Bungalows: The Other “Modern”

We’ve talked a about modern houses before – Ranches, and Mid-Century Moderns – but there’s another “modern” house from the early 20th century that most people don’t recognize as modern. 

The Craftsman Movement, out of Southern California, resulted in hundreds of thousands of bungalows and craftsman-styled foursquares being built all over the nation. These are the first truly modern American houses.

Modern Yes, modern. The Craftsman Movement was all about a new American style of life. America was still a relatively new country, free of the cultural baggage of age-old Europe and free to expand into the wide-open spaces of North America. Craftsman living was about hearth and family, and (relatively) informal living. There were no references to historical architecture– no Greek columns, no medieval toweres. It was entirely new - fresh, and modern - just like America.

Innovative Craftsman houses were “open concept”. Even in smaller examples, living spaces were open and flowed from one room to another. Living room, sun room, and dining room were often one large L-shaped space, not divided into boxy rooms. This was new.

They were also marketed in new ways. Over the first 30 years of the 20th century more than 100,000 “pre-cut” houses were sold via mail order and shipped by rail all over the country to be assembled on the buyer’s lot by carpenters or contractors. Most of these were Craftsman-style bungalows. Many companies offered these houses. Aladdin was the largest, but Sears is the most well-remembered these days.

All-American The Craftsman style was enthusiastically embraced in every corner of the nation. Bungalows and craftsman foursquares were built by the thousands in towns and in cities – and even way out in the country. It’s hard to go anywhere in America without running into a craftsman style house.

Livable Craftsman-style houses work well these days. With 9 ft. or higher ceilings and space flowing from room to room, they feel bigger than they are. Many people want bigger kitchens and more bathrooms than Craftsmans offer – even the larger foursquares were often built with only one bathroom – but sensitive additions can make up for these deficits.

With Americans moving back into cities, Craftsman houses tend to be perfectly located. And although you can find a bungalow pretty much anywhere, they tend to be concentrated in what were early suburbs built along streetcar lines. Now these areas are seen as part of the urban core.

Open concept, tall ceilings, centrally located and a look that many people identify with comfort, coziness and the best of the past —what’s not to love?


How to spot a craftsman-style house

The photos above are all pretty typical – ranging from small on the left, to medium, to a larger foursquare on the right. Commonplace features include a big front porch, often with a gable facing the street, porch columns wider at the bottom than at the top, and brackets under wide overhanging eaves.