What is a Bungalow? A Riveting Lesson in Architecture and History


Inquiring minds want to know, “Why do you (I) refer to your (my) house as ‘the bungalow?'”

Allow me to explain with an exhilarating lesson in architecture and history. Sit back, relax and let me paint you a picture of 19th century England and 17th century India.

The Arts & Crafts Movement

The Victorian Era, spanning from 1837 to 1901, was a time of grandeur, optimism and tremendous progress for Britain. The country’s manufacturing sector was dominating the world, the middle class was growing in size and power, and Britain was transitioning into the status of the ultimate world power.

The Arts & Crafts movement began emerging in the latter part of the 19th century as a direct attempt to reform the over-the-top excessiveness of the Victorian Era. While the preceding Victorian aesthetic promoted excessiveness and decadence, the Arts and Crafts movement focused on simple authenticity, emphasizing handmade craftsmanship that was being replaced by industrialization.

Soon enough, the movement spread to America, coinciding with the Progressive Era. As a result, the American Arts and Crafts movement became the aesthetic counterpart of a larger political philosophy that promoted the advancement of economic development and social organization as a way of improving life.

One of the biggest proponents of the Arts and Crafts movement was Gustav Stickley, a furniture maker and design leader who believed that simple design and practical function trumped excessive embellishments and pretentiousness. Stickley’s philosophy played a large role in shaping and defining the American Arts and Crafts movement, in part due to “The Craftsman,” which was a magazine founded by Stickley for the sole purpose of promoting the Arts and Crafts movement and architecture to the general public.

Fittingly, part of Stickley’s philosophy was to empower the middle and working classes to experience fine craftsmanship of a well-designed home for a price that wasn’t completely out of reach. For Stickley and other design leaders of that time, the Craftsman aesthetic wasn’t simply another emerging design trend but rather a lifestyle that focused on living one’s life in a more simple and authentic way.


(images via Houzz and HGTV)

That’s Cool, But What Does a Bungalow Have to Do With It?

A few centuries prior to the English Arts and Crafts movement, in a region of India known as Bengal, tropical villas described as “bungales” were commonly being used as resting places for weary travelers. Despite its modest beginnings, the “Bengali” style soon became synonymous with the spacious homes of the British Raj, or Britain-appointed rulers and officials in India.

It wasn’t until mid- to late-19th century that the style was adopted by the English Arts and Crafts movement, and later spread to the U.S., where it was initially associated with high status and exotic roots. In 1906, Gustav Stickley, as part of his vision to satisfy a national desire for home ownership on a limited budget, featured an article about the “Bengali” style – hence, the term bungalow – in “The Craftsman,” propelling the Craftsman Bungalow aesthetic to become one of the most sought-after home designs from 1907 to 1930.

Design Features of a Craftsman Bungalow

With so many different influences shaping this architectural style, today’s definition of the Craftsman Bungalow is a bit blurred. As a result, the style has an almost infinite combination of defining design features.

The general consensus among Americans, however, is that a Craftsman Bungalow is a fairly modest home of 1–1½ stories. Some more common exterior features include a low-pitched roof, exposed rafters or timber knee braces and massive, an attic window, covered front porches.


Depending on the geographic location, the exterior of a Craftsman Bungalow is typically made of brick, shingles, stone or stucco.


Double-hung, multi-pane windows and partially paned doors are also telltale signs of the Craftsman Bungalow style. In fact, this particular style of windows and doors is sometimes simply referred to as ‘Craftsman.’


Craftsman-style lanterns, defined by their clean lines and simple shapes, are a great example of Arts and Crafts minimalism and are a popular choice for exterior lighting.


Pergolas, with their handcrafted wood detailing, are often incorporated into the front porch design.

Borrowing from its Indian predecessors, the Craftsman Bungalow typically has an open, flowing floor plan. With craftsmanship being one of the biggest elements of the Arts and Crafts aesthetic, it’s common to see large fireplaces at the heart of the home, built-in cabinetry to maximize storage space and exposed wooden structural elements to, once again, highlight handcrafted woodwork.

That, ladies and gentlemen, concludes today’s history and architecture lesson.

Have you ever thought about the history of your own home? Who or what influenced its design? What are its defining design features?



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