Friday, April 6, 2012

Victoria's Colonial Bungalow Fling: 1890-1914

'We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.'
W. S. Churchill

A ground-hugging stone-and-brick foundation, faceted bay window, verandah tucked under the main roof, fancy art glass in a fixed pane beside a front door: all the charms of a modest Colonial bungalow.

Well before the California bungalow came along and swept Victoria off its feet, the city enjoyed a lingering affair with an earlier adaptation of this imported house type. For nearly twenty-five years, starting about 1890, bungalows of ‘colonial’ pedigree appeared along the edges of downtown and in newly emerging suburbia. Mostly workaday, affordable housing, these modern single-storey homes could sometimes be quite gorgeous.

While the Colonial bungalow wouldn’t ultimately rival its youthful California cousin, it effectively brought new lifestyle possibilities to many first-time homeowners. Sometimes dressed up more elegantly on larger lots for a wealthier clientele, a few were even designed as high-style dwellings to serve as rural estates or weekend retreats.
This fetching bungalow on a large corner lot appears not to be heritage-listed. (CLICK ON PICTURES TO ENLARGE).

In the U.S., the term ‘colonial’ relates to a revival of housing types  associated with America's colonial phase. Here in Victoria, ‘colonial’ refers to a house type integral to the British Imperial experience in India, reaching all the way back to a lowly Indian bungalow with a defining hipped roof-form and a surrounding verandah. Victoria's Colonial bungalow is an imported, stylized version of this Anglo-Indian dwelling, a source it shares with the later California bungalow but one whose original form it models more closely.

The experience of living in bungalows transformed the lives of their English inhabitants, creating lasting associations that accompanied the building when it was imported into England and then dispersed throughout the Empire. Life in these single-storey, low-sitting dwellings took a shape very different from the tightly ordered and conventional one back home. It was much more open spatially and more separate physically, while in practice it was far less formal and socially confining. This was especially true of life on the verandah, an intermediate social and physical space where ideas of 'free and easy' living took hold. For it was in the cool relief from scorching heat on the bungalow's deep fronting verandah, under its often hipped and sometimes exaggerated roof form, that informality of conversation and manners, and a more relaxed approach to social life, developed.

Successive iterations of the Anglo-Indian bungalow elaborated the verandah as both an outdoor room and as a novel and appealing social space. One enters a bungalow through this transitional environment, and the experience of entering and lingering carried unique impressions. As the verandah's design came to be refined, the building's shape evolved around it. Over time its elements became more playful and eclectic, absorbing features from European architecture - like classical detailing - quite readily. When the bungalow came to be built outside of India, a hipped roof with a recessed verandah was frequently employed to invoke the building type. A significant fronting verandah under a styled hip roof was thus both symbolically and practically important when a local version of the Colonial bungalow began taking shape.  
This is said to be one of the oldest surviving Colonial bungalows in Victoria, built in 1890. A single storey with a welcoming verandah,  faceted bay window, and elaborate dormers in a hipped roof place this building on the CB continuum. Yet its materials and detailing still resemble buildings that preceded it as much as prefiguring the typical styling of a fully realized Colonial bungalow.
Little is known about how this building type came to be ‘indigenized’ in Victoria alone in all of British Columbia – only that at a certain point, it appears as a staple builder’s house-type with well-defined features, and that for several decades it was quite popular. Versions of it were built in other British dominions like New Zealand and Australia, taking shapes particular to each region. It may be the case that the local interest in what became its classic shape was first piqued back in 1860, when W.O. Tiedeman built a cluster of administrative buildings with hipped bungalow-style roofs for the then-Colony of Vancouver Island. See 'The Birdcages' (pp 3/4).
This 1914 stunner has a full-width porch that wraps around both corners, its roof supported by slender Tuscan-revival columns. Designed for the McBeath family by architect Hoult Horton, with classical detailing and sleeping porches.

Victoria's version of this globalizing dwelling merits greater attention as heritage, especially as a harbinger of the housing revolution triggered by the California bungalow. Colonial bungalows capably (and in the hands of local architects, elegantly) rendered key features of the original Anglo-Indian bungalow, whose oblong shape was often capped by either a huge pyramidal or hipped roof.

This type of bungalow became popular enough to now be classed as a ‘vernacular’ building – meaning that it rooted itself locally with distinctive interpretations. It anticipates the era of systematic, large-scale suburban development that emerged in the pre-WW1 building boom across North America, being erected by local builders in small clusters or as singletons on many inner-ring streets.

Compared with two-storey houses, bungalows were relatively cheap to construct using the standardized dimensional lumber and stock components available at low prices, so became a preferred choice of speculative builders. In its day the bungalow's horizontal look would have appeared decidedly modern, pointing a sharp contrast to the narrow verticality of many Victorian homes.
Built in trios on spec by smallscale builders in emerging suburbia...CLICK ON PICS TO ENLARGE
How its shape congealed into the pattern we recognize today isn’t exactly clear, but by about 1900 its hipped roof-form and dormers had become characteristic features. Indeed, this roof form seems to have developed a life of its own, appearing on many two-storey homes as well.
A similar hipped roof on a handsome two-storey Foursquare house.CLICK ON PICS TO ENLARGE.
Early builder versions often came very plainly adorned, with only a dwarf dormer (or none at all) in a hipped roof that usually flared at the edges. Over time builders came to offer stock layouts with scope for clients to select from menus of features that provided more elaborate detailing. Many of these features improve both interior and exterior appearances, adding touches of art and luxury.
No dormers on this plainjane builder's version
A single dormer in this well-proportioned, no-frills builder's bungalow
Over time and with greater interest shown by architects the dormers grew larger and multiplied, acquiring finer proportions and, along with verandahs, windows and other features, more detailing.

The dormers on this rambling Colonial are modest but finely proportioned. Note the projecting sunroom under a gable roof at the left corner.

This dormer also serves as a sleeping porch - the gabled roof is not a frequent choice. CLICK ON PICS TO ENLARGE
Dormer roof-lines often mimicked the graceful lift of the main roof form, even on humbler versions. These 'small cabins' set within the larger roof form would have driven up costs, but added considerably to space and appearances.
Even on a workaday builder's model, the dormers echo the curving lines of the main roof.

Growing interest by better-off clients led to architect involvement and finer proportioning and finishing.

Like its California cousin, the Colonial bungalow exhibited great variation of key features: pier and column treatments, verandah widths and placements, plinth or base treatments, and detailing of bays and windows. Inventiveness around the mix of features allows differentiation of structures even in repetitive subdivision layouts. This ability to vary facades would later become the forte of the California bungalow in the hands of promoters and development companies.

Elegant scroll-sawn balusters between cobblestone piers on a full-width verandah. Architect L.W. Hargreaves designed this stately bungalow in 1911-12.
Cantilevered bay windows vary the wall planes in this 1911 bungalow by designer/builder James Fairall.

This 1904 house is set close to the ground it occupies.
A bay with a fixed window flanked by sash windows with pretty art glass above each.
Over time, the attic under its sometimes massive roof was increasingly conscripted for use as living or sleeping space by means of enlarged dormers, a history to be repeated by the California bungalow. Also, by the early twentieth century these bungalows appeared ever-more smartly dressed, as the building form drew the attention of architects who evolved and refined their features.
A well-maintained classy Colonial on that rarity in town, a lot of ample size.

It’s not surprising that a dwelling type from a distant corner of a global empire should show up and become popular in another of that empire’s reaches. Victoria was the capital of England's westernmost colony and British surveyors did most of the reconnoitring and laying out of the future province. It remained a very English place even after independence in 1871, attracting droves of British surveyors, architects, merchants, tradesmen and builders as well as people pursuing military or administrative careers in the British Empire. Victoria also served as HQ for the British Pacific fleet up until 1914.

Local ties to England and pride in the British Empire meant a receptive audience for an imperial icon of domestic comfort, perhaps especially one symbolizing safe haven in a new land and a changing world. But these bungalows also qualified as more-affordable housing for a growing middle class in good economic times. Their advent coincided with a desire to own coupled with the means to acquire, expanding the market for housing built ‘on spec’ (for sale to unknown buyers). This was a precursor to subdivision housing by land development companies.
A well-dressed, modest 1909 house, one of four designed by architect A. M. Muir for sale as speculative housing.

In addition to their imperial cachet, these bungalows also simultaneously conveyed impressions of the less-formal, more-relaxed way of living associated with the original Anglo-Indian bungalow. Overall the bungalow had a distinctly anti-Victorian undertone, reinforced by its association with the British arts-and-crafts movement and its use in England for coastal and rural retreats.

Today the Colonial bungalow can still be recognized by its typical physical features: hipped roofline (usually flaired), styled dormers, broad verandah, distinctive doorway, and projecting bay windows. And it nearly always comes with wooden cladding, typically shingles or drop-siding, both abundant materials manufactured from the surrounding Douglas Fir forests. 
Built in 1913 for a local painter and decorator, this renewed Colonial has numerous classy features.
Even the average Colonial usually came with a few touches of elegance, among them small fixed panes of leaded or art glass, often placed above opening windows in front or side bays.
Small panes of art-glass over a trio of casement windows in a boxed bay tucked under a broad soffit.

Canted corner with diamond-paned leaded glass and a pane of leaded art glass to the right. Note the Shingle style treatments over the windows of this 1902-3 bungalow.
The hipped roofline that defines the building's form is often flaired or bellcast at the edges, imparting a very graceful look. When the soffits (or eaves) are left open and the rafter tails are exposed, the visual effect makes me think of raptor wings extending for flight.
This beautiful bungalow has bay windows flanking a front door in a classic leaded glass surround. There's no better word than graceful to describe its rooflines. (CLICK ON PICS TO ENGLARGE).

Consistent with the Anglo-Indian bungalow, the Colonial is a decidedly horizontal building, a characteristic emphasized when its single-storey is kept close to the ground and its roof form is pulled low.
The bell-cast roof not only looks distinctive with its slight lift at the edges, but this feature also enables projection further out over the walls, thereby dramatizing its sheltering role. Many Colonial bungalows feature enclosed soffits supported by stylized brackets in pairs, reinforcing a theme of classical detailing.

Brackets in pairs support an enclosed soffit as part of an entablature - mimicking what was originally made with dressed stone in antiquity. CLICK ON PICS TO ENLARGE.
This pronounced projection out over the walls feels secure and protective, carrying over the sense of safe retreat long associated with bungalows in India and soon to be successfully incarnated in the California idiom.
Columns often come in trios at the corners, anticipating the Craftsman bungalow style.
Because the styles and treatments of both bungalow types overlap in the pre-war period, Craftsman/oriental detailing begins to show up more often. 

Oriental effects are apparent in the sawn brackets and the slightly curved gable end.
A fronting verandah, often spanning the building's entire width or even wrapping around a corner, is clearly a defining feature. Verandahs are intended to serve as outdoor rooms, conveying an impressive look and distinctive sense of entry while inviting lingering and relaxation.

A full-width verandah that also wraps around a corner to create a recessed entryway.

Half width verandah wrapped around a corner under a projecting hipped roof, stucco piers and tapered brackets.
Piers, usually shingled or made of river rock or split stone and often tapered, lend an air of solidity and bearing to this one-storey dwelling, and support  either columns of turned wood or timber posts that may be detailed or simply left plain.
A finely wrought sandstone foundation sends tapered piers right up to support a recessed verandah roof.
Classical revival columns support this half-width verandah. Note the tiny bird houses on the dormers!
Chamfered timber posts are emphasized by a dramatic colour contrast. This dwelling exhibits considerable decorative exuberance!
Slender, clustered Tuscan revival columns anchor these corners.

Chunky square columns support the massive gable roof projected over this verandah.

Samuel Maclure's 1906 Gore house with its untypical exposed raftertails and 'expressed' joinery. Note the vertical structural brackets, a la Stickley. Interest in this novel, ground-hugging bungalow was widespread.
Verandah and entryway are often recessed under the main, massive roof form. The verandah could run across the full width of the front, or share space with well-proportioned bay windows under the main roof. 
Here a recessed entry is flanked by two projecting bays for a symmetrical facade. The detailing is exceptional.
However, the verandah could also be projected out from the main building, as it often is on California bungalows, sometimes anticipating or borrowing its design vocabulary.

Here the verandah is gained with a projecting hip roof, the entry recessed under the main roof.

While verandahs running the full width kept faith with the original Anglo-Indian bungalow, in practice treatments were often varied using projecting bays in asymmetric facades.

It's a climb to reach this projected, welcoming verandah, safely set high on the rocks.

The Colonial bungalow's usual floorplan is Georgian, with a central vestibule and access corridor, and most rooms off it on both sides. All of the principal rooms are on the main floor – although like the California bungalow, the attic was more and more conscripted for use as the desire for added living and storage space grew.
Window treatments show great variety and careful detailing, sometimes anticipating future trends. The trios of sash windows favoured in Craftsman homes in the Pacific Northwest are not infrequent, casements are used liberally, and projecting, asymmetric elements are used to create intimate interior and indoor/outdoor spaces.
This house tucks its entry way behind a sunroom under a projecting hipped roof. Judging from the wooden railing between the stone piers, this room was likely once an open verandah.
Most often Colonial bungalows were wooden buildings sided with fir shingles, but they could also come with drop siding. Typically they also sport a water-table and belt course, beneath which the siding treatment varies.
This 1914 bungalow has drop siding above the belt course, with shingles (in grey) beneath. 'Mountain View' had its front sleeping porch reopened as part of a careful restoration.
Brick was less frequently used to side homes after 1900 in Victoria (due likely to the growing availability of milled lumber at low prices) but there are still several brick Colonials.
This 1905 Colonial Bungalow was built by bricklayer William Heatherbell, who worked on many fine buildings in Victoria.
And even random fieldstone and boulders could on occasion be used to dress a bungalow's exterior.

This 1908 Colonial was built by mason A. W. Roberts for Josiah and Ellen Bull, local Saanich farmers.
Artist-architects like B.C.’s Samuel Maclure designed loosely in both California (i.e. gabled) and Colonial (i.e. hipped) bungalow styles. But Maclure was most innovative in his uses of the hipped roofline - always pulled low on houses sitting close to the land - ultimately finding ways to abstract it for a look that was modern but still linked to the past.

Maclure's 1906 Gore house in fashionable Rockland caused a stir, resulting in many commissions for Maclure bungalows. The current colour scheme is unfortunate.
Typically, Colonial bungalows came to sit higher than their Anglo-Indian relatives, being set on a full or semi-basement that often rises quite far out of the ground (this in part driven by the need to accommodate a furnace and storage). This results in a feeling of upthrust that moderates the horizontal effect. Today it may in fact facilitate preservation, as bungalows on high basements are relatively easily duplexed.
This charming Colonial sits high on the land, its basement well out of the ground. Its roofline forms a 'witches cap'.
This height distinguishes them clearly from the early, low-set California bungalow, yet this same tendency to have a house crown a projecting basement came to typify most Craftsman bungalows throughout the Pacific Northwest. A harsh, wet climate perhaps drove design in this direction.
The use of dormers not only gained additional living space but greatly individualized a building’s personality. At some point, one or two of these dormers were transformed into open sleeping porches, an arts-and-crafts idea to increase contact with nature that also anticipates the California style. Despite their impracticality in a rainy climate like Victoria's, they served as a spur to decorative refinement and led to some highly fanciful touches.
Architect Thomas Hooper added this  Shingle-style sleeping porch to his family home.
Later Hooper adapted it to this large Colonial bungalow.
Designer James Fairall was also inspired to create a Shingle-style rendering.

The Anglo-Indian bungalow was invariably built in a compound surrounded by gardens, a choice that happily placed all the rooms, including sleeping quarters, in closer contact with nature. This sense of being in its own compound also animated life on the verandah, helping it to serve as secure outdoor room where a cosy informality of decor and behaviour could develop.
While the informality was transferred to the Colonial version, the obligatory compound around the building was not always well-provided-for in subdivision layouts.  The footprint of these buildings tended to be a wide oblong shape to accomodate the layout of rooms off a central hallway, yet they were often built on fairly narrow city lots cheek-by-jowl with neighbours. With all the width allocated to interior layout, there was often not enough space remaining to provide the building with a landscape setting.
An extreme instance of the proximity of buildings in narrow-lot subdivisions, here butting a Col bung up against a Cal bung (both classically detailed and both of which appear to have been raised to accommodate suites).
This spatial limitation could help explain the building’s ultimate loss of appeal among builders and clients, as its wider footprint would require a relatively large lot in order not to feel cramped. Truncated, narrowed versions abound, with the entry moved to one side and the floorplan adjusted for narrower lot widths. Yet this house type doesn’t appear to have managed to make the leap that gave the California bungalow pride of place in newly emerging suburbias in every North American city. The Cal Bung’s innovative open interior plan came with built-in design tricks that maximized feelings of spaciousness in what was at first a very small house.
This 1911-12 cluster comprises some of the first 'authentic' California-style bungalows built speculatively in Victoria. Their flattened gable roofs and fanciful, vaguely oriental, timber verandahs contrast with Col Bung classical styles. There is rarely any turned wood on a California bungalow, outside or in.
Discovering surviving colonials today, one is often struck by the lack of a surrounding landscape, which these charming buildings seem to call out for. Even fairly modest additions of greenery can have a transformative effect. When, on rare occasions, one is enveloped in a garden setting, the effect is beguiling and the house feels complete.

This 1906 version, once overlaid with asbestos-cement siding, has been returned to its original glory. Elegant details abound: chamfered timber posts, bracketed verandah, art glass, and canted corner window. Best of all, it's situated in a garden setting on a sloping site.
Ultimately the Colonial bungalow was simply trumped by fashion and the economics of subdivisions – the model changed and a craze developed for a more modern look and more open floorplan. Nevertheless, many original bungalow associations central to the California rendering were already evident in the Colonial version, and now await only discovery and application of TLC by contemporary owners.

This Colonial bungalow is re-emerging from imprisonment under a suffocating coating of asbestos cement tiles (yet to come off the wall to the left). Caring owners saw the charm and resolved to bring it back.
Clearly both types of bungalow drew from a common well of inspiration and overlapped stylistically, even as the California version rose in popularity. So, there's scope to speculate about a mixed or transitional form, in which California bungalow features, like a projecting, gable-roofed entryway, are grafted onto the Colonial bungalow’s hipped roof form.

This projecting gable forms a Craftsman-like entryway to a transitional Colonial Bungalow showing Craftsman details like the window in the gable peak. Likely this verandah has been enclosed to gain an interior room.
Gable roofs were added to the central hipped roof to articulate the building long before Craftsman bungalows came along. This 1892 Colonial is a veritable fruitcake of details drawn from Queen Anne and other Victorian styles. Unfortunately it has been raised, but happily it has been conserved and is now a B&B. It has 12-foot ceilings!

Here the gabled-over verandah has become enormous, supported on huge columns. Oriental, classical and craftsman detailing (verge board, window trims) disport in an unusual symbiosis.

The knee braces under the gable ends and the window trim suggest a Craftsman influence.
In some regards the Colonial bungalow anticipates its competitor but, rather like Neanderthal humans, it appears to play no obvious role in actually shaping its evolution. They simply weren't adopted as a basic unit of the emerging suburbia fashioned increasingly by bungalow development companies after WW1.
Colonial bungalow features did however migrate into at least several west-coast bungalow designs. For example, Hubert Savage’s idiosyncratic home, while clearly influenced by the California style, does incorporate the Colonial bungalow's enclosed soffits, belt course and a water table.
Victoria architect Hubert Savage incorporated Colonial bungalow features like enclosed soffits, water table and belt course into his 1913 bungalow. Drop siding was common to both bungalow types.
The Colonial bungalow’s graceful roof forms, inspired verandah layouts, and flights of fancy in dormer design enjoyed further life in some of the many ‘Foursquare’ houses built for larger families throughout the bungalow era. As the Victoria Heritage foundation notes, Foursquares were often just Colonial bungalows with a second storey cleverly popped under them.
Cheap to build, these Foursquares or Prairie Boxes are 'essentially a two-storey version of the Colonial Bungalow' (This Old House, Volume Three, 2007: Architectural Styles Guide).
Interest in the Anglo-Indian bungalow roofline also took a decidedly abstract turn in the hands of some local arts-and-crafts architects. In the thrall of English architect CFA Voysey, they were inspired to experiment with greatly exaggerated bungalow roof forms. 
H.J.Rous Cullin designed this striking bungalow in 1912, obviously influenced by Voysey.

Over-scale buttresses show some similarity to Onchan Village Hall (1897-8) by Baillie Scott, also influenced by Voysey.
While very early on Samuel Maclure designed bungalows along Cal bung lines, he also was inspired by the Colonial bungalow form over several decades, beginning with his own Superior Street family home in 1899 (sadly demolished). Eventually he wound up abstracting the hipped roof in one direction for buildings like the Gore, Lamb and Campbell houses (combining vertical Tudor-ish siding with a slightly flaired roof).

A 1912 Maclure board-and-batten Colonial Bungalow for the Lamb family in Oak Bay.

Another 1912 Colonial by Maclure - this time with no fronting verandah and, like Frank Lloyd Wright, no entry way visible from the street. This house is set back on the rocky outcrops in a garden.
But Maclure moved in a quite different direction - exaggerating a more severe and abstract hipped roof without a flair and coupling it with Shingle-style cladding - for estate and weekend homes.

Maclure designed this striking shingle-style bungaloid house in 1913 for C.B. Jones. Nominally Tudor-revival due to its dramatic entryway, the overscale hipped roof hints at Voysey and the Anglo-Indian bungalow. Note that the building is placed directly on the land, making it feel completely at one with its rocky hillside site.
These bungaloid homes caused quite a stir in their day, leading other designers to experiment with the more abstract massing developed by the early Victoria architects. Here's one unearthed on a walkabout in Oak Bay - I'd love to know when this was built and how many more like this are out there!

Note the extreme contrast between the dwarf dormer and the stubby, gargantuan column supporting a massive hipped gable shared by a projecting bay window and a recessed entry way. Outside of Maclure's minimalist essays, this is the most modern-looking Colonial I've discovered, with its smart roughcast stucco exterior and leaded glass windows.
The disappearance of the Colonial bungalow from new housing stock seems to coincide with the advent of the first world war (roughly 1914) – after that, when building resumed slowly four years later, the California bungalow was the preferred choice for new middle class housing. As a result, the existing stock of these bungalows in Victoria dates mostly from about 1890 to roughly 1914.

A complete inventory of these often-charming houses would be helpful to future conservation  efforts. Maintaining the vernacular term Colonial bungalow for these often worthy, sometimes-inspired buildings is preferable to obscuring their origins by calling them 'Edwardian bungalows' (and then dismissing them as 'ubiquitous'). Was Victoria in fact the only place in North America where these bungalows were vernacular housing? An answer to that question, along with a history of their use prior to emerging as a builders’ housing type, would be invaluable.

Books for looks: The Buildings of Samuel Maclure, by Martin Segger (1986), is a superb read with plans, drawings, and photographs that provide context for the analysis. Maclure achieved artistic expression at many levels of the domestic housing markets in Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia.

The Seattle Bungalow, People & Houses, 1900 - 1940, by Janet Ore (2007) is a fascinating history of 'the first modern house type' drawn from the record of a single Seattle family, the Stapps. It maps how the homebuilding industry evolved and the role small contractors played in adapting the form and materials for the modern bungalow. It also analyses the role played by bungalow promoters and development companies.

The Ontario Cottage: The Globalization of a British Form in the Nineteenth Century, Lynne D. Distefano, 2001; an insightful history of the connection between the Ontario Cottage and the Anglo-Indian bungalow. One wishes for a similar analysis of the process of localisation of the Anglo-Indian bungalow as Victoria's Colonial bungalow. Go to: Ontario Cottage


What's that rectangle on the wall?

What's that rectangle on the wall?
Upper vent for California cooler

Built-in specialty cupboard

Built-in specialty cupboard
Still in use, but not for cooling