The word “bungalow” comes from the Indian word bangla, which, in the 19th century, referred to houses built in the Bengal style. Bangla were thatched roof cottages that had low roofs and porches built around them. A bungalow style home as people know it today was created when British colonial administrators adapted this classic style of Indian architecture to build their summer retreats, organizing all the typical rooms of a house on one floor around a central parlor. The style became popular in Europe as a form of resort lodging and made its way to America in 1879, when William Gibbons Preston designed a two-story version to be built on Monument Beach in Cape Cod.
The house style's roots in warm weather explain many of its heat reducing features. These homes usually have only one floor, although some variations are one and a half stories tall, meaning that they have two levels, but the second floor covers less surface area than the ground floor. They have low-pitched roofs with wide, overhanging eaves. The large foundation needed to create a whole house on only one floor translates to a roof with a large surface area; the attics of these houses, therefore, absorb a great deal of excess heat in the summer. Large porches are considered hallmarks of the style; stone chimneys leading to substantial and prominently placed fireplaces are another favorite feature of the homes.
The heyday for the American bungalow style home began during the mass migration to California in the early 1900s. Two architects in California — Charles Sumner Greene and Henry Mather Greene, known collectively as Greene and Greene — created one and a half story homes whose designs became so quickly and hugely popular that it was soon possible to order mass-produced building sets via the mail. The homes were well suited to the California sun and thousands of them were constructed to accommodate the state’s burgeoning population. Such houses have become particularly linked with California; the versions found there are aptly named “California bungalows.”
The architectural golden period for the homes came during their association with the Arts and Crafts movement. Craftsman style bungalows employ a wide range of materials in their interiors and exteriors and place an emphasis on the happy marriage of materials and quality construction. The movement arose in response to the heavily ornate Victorian style and the homes of this variety reflect a more relaxed attitude. Craftsman homes, with their stone hearths and ample porches, are beloved for the impression they give of simple, comfortable hominess. Homes in this style were particularly popular in Chicago, where several suburbs are known for their rows of them.
The style continues to be a favorite among home buyers and new waves of construction frequently occur throughout the United States. As one-story homes, they promise ease of mobility for older or disabled owners and make maintenance and cleaning less strenuous for all owners. These Indian imports, with their unpretentious good looks and cozy atmospheres, have become American classics.