"When both inside and outside work hand in hand, the result is a home that extends far beyond its actual walls." Sarah Susanka, Home By Design
|Small variations in wall planes extend the building into the landscape, helping unify them|
Bungalows are a vehicle for attaining 'the good life', conceived as ownership of a cozy home in a gardened setting where modern conveniences come in the form of a stylized rural cottage. This house type first acquired its home-in-a-garden character when adapted by British engineers in Bengal, India, where bungalows were built in cantonments on the outskirts of cities. The surrounding plot of land served to set the bungalow apart from traditional, inward-facing housing in Bengali cities. From the start, the native bungalow was more open to its surroundings than typical European housing, due in part to the need for relief from Bengal's suffocating heat. Relief from heat and shelter from torrential rains also lay behind the verandah, a typifying feature providing shaded exterior space that sometimes wrapped around the entire building. The British adaptation of the bungalow evolved these and other features in the separated landscape settings they occupied.
Rendered architecturally by arts-and-crafts designers, the North American version of the bungalow sought to marry building structure to surrounding landscape while offering artistic and technical devices for gaining or moderating climatic effects. The capture of light in room layouts, of breezes on porches and inside by means of sash windows, and of views and glimpses as one moved around the sequence of spaces, all served to bring the outside into the interior and link people visually and experientially to surroundings and climate. The benign quality of climate in southern California, where the modern bungalow was contrived, drove design in this direction - but the spirit of openness and exposure accompanied these buildings wherever they were built, however impractically in harsher climates. In what follows I try to illustrate how architect Hubert Savage brought the outside in and kept it present throughout his own house, without sacrificing comfort and security. As both client and architect, he enjoyed the freedom to experiment with designs blending artfulness, natural materials and controlled exposure to the elements.
Early bungalows were often built as recreational housing in suburban or country locales where nature offered both setting and views. These dwellings afforded escape from growing cities into a more artistic world in a health-giving environment. By design, they encouraged families to experience air, light, season and surroundings in meaningful yet carefully controlled ways. A familiar example is the fashion for impressive wood-burning fireplaces of fieldstone or brick, more decorative than essential for heating, that enabled a relationship with fire as an elemental force that could be safely and pleasurably consumed. Even modest bungalows come with at least one fireplace, usually the centrepiece of living room design and a focal point for family gathering. This interest in building controlled forms of exposure to nature into houses differs pointedly from contemporary housing, which prioritizes withdrawal and cocooning in interior worlds more fully insulated from nature and climate.
|From the road, the building appears ensconced in its own landscape setting|
|A curving stone path rises gently up to the verandah|
|Upthrusting gable roofs echo the forms of tall Douglas Firs edging the oak meadow|
|Rough stone piers cement building and landform together|
|Rustic steps rise to a welcoming verandah entry|
|The temptation to enjoy a seat (and a book and coffee) in the surroundings is built in|
|Far removed from the road, the verandah offers an inviting perch on an early spring day|
The verandah is simultaneously indoor and outdoor space, sheltered yet connected, functional yet invitingly social. One is both in the setting, enjoying the daylight and a gentle breeze, yet slightly removed from it and protected if necessary. Because the house is set high up on a rock outcropping, it has the feeling of being an aerie that's safely removed from the busy world. Low railings with a timbered look define the enclosure while serving as informal seating, providing a perch from which nature and the passing world may be observed.
|Light fills the vestibule, offsetting its dark wood panelling|
|A window used to frame views of nature and building|
|Ample windows admit sunlight to a dark-panelled living room|
|Windows in a bay extend the building into the landscape and capture views|
|Light from south facing windows blasts into the living room, warming it visually in a long winter.|
|Indirect morning light through casement windows expands the apparent size of a modest room|
|A window seat with leaded glass casements draws nature near|
|Originally open, now enclosed, a sun room with built-in seating|
|Windows framing views that change with the season, this in autumn|
|Same window, different season, this time a lush early spring garden scene|
|Late afternoon light in summer reaches deep into the kitchen, imparting a warm glow|
Above, generous sash windows set low in the wall plane invite sunlight deep into the interior, visually warming the rooms and connecting occupants directly to the day while pulling the eye out into the surrounding greenery. Even in the weaker light of winter there's considerable solar gain and the interiors are visually warmed into a cozy, inviting space (heat is still needed!). These large, vertical windows are set a mere thirty inches from the floor, strengthening visual access to the sheltered garden beyond.
|Light reaches into the tiny central hallway, even in February|
|Bumping portions of the wall planes outwards spreads the building into the landscape|
|Seeing the exterior from inside reinforces their connection|
|Setting the building directly on the land makes appear to grow from the ground|
|Here the building actually steps up the landform, knitting architecture and outcrops together|
|A barge board brought so close to ground its chiselled tail had to be clipped for safety|
|The garden contrived as an enclave that extends the habitable world outwards|
|A patio 'room' of oblong pavers marks the transition from building to garden|
|Informal outdoor rooms arrange garden space and invite human enjoyment of day and season|
|Loose arrangement of buildings and sitting spaces integrates with the remnant oak meadow|
|Even April sleet can serve as an interesting spectacle from a sheltered verandah|
|Pallid light in winter, falling on natural and built objects, creates a scene of the moment|
A complex and intimate relationship between an open building and a natural or gardened setting is now decidedly old-fashioned, something the modern eye has been conditioned not to seek or even notice. Subdivision development typically maximizes interior space, leaving only shallow setback strips between houses and paving over much of what might have been front garden to pander to the automobile. Proximity of neighbouring buildings means sidewalls often have few windows and there is rarely a reason to ever look at or go to these spaces other than to mow lawn. Also, more generous landscape settings around older homes rarely survive generational change as there is simply too much money to be made by raiding the development larder, whether as subdivision or by tearing down and then building out the entire cube defined by setbacks.
Remnants of early suburbia displaying a balance between built objects and surroundings reflect an openness and curiosity that people once were encouraged to explore in the very way their homes were designed. While this is arguably a romanticizing of nature (which is hardly benign), it has the virtue of opening up access to realms of pleasurable experience that transform a house into a home in a garden. Buildings with these attributes remain suggestive of ways of dwelling that engage us directly in observing and tending our surroundings while exposing us in pleasurable ways to the variety of nature's moods. But, anyone tempted towards this situation had better be interested in gardening, or at least prepared to manage landscape actively, because nature really does want to run right up to the door and living closer to it is a hands-on experience.
|You'd better enjoy gardening if you choose a country locale|
Next post: a painted frieze by English artist Lawson Wood adds an element of original art as a built-in feature in the Savage bungalow.