Craftsman Bungalow

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The Craftsman Bungalow is typically a single-story house with one or more broadly pitched, overhanging gables. On most, a small gable caps the entry porch, echoed by a larger gable behind and to one side. The roof-line recalls a child’s drawing of mountains: a series of overlapping, inverted triangles. The space beneath the roof is adapted for use by the installation of a dormer window.

To describe houses that do their best to look like bungalows, the awkward word “bungaloid” was coined. While this word is typically used to categorize larger homes designed by architects for wealthy clients, it also applies to a vernacular building style that may be unique to the East Bay. Many families find that the bungalow is too limited in size, that the two or three bedrooms do not provide enough living space. Because the lots are small, the only direction that remains is up. The more spacious, but rather ungainly two-story result is rightly called bungaloid.

The Craftsman Bungalow is recognized by the deliberate use of natural materials, its emphasis on structural form, and a casual relationship with the out-of-doors. The Craftsman Bungalow has exposed beams beneath overhanging eaves, projecting brackets, and a propensity toward Swiss or Japanese motifs. Brown shingles persist, though a times wood siding is used instead.

Two large pillars, broad at the base, slightly tapered at the top, and somewhat foreshortened, support the front porch gable. Made of wood or stone, the columns rest on pedestals that rise up out of the foundation and serve as end posts for the porch railings as well.

Ideally, the foundation of a Craftsman Bungalow would be constructed of local stone so the house would seem to emerge from the earth. In the Oakland and Berkeley flatlands, where building stone is not indigenous, most bungalows have a raised cement foundation sheathed with sculptured cement, brick, or quarried stone for a more textured appearance.

The front window on a Craftsman Bungalow is as individual as a signature. Like a name, the window is divided into three parts, but beyond that, no two look exactly alike. One house has a trio of double-hung windows with sixteen small square panes on top. Another house has fixed windows filled with leaded diamond shapes. A third has a dramatic stained glass inset, another has mullions in an irregular geometric pattern, and so forth. The design can prove a helpful clue to a precise construction date.

The central window is always the largest of the three panels. Often for consistency, the front door arrangement is handled in the same way as the front window. Two sidelights, narrow panels of glass (lead, paned, stained or otherwise), flank either side of the entry. The windows on the Craftsman Bungalow are decisively outlined with wood molding and grouped in horizontal bands to complement the dwelling’s broad stature. Even the dormer window, with its broad overhang, is designed in careful proportion to the rest of the house.

The interior finish of the Craftsman Bungalow is a showcase of wood. The wall, floors, beams, built-in cabinets and benches are a wealth of grain. The owner had a choice of clear stain, to keep the redwood a light russet; medium, to enrich the surface to cherry; or dark, to deepen the grain to somber walnut. Above the plate-rail, a wood mantle that caps the dining room wainscoting, there is a strip of wall about a yard high. This is commonly used as a neutral backdrop for decorative plates, bottles, and bric-a-brac propped up around the ledge. The Craftsman Magazine recommended a more creative idea. They suggested abstract floral designs that could be hand-stenciled like a frieze around the perimeter.

If informality is a corollary to naturalness, then the floor plan of the bungalow is another expression of the Craftsman ethic. The formal entry hall of earlier styles is discarded completely in favor of the front porch. The front door opens directly into the living room, which itself spills directly into the dining room. The space is so free flowing, that the dining room is used more for “living” than “dining” and the bedrooms are within earshot of the living areas. Privacy can be hard to come by.

The old-fashioned, subdivided kitchen of Victorian times is here incorporated into a single room. The pantry, the work counters, the cooking surface, the sink, are reorganized into a “work triangle” for the modern housewife. Gustav Stickley wrote in a 1912 issue of The Craftsman magazine, “The most sensible plan is to have the kitchen large enough to allow some of the meals to be taken there. For there is no reason why this part of the house should not be cheerful and attractive as any other, and certainly where the mother has to do all her own work both she and the family would get more real comfort by simplifying the serving of meals as much as possible.”

This new attitude toward comfort and convenience meant much more than the demise of the formal dining room. It marked the introduction of the Twentieth Century California way of life. At last, the Golden State had a residential style all its own, an architecture suited to its landscape, derived from native materials, and adapted to West Coast culture.

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