!).They range in square feet from 800 sqft -1,500 sqft. A house kit could be purchased for $1,000 -$4,000, when the price of a model T was about $400, and the average worker wage was $1,000 per year. These home were really affordable! The tiny garages of the bungalows barely fit a modern size sedan and would never fit a SUV.
There is a model T parked in the driveway of this Cottage Bungalow illustration.
Home owners could save the construction cost of $1,000 to $2,000 if they decided to built the house themselves, which many owners chose to do.
Typical bungalow 5 room floor-plan
California has a lot of bungalows because the 20’s and 30’s were boom years in this states’ history. Spanish and Craftsman bungalows were the most popular styles in California.
The 1900’s saw big improvements to the quality of life for the average American. This was the conception of the “American dream”: to own your own home. At the turn of the century electricity was supplanting oil lamps and candles for light and power, and it was a real luxury to have indoor plumbing. Many houses had a tub in the bathroom, but if you needed to use the toilet you still had to go to the outhouse. There was a new middle class rising, getting married and starting families. They could afford to pay for a modestly priced home and build it themselves provided with a plan and materials. Bungalows became the “it” craze.
Sears & Reobuck’s precut home factory
Companies rushed to meet the demand for new housing by building large home building factories and selling precut and designed homes. In an old Sears Roebuck advertisement they ‘claimed’ all you need to build their house is a wrench, hammer, and screwdriver… In the bungalows heyday it is estimated that more than half million were built.
The largest companies to sell homes by catalog were:
Sears Roebuck, Chicago Illinois
Aladdin Homes, Bay city Michigan
Montgomery Wards, Chicago Illinois
Sterling Homes, Bay City Michigan
Pacific Ready Cut Homes, Chicago Illinois
Wardway Homes, Chicago Illinois
Ready Built Houses Co. Portland Oragan
Gordon Van-Tine, Davenport Iowa
Harris Homes, Chicago Illinois
Home Builders Catalog – Publication
Sears “the world’s greatest store”, was the largest seller of catalog homes. It is estimated that they sold 100,000 homes during the time they were operating between 1915 and 1940. The Great Depression in the 1930’s and the invention of the FHA in 1934 crippled the mail order housing industry. A large portion of mail order housing company profits were made on the loans they underwrote for their houses. When the FHA was created, it offered loans at substantially lower interest rates then the loans homeowners had with the mail order catalog companies. Not surprisingly, most home owners refinanced, and the catalog companies lost their most profitable and important source of income. Couple that with huge unemployment and precipitous drop in home sales during the great depression, and the stage was set for mail order companies folded.
What is a Bungalow?
Efficient, Thrifty, Humble
Partial wall in a bungalow between living room and dinning room.
–Open Living Room and Dining Rooms. This was a big step towards modern open floorplans. The bungalow floorplans opened up the wall between the living room and dining room to save space and make both rooms feel bigger. The areas were commonly separated by a Partial wall . Kitchens were still closed, that didn’t change to 1950s.
–Gable roofs. Flat roofs were hardly ever used. The big Gable roofs, provided a huge attic space which could be used as space for an addition later. the gable roofs usually had overhanging eves. The Gable could be positioned front or sideways for very different architectural look.
–Wood Burning Fireplaces w/ decorative tile mantel (sometimes chimneys were made with clinker bricks or the mantel with local batchelder tile)
Different Dormer Styles on Bungalows
–Dormers. The gabled roofs were often enhanced with decorative or functional dormers. If bedrooms were located on a second floor the dormers would give the bedroom a window for light and ventilation as well as increase the ceiling height. Dutch Colonials almost always have dormers.
-Breakfast nooks. Informal dining, this space doubles a play area.
-oak wood floors, all wood flooring originally stained dark
-Lath plaster walls
-First houses with electricity
– low bedroom to bath ratio 2 to 1 or 3 to 1 – no en-suit bathroom, hallway bathroom that everyone shares
-Small bedrooms and small closets, people used amours, the closet was a relatively new idea. Bedroom dimensions were 12 x 12 to 15 x15. The closets are extremely small by today’s standards, and certainly no walk-ins. I joke with clients sometimes that people who lived in the turn of the century must have only had 1 or two outfits and probably had to get them washed constantly.
-Lots of built ins, book cases and shelving – linen closets, china cabinets in living rooms, book cases.
– Floor-plans have direct entry into living room, instead of vestibule or foyer. Less formal entry than in the past.
The style preferences of America changed in the 1940’s with the introduction of the ranch house, and continued to evolve from the influence of mid century and modern architecture. Popular taste moved away from bungalows for many years. But bungalows are coming back. There is a group of vintage home buyers in Los Angeles buying and restoring these old bungalows. Vintage buyers love them for their intimacy, cheerfulness, and comfy-ness.
Not everybody feels the same way. There is a growing trend in Los Angeles right now to tear down these classic bungalows because the land value is so high and bungalows are underbuilt for the lot. Well-to-do home buyers want 4,000 sqft “Sugar Cube” modern homes. In recent years, HPOZ have been created in several historically significant neighborhoods in Los Angeles to protect these homes from demolition.
Bungalow Neighborhoods in LA:
-Jefferson Park (really bad shape! HPOZ)
-Carthay Circle (HPOZ)
–Melrose Hill (HPOZ)
-Greenacre neighborhood, West Hollywood
Miracle mile ( Olympic and w 8th street, la brae and Fairfax)
Miracle Mile North (HPOZ)
Spaulding Square (HPOZ)
-Studio Village, Culver City
-Adams Hills, Glendale
-Westwood, South of Santa Monica & North of Pico
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