Bungalow comes to us from Hindustani bangala, a word that began as an adjective “belonging to Bengal” that described and later became the name for a style of home found in rural India and used as waystations by British travellers in India during the mid 19th c.  These bungalows were light structures, informal and temporary, built low to the ground with sizable porches covered by low-handing eaves.

A bungalow in India

The first couple of times we see it in English writing, bungalow appears in accounts of living in or traveling to India: from an 1809 journal, we have, “We came to a small bungalo, or garden-house” and in a descriptive passage from 1806, “The bungalows in India…are, for the most part…built of unbaked bricks and covered with thatch, having in the centre a hall…the whole being encompassed by an open verandah”.

Almost 100 years later, bungalow appears in an issue of The Architect and Contract Reporter, which states simply, “The buildings have been designed in a bungalow type”. In America, the term bungalow is taken up by residential architects in California to describe small, one-story homes that have an informal feel, characterized by a multipurpose floor plan with an open living/dining room area.

Typical bungalow floorplan

The bungalow craze lasted from 1905 to 1930 and spread west to east as the appeal of the plan caught on – the bungalow had a “first home” aura which made it perfect for newlyweds and younger homebuyers.  The bungalow was not necessarily place to settle down for good; it was (still) temporary, a step in a direction (much like the “starter home” of today).

Many of the Sears & Roebuck homes sold during the first decades of the 20th century were of the bungalow style, like “The Argyle”.

The important aspect of the bungalow, the one that signals some serious cultural change, is the blending of public and private spaces – no longer was there a separate room (like a parlor) for entertaining –  everyone was welcome in the family room – and parts of the house that had once been cordoned off (like the kitchen) were now in view of visitors and dinner guests.

American two-story bungalow – which looks just like the house my grandparents used to live in.

A google search for “craftsman bungalow” results in a flood of images of houses that all look like the house my grandparents lived in when I was little.  But with tiny variations.  It’s the same house, presented in a myriad of different building materials (brick, shingle siding, clapboard siding) and colors (gray, brown, red, orange), all with the same wide-stepped front porch and low eaves, the same windows and brick chimney.

The rooms were set so that we could run our multi-leafed Thanksgiving dinner table from the dining area to the living room – the only way to make space for all of us.  A benefit of multipurpose-ness.

The house I live in now has no architectural dividers between the dining area, living area and kitchen. The bungalow laid the foundation for this kind of open-concept plan, laying the foundation for the living spaces that were to come.


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