Some questions are easy to answer. For example: “Tide laundry detergent pods sure look tasty … should I snack on one?” Answer: “No, absolutely not!”

But the answer to “what is a bungalow?” is more elusive because bungalows offer a practical, adaptable and economical core design concept that has evolved over the centuries.

According to American Bungalow magazine: “Since the period when most bungalows were constructed — roughly 1880 to 1930 in the United States — literally every type of house has at one time been called a bungalow.”

While authorities quibble over many details, what they do tend to agree on is that bungalow homes first appeared in America in the 1880s, especially in New England. Over time, the term “bungalow” has become synonymous with small one- or one-and-a-half story homes with wide, low-pitched hip or gable roofs, often with deep eaves and exposed rafters.

Bungalows typically feature some combination of the following:

• open floor plans;

• most or all of the living space on the ground floor;

• built-in cabinetry;

• beamed ceilings;

• simple wainscoting (most often in dining and living room);

• a large fireplace (often featuring built-in cabinets, shelves or benches);

• dormers;

• a large, covered front porch (sometimes a rear porch);

• unfinished attic spaces;

• (originally) unpainted wood trim.

The Dictionary of Architecture and Construction defined a bungalow simply as: “A one-story frame house, or a summer cottage, often surrounded by a covered veranda."

Gustav Stickley, a famous American furniture designer and manufacturer, wrote that a bungalow is “a house reduced to its simplest form where life can be carried on with the greatest amount of freedom; it never fails to harmonize with its surroundings.”

Why are they called “bungalows?”

The origin of the funny-sounding term “bungalow” goes back to at least 1659. In the waning days of the British Empire, British Army officers in India adapted the local term “bangala” (which means “belonging to Bengal”) to describe an unpretentious one-story house with a porch that was designed as a temporary retreat for travelers. Today in New Hampshire, many bungalows provide exactly that: a temporary retreat for those who travel here to enjoy the Lakes Region.

Though the style’s popularity waned subsequent to 1930, there was a resurgence in interest following World War II. At this time, the word “bungalow” became synonymous with inexpensive vacation homes located near the sea or lake shore.

Why are bungalows so ubiquitous?

Bungalows eventually became one of America’s most popular home styles. Because bungalows were easy to build, economical, and adaptable to taste and region, this home style ideally suited the needs of a growing population of young, middle-class families who yearned to own their own homes.

Bungalow demand really accelerated when enterprising businesses made prospective homeowners an offer many couldn’t refuse: bungalow kit delivery.

Imagine if you could use an Amazon Prime membership to ship all the materials needed to construct a house — including pre-cut lumber, nails, doors and plumbing — right to your door. Sound kind of crazy? Well, at the height of the bungalow’s popularity, Sears, Roebuck & Company and other firms sold bungalow building supplies and even full construction kits through mail-order catalogs. Prospective house-buyers could have an entire home shipped to them in parts and pieces. Then, with the help of some local craftsmen, the homeowner could follow instructions to build a practical, attractive small home at an affordable price. I’m not sure if they offered free delivery back then, but nonetheless mail order delivery spiked the popularity of bungalows nationwide.

So that’s the low-down on bungalows (or the bungalow-down). I’ll close by synthesizing and paraphrasing the definitions of Gustav Stickley and others, and assert that a bungalow is “a simple, space-efficient retreat where life and recreation can be carried on with the greatest amount of freedom, a practical home (or vacation home) that is located near and harmonizes with beautiful surroundings, such as New Hampshire’s Lakes Region.”

***

Brent Metzger is a Realtor® with Roche Realty Group. Contact him at 603-229-8322 or brent@rocherealty.com. To learn more about Lakes Region real estate, visit www.RocheRealty.com.

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