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Book Review

Bungalow Details: Exterior

By Julie Kolb

Each month for the past year I have been lucky to tour bungalows around San Diego, interviewing the homeowners and sharing the stories of these houses with the readers of the North Park News. I never fail to enjoy discovering the details that make each house unique, for no matter how many times I step inside these bungalows; I have yet to find two that are exactly alike. Reading Bungalow Details: Exterior, by author Jane Powell and photographer Linda Svendsen, shed light on the magical nature of bungalow design that continues to delight those of us who consider ourselves modern bungalow fans.

Powell, who is not the first author to assess the continuing appeal of bungalows, opens the book with a historic perspective on the bungalow. Included in this overview are the political, social, and artistic influences of the era. This is a story that has been told before, and for regular readers of bungalow books, much of this information will merely restate what is already known. However, the value of the book lies not in the historic overview, but in the delivery of what her title promises: details.

Besides what should be a mandatory reading of Chapter 2: "Good House Keeping" - a chapter that includes "Erik's Bungalow Manifesto" written by SOHO's own Erik Hanson's and that pointedly reminds readers of the importance of maintenance for any house, bungalow or not - readers need not start at the beginning of this book. Instead, readers can easily read chapters out of order depending upon what part of the house they may be interested in learning more about.

Logically laid out, the book starts with all things related to the tops of bungalows in Chapter 3. Each subsequent chapter addresses a major aspect of bungalow construction and design. For example, Chapter 5: "Grand Openings" identifies the numerous styles of wood windows found in bungalows, addresses and encourages wood window repair, and suggests options for window screens. The chapter also covers the importance of front doors, door design, and door trim to bungalow design.

Individual chapters are broken down into subsections that identify and explain the variations of construction and design found within the bungalow genre. Design variations are the result of many forces including: regional skill sets of the craftsmen and artisans who built these houses, differing climate requirements throughout the United States and Canada, and access to and popularity of different building materials. In cities like Chicago where house fires were a major urban concern, many bungalows were built with brick. In Southern California, bungalows are clad in wood siding, split shingles or stucco.

In addition to identifying and explaining exterior design elements, Powell has included restoration recommendations for each subsection. These are divided into what she calls the "Obsessive Restoration" guide and the "Compromise Solution." Often enough, bungalow restoration work and maintenance are affected by the realities of a homeowner's budget. While Powell provides tips for obsessive restorations that are sometimes expensive, she also offers solution that meet the spirit and intent of bungalow design but that may offer a more reasonably priced or more easily available alternative.

Throughout the book, she is very clear as to what alterations to a bungalow are completely unacceptable in her book including the don'ts of installing solar tubes in a bungalow or replacing wood windows with vinyl. Addressing the numerous options for rain gutters on a bungalow, Powell writes, "You can also buy vinyl gutters. Don't."

Each chapter concludes with a resource guide which Powell notes is as comprehensive as she could make it. While offering the resource guides as one source of solutions, she also encourages reader and bungalow owners to "deal locally if possible" when searching for the craftsmen and components needed to restore and repair a bungalow. (A good place to start a local search is with SOHO's Resource Directory.)

For homeowners who have difficulty telling the difference between a footing and a knee brace, Powell's style makes understanding construction terminology an easy task. The potential benefits of developing this knowledge are saving time, money, and frustration. Before hiring a contractor or before beginning a do-it-yourself project, homeowners would do well to consult this book. The explanations of common problems, maintenance issues, and misinformation will better prepare homeowners to tackle the work.

Accompanying the text are the many and varied photographs taken by Linda Svendsen as well as countless illustrations reproduced from magazines, brochures, plan books and advertisements published during the bungalow building heyday. The plentiful photographs and illustrations enhance the details that Powell describes in her text.

Written from a decidedly first person perspective, Powell makes plain her opinions on the preservation of bungalows, the value of maintenance, her environmental concerns, and her color preferences. She adamantly and repeatedly points out that white is not always the best trim color for a Craftsman bungalow, and a monochrome paint scheme for the exterior of a house is boring and inconsistent with the intent of bungalow design.

For fans of author Jane Powell, puns both good and bad are an integral part of her style, and humorous comments are to be found liberally included within the text. Bungalow Details: Exterior is an enjoyable read that provides a wealth of practical information for bungalow homeowners.

Copies of Bungalow Details: Exterior, as well as similar books specializing in a variety of historic house designs, can be found at our very own SOHO Museum Shop, 2476 San Diego Avenue in Old Town San Diego.

2005 - Volume 36, Issue 2


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