The Craftsman Bungalow

By Scott Sidler • February 3, 2020

craftsman bungalowThe Craftsman Bungalow was what started it all at this blog, (where did you think I got the name from?). I live in one myself and that house is the one you see pictured here. It is the quintessential American home style that been popular for close to a century. It is simple. It is beautiful. And to me it is inspiring enough to dedicate me to to write about old houses for close to a decade now.

More popular and more replicated than most others it is the sum of all that America is. It stands for simplicity, excellence, and utility. Simplicity in design, excellence in craftsmanship and utility in its functionality.

The Craftsman style was inspired mainly by two California brothers – Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Greene who practiced together in Pasadena from 1893 to 1914. In about 1903, they began to design simple Craftsman-type bungalows. By 1909, they had designed and executed several exceptional landmark examples like the famous Gamble House in Pasadena.

The Bungalow was actually invented in 18th-century India as the “bangala” which is the Hindi word relating to the province of Bengal. These small houses or huts were popular at that time and even though they were primitive by today’s standards they were quite comfortable for the average 18th-century Indian.

The name stuck as a house for the everyman and when married to the Craftsman design aesthetic a new architectural style was born.

What is a Craftsman Bungalow?

If I had to boil down the essence of the Craftsman Bungalow it would be honesty. Honesty in design and use. Craftsman Bungalows were designed with the rigorous belief that form follows function and so every element of the building’s structure was designed to not only be functional but beautiful.

There was very little of the structure that was hidden like the exposed rafters and eave brackets. There was very little ornamentation that didn’t serve a structural purpose. Gone was the gingerbread of the Victorian Style, the decorative cornices of the Italianates , and the elaborate pediments of the Greek Revival.

All the decoration of previous styles was stripped away and what was left was a well built utilitarian structure that didn’t rebel too far from the aesthetic principles like the Brutalist structures would in the coming decades, but rather it embraced its utility and made that utility beautiful.

Common Design Elements

  • Low-pitched roof lines, gabled or hipped roof
  • Deeply overhanging eaves
  • Exposed rafters or decorative brackets under eaves
  • Front porch beneath extension of the main roof
  • Tapered, square columns supporting the roof
  • 3-over-1 or 6-over-1 double-hung windows
  • Natural building components

“Influenced by the English Arts and Crafts Movement, an interest in oriental wooden architecture, and their early training in the manual arts appear to have lead the Greene’s to design and build these intricately detailed buildings. These and similar residences were given extensive publicity in some of the most popular magazines of the day, thus familiarizing the rest of the nation with the style.

As a result, a flood of pattern books appeared, offering plans for Craftsman bungalows; some even offered completely pre-cut packages of lumber and detailing to be assembled by local labor. Through these vehicles, the one-story Craftsman house quickly became the most popular and fashionable smaller house in the country.”
-from A Field Guide to American Houses (McAlester)

Most Craftsman Bungalows were one or one and a half-story homes of modest proportions. This style was a return to a simpler way of living that was more in touch with nature. Thus the extensive appearance of natural woods in construction and landscaping design that seamlessly transitions from garden to living space.

The evolving needs of contemporary life in the 1910s-1930s also necessitated a smaller and more user friendly kitchen with the new range of appliances available to homeowners for the first time. Bathrooms of the era were usually all white tiled floors (typically with mosaic borders) and tiled or wainscoted walls. Having an all white bathroom ensured that homeowners could keep their bathrooms clean of the newly discovered idea of germs (or so they thought!)

The Craftsman Bungalow was the darling of middle-class families and the dominated house style from 1905 until the 1930s. It quickly faded from favor by the early 1930s and many homes fell into disrepair over the following decades. Today, the Craftsman is one of the most often restored house styles in America due to its manageable size, family friendly design and prime location in first-rung neighborhoods near or surrounding the city centers across America.

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1 thought on “The Craftsman Bungalow”

  1. I live in and love my own little bungalow in South Carolina. The exact year it was built is a mystery to us. Insurance records list 1904 but the cast iron tub we refinished was stamped 1924 on the bottom. The architecture is quite obviously craftsman with it’s deep, tucked in porch and tapered columns but our windows are original and 2/2. All of the interior doors are also of a victorian panelled style and feature pressed glass knobs and the like. Our two running theories are 1) It was built in the 20’s with materials that had been held-over from an earlier time period, maybe saved or purchased as a cost saving measure or 2) it was a very, very modest home built around 1900 and given the “craftsman update” approximately 20 years later when more space was needed (there is some evidence that part of the home is an addition). Either way, we love her quirks and charm!

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