Skip to content

The Bungalow: the “Great American Home”

September 13, 2011

Thanks to for this photo of a California bungalow.

Few Americans know that the word “bungalow” derives from India’s Gujarati word “bangalo,” which meant a small Bengal-style one-story house, often with a “verandah” (another word from India) in front of it.

In America, the “California Bungalow” became a fabulously popular style beginning in the early 1900s. Bungalows were affordable, suiting the budgets of virtually all working people, and could often be built for less than a thousand dollars. Kit-home companies offered countless variations on the basic bungalow, many in styles that included Spanish, Colonial, Craftsman, Prairie and even two-story foursquares.

This Asian-influenced bungalow was designed by John Nichols in the 1910s.

Here in Bloomington, Indiana, the city has countless bungalows, many of which were built by workers at the Showers Brothers Furniture Company in the early decades of the 1900s. Most are generic, but a good number of them are outstanding. A handful of high-style bungalows were designed by Bloomington’s early-1900s architect John Nichols.  [Click any photo to enlarge.]

This gorgeous interior is found in a high-style bungalow in Prospect Hill.

Features usually include a front gable end porch supported by tapering supports, overhanging eaves with exposed rafter ends, and often a front living room divided from the dining room behind it by two wooden columns on a half-wall that often included built-in bookcases. Sometimes the built-in bookcases flank each side of a chimney. High-end bungalows can have windowseats, colored glass side windows and exquisite wood floors.

Architect John Nichols built this late 1800s bungalow for himself, with a geode porch.

Bloomington architect John Nichols was in the vanguard of the bungalow movement when he built himself a bungalow on North College in the 1890s, for the style was new and completely unlike the ornate and towering Queen Annes that were still being built at that same time. He built two houses to this same design, one with a porch made of local geodes and the other (just south of Third and Rogers) with a plainer wooden porch (the current one is a replacement). Both homes had the same semi-octagon shape on left and right, and exquisite woodwork inside.

The Oriental trellis-design of the Nichols bungalow on University.

Bungalows in Bloomington range in size from 600+ square feet to about twice that size for the 1-1/2-story versions. Many have been rehabbed after decades of hard wear as rentals. They are in many ways a perfect home: small, snug, well-built, efficient and ergonomic, attractive. Because so many of the core neighborhoods around the university campus and downtown contain bungalows, those who are lucky enough to live in them can bicycle or walk nearly everywhere. They are people-friendly in that the deep front porches make it convenient to hang out and wave to the neighbors and engage in conversation with passing friends.

Pasadena, California, has a huge bungalow neighborhood called “Bungalow Heaven.” I’ve driven through it and it’s extremely impressive. See

See American Bungalow magazine’s excellent description of different styles of bungalows at

Gamble House in Pasadena is a wonderful two-story bungalow-mansion.

And Chicago has a web page devoted to its own peculiar brick porchless bungalows,





From → Houses

  1. Having grown up around the corner from the university house and having lived a few doors down from the college house that my grandmother had lived in for a time, I find your inclusion of these photos heartening that they still exist when so many do not. As a child I played in so many empty houses awaiting the final blow, wandered around the construction sites that replaced them (The houses that stood where the optometry building now stands comes to mind.) Bloomington has always been moving forward at breakneck speed, so nice that you and Bloomington Fading are making the attempt to capture what is frail and ephemeral. Thanks Bro.

  2. Thanks for writing, Chessley! Your own family bungalow was a very pretty one and appears to have a good owner again after some intervening years of neglect. I remember houses on the north side of Atwater, now all gone, alas. Long ago, you and I entered an old house on East Sixth that was slated for demolition, only days before it was to be torn down, and the experience of seeing beautiful wood-paneled walls and beveled glass french doors that would soon be reduced to kindling made a historic preservationist out of me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: