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House Styles: The Craftsman Bungalow

The word “bungalow” may seem today like a synonym for “cottage,” but in its heyday it was prized both for its exotic, Anglo–Indian associations and its artistic naturalism.
the craftsman bungalow

Look for nature and vernacular expression in the architecture and design of the Arts & Crafts bungalow.

A bungalow nestles into its site, low and spreading. It was inevitable that the form would be embraced by tastemakers and builders of the Arts & Crafts movement. The architects Greene and Greene in California called their millionaires’ chalets bungalows. Gustav Stickley sang their praises in this magazine The Craftsman. Dozens of plan books between 1909 and 1925 promoted “artistic bungalows.” Only later, with the ascendancy of a middle-class Colonial Revival, did Arts & Crafts ideals lose favor; eventually, “bungalow” become a derogatory label.

side of bungalow with decorated chimney

While most often made of wood, bungalows incorporate local materials and vernacular building traditions. 

Gamble House front entrance

The Gamble House in Pasadena by architects Greene & Greene is one of their “Ultimate Bungalows.” 

semi-bungalow with swiss chalet styling

A typical builder’s semi-bungalow with such artistic details as knee-braces under overhanging eaves, exposed rafter tails decoratively sawn, and battered posts on piers. 

The bungalow as a house form has close ties to the Arts & Crafts movement—and an even stronger affinity today, as thousands of bungalows, some quite modest, are snatched up to be interpreted in a manner that’s often beyond the tastes and budgets of the original owners.

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Hallmarks of the Arts & Crafts Bungalow

Illustrations by Rob Leanna

bungalow chimney plan drawing

Indigenous Materials


An artistic use of such materials as river rock, clinker brick, quarried stone, shingles, and stucco is common.


Most bungalows are low and spreading, not more than a story-and-a-half tall, with porches, sun porches, pergolas and patios tying them to the outdoors. The A&C bungalow follows an informal aesthetic; it is a house without strong allusions to formal English or classical precedents.

craftsman porch plan drawing

Emphasis on Structure


Look for artistic exaggeration in columns, posts, eaves brackets, lintels, and rafters. Inside, too, you’ll find ceiling beams, chunky window trim, and wide paneled doors. Horizontal elements are stressed.

bungalow features plan drawing

Exotic Influences


These appeared in builders’ houses and the pages of style books and magazines: stick ornament in the manner of Swiss Chalets; Spanish or Moorish arches and tilework; and orientalism, especially Japanesque.

                 • • • •

Bungalow Variants

Photos by Douglas Keister

Period bungalows can be quite plain little houses. Some nod to other styles including English Tudor, Prairie School, and, anachronistically, Colonial.

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Inside the Bungalow

The typical bungalow interior, at least as it was presented in the house books of the period, is easy to recognize. Basically, the bungalow interior was a Craftsman interior.

bungalow interior

Typical interior in a 1916 bungalow in New York State; note the colonnade between rooms, the open plan, the simple lines, and the use of unpainted wood. 

In a complete departure from Victorian interior decoration, bungalow writers frowned on the display of wealth and costly collectibles. Rather than buying objects of obvious or ascribed value, the homeowner was told to look for simplicity and craftsmanship: “a luxury of taste substituting for a luxury of cost.”

Keep in mind that both Greene and Greene’s Gamble House in Pasadena and a three-room vacation shack without plumbing were called bungalows. And they both affected what the typical year-round bungalow would look like. The finest examples of Arts & Crafts handiwork found a place in the bungalow, as did rustic furniture.

1916 Seattle bungalow interior

Breakfast room in a 1916 Seattle bungalow: simplicity reigns.

Walls were often wood-paneled to chair-rail or plate-rail height. Burlap in soft earth tones was suggested for the wall area above, or used in wood-battened panels where paneling was absent. Landscape friezes and abstract stenciling above a plate rail were often pictured. Dulled, grayed shades and earth tones, even pastels, were preferred to strong colors. Plaster with sand in the finish coast was suggested. Woodwork could be golden oak or oak brown-stained to simulate old English woodwork, or stained dull black or bronze green. Painted softwood was also becoming popular, especially for bedroom, with white enamel common before 1910 and stronger color gaining popularity during the ’20s.

Midwestern bungalow interior

Built-in sideboard and Stickley furniture in a later Midwestern bungalow with Prairie leanings. 

It became almost an obsession with bungalow builders to see how many amenities could be crammed into the least amount of space. By 1920, the bungalow had more space-saving built-ins than a yacht: Murphy wall beds, ironing boards in cupboards, built-in mailboxes, telephone nooks.

brick tile fireplace

The brick-tile fireplace, integrated bookcases, “honest” trim, and ceiling beams are typical of bungalow interiors; note the harmonious colors.

Writers advocated the “harmonious use” of furnishings small and few. Oak woodwork demanded oak furniture, supplemented with reed, rattan, wicker, or willow in natural, gray, or pastels. Mahogany pieces were thought best against a backdrop of woodwork painted white. (Bright white was used most often for bathroom trim; “white” could also signify cream, yellow, ivory, light coffee, or pale gray.) A large table with a reading lamp was the centerpiece of the living room in these days before TV.

bungalow interior

Even with the use of wallpaper and a papered frieze, patterned rug, and collectibles, this bungalow interior is restrained by comparison to rooms of the Victorian era. 

Restraint was the universal cry of good taste. Clutter was out—“clutter” being a relative term. Pottery, Indian baskets, Chinese and Japanese wares, vases, and Arts & Crafts hangings were suggested to satisfy the collector instinct. More affluent households might display Rookwood pottery, small Tiffany pieces, hammered copper bowls, and decorative items from Liberty and Co. A watercolor landscape or two, executed by the amateur painter of the family, was the ultimate Arts & Crafts expression for the home.

bungalow interior

Some bungalow owners preferred a lighter approach, especially upstairs in bedrooms and when the house had elements of the Colonial Revival. Furnished with a mix of period antiques and contemporary pieces, this bungalow dates to 1906.

Do a search at and you’ll see there are dozens of books about bungalows and the American Arts & Crafts movement. Some of the now-classics are out of print but you can always find a used copy. Here is a basic library for owners of bungalows old and new:

The Bungalow: America’s Arts & Crafts Home by Paul Duchscherer; Penguin Studio 1995
Inside the Bungalow: America’s Arts & Crafts Interior by Paul Duchscherer; Penguin Studio 1997
Outside the Bungalow, America’s Arts and Crafts Garden by Paul Duchscherer, photos by Douglas Keister; Penguin 1999
Bungalow Kitchens by Jane Powell, photos by Linda Svendsen; Gibbs Smith 2000
Bungalow Bathrooms by Jane Powell, photos by Linda Svendsen; Gibbs Smith 2001
Bungalow: The Ultimate Arts and Crafts Home by Jane Powell, photos by Linda Svendsen; Gibbs Smith 2004
Bungalow Details: Exterior by Jane Powell, photos by Linda Svendsen; Gibbs Smith 2005
Bungalow Details: Interior by Jane Powell, photos by Linda Svendsen; Gibbs Smith 2006
Bungalow Nation by Diane Maddex and Alexander Vertikoff; Abrams 2003
American Bungalow Style by Robert Winter; Simon & Schuster 1996
Bungalow Colors: Exteriors by Robert Schweitzer; Gibbs Smith 2002

More on decorating and furnishing your Bungalow:

The Beautiful Necessity: Decorating with Arts & Crafts by Bruce Smith and Yoshiko Yamamoto; Gibbs Smith 1996 and 2004
American Arts & Crafts Textiles by Dianne Ayres et als; Abrams 2002
Arts & Crafts Textiles by Ann Wallace; Gibbs Smith 1999
Arts and Crafts Furniture by Kevin P. Rodel and Jonathan Binzen, Taunton Press 2004
Grove Park Inn Arts & Crafts Furniture by Bruce Johnson; Popular Woodworking Books 2009
Craftsman Style by Robert Winter; Simon & Schuster 2004
Gustav Stickley by David Cathers; Phaidon 2003

To see Prairie School domestic interiors:

Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie Houses by Alan Hess et al; Rizzoli 2006
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Interiors by Thomas A. Heinz; Gramercy Books
Frank Lloyd Wright: The Houses by Alan Hess et al; Rizzoli 2005 [note : important book is oversized and heavy]
Purcell & Elmslie, Prairie Progressive by David Gebhard; Gibbs Smith 2006

Bungalows newly built or renovated:

Bungalow Plans by Gladu and Gladu; Gibbs Smith 2002
Small Bungalows by Christian Gladu and Ross Chandler; Gibbs Smith 2007
The New Bungalow by Bialecki and Gladu; Gibbs Smith 2001
The New Bungalow Kitchen by Peter Labau; Taunton Press 2007
Bungalow Style: Creating Classic Interiors in Your Arts & Crafts Home by Treena Crochet; Taunton Press 2004
Updating Classic America: Bungalows, Design Ideas for Renovating…and Building New by M. Caren Connolly and Louis Wasserman; Taunton Press 2002

Scholarly histories of Bungalow architecture:

The Bungalow by Anthony D. King; Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1984
The American Bungalow by Clay Lancaster; Abbeville Press 1985

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