Bungalows Low Roofs High Aspirations

Low Roofs, High Aspirations

I was in North Devon last month and passed a 1960’s / 70’s bungalow and the nostalgia started to kick in. I spent many of my formative years in a 1970’s bungalow, which at the time I was not to pleased about. From memory I had moved from a 1960’s 3 bed semi and probably made the instant association with moving into retirement housing.

This however was the full ‘whistles and bells’ bungalow with oversized, stone clad feature chimney, long, low shallow-pitched roof and all important entrance archway. In a similar way to the cars of the 60s and 70s, such as the Capri and Series A Manta, these homes borrowed visual identity from their Trans-Atlantic cousins. While the UK struggled for many years, post war, to improve its lot, North America appeared to be booming, and the results of this were available to see via a myriad of TV programs and movies.

In their own way these homes aspired to being the spacious, light and modern prairie houses and ranches so often seen in American sit-coms and shows, from the Brady Bunch to the Flintstones. And on the whole they continue to achieve this aspiration, with generously sized rooms and oversized, landscape windows. A variety of construction techniques were employed, including timber frame, steel frame and compressed straw board, for internal walls. But the majority have ‘good bones’ being constructed throughout from loadbearing masonry. These homes also tend to sit within generous plots with large front gardens proving ample space for blue hydrangeas and pampas grass as well as off road parking and garaging for the Austin 1100. There are also still many visually innovative, architect designed bungalows around the UK that are now very sought-after.

This trip down memory lane led me to wonder what the aspirational home of 2018 actually was, what are homebuyers aspiring to? Initially is this about simply being able to afford something, anything? The standard house today looks much the same as it did in 1980, or even 1960. The aspiration for some will be in terms of running costs, the separation over the last 30 years being hidden within the well insulated, airtight fabric. The focus appears to have moved towards the stuff we put inside, the Wi-Fi enabled technology, voice-controlled speakers and oversized ‘smart’ televisions, smart in capability at least, if not in appearance.

If you are after something properly aspirational there are smaller-volume homebuilders who are providing more interesting, contemporary and often zero-carbon homes, but these will be out of reach for the majority. With even more budget the turn-key German kit house is possibly the next step. If you can find an ‘affordable’ plot, self-building (in its many guises) can provide a surprisingly affordable alternative.

Currently, bungalows on the market generally come at an enhanced premium and, when you consider the generous plot sizes, this makes sense. There is also a steadily increasing market for these homes as our average population age rises. House builders are recognising this and building bungalows again, but I don’t see much change from 50 years ago, with constrained footprints and very little design flair. Have we taken a cynical backwards step, or two?

Despite the ‘of their time’ initial appearance the 1960’s bungalow can provide both great value for money and scope for enhancement and extension. With no upper floor to worry about the layouts can be easily modified, the large plot sizes leaving ample room for expansion. Many have, now largely useless, garages that can instantly realise additional accommodation. If there is a flaw it is that, for me at least, the preservation of private spaces is generally poor, leaving bedrooms and bathroom instantly exposed to anyone visiting. This can be improved with layout modifications that separate the dwelling into two clear sub-zones and with careful entrance placement.

After many years in the wilderness I think I’m falling in love with the 1960’s bungalow. If you can see through the layout issues, strap-pointed crazy paving clad facades and suburban iconography they can create spacious, light, flexible and future-proofed homes that can offer a lot more than the majority of the current new-build housing stock.

Dale's experience spans a wide range of project sectors, sizes and stages and has particular interests in environmental design and earth-sheltered construction. His favourite projects reuse and breathe new life into under-loved existing buildings.