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book review: Bungalow: The Ultimate A&C Home


Jane Powell and Linda Svendsen's Bungalow: The Ultimate Arts & Crafts Home is certainly the most attractive in their series (Bungalow Bathrooms, Kitchens, Exteriors) of coffee table picture books / fairy-tale idea books. In this new volume, the author and photographer have composed more of a paean to the Arts & Crafts bungalow than any type of descriptive deconstruction of the style and its endless permutations.

Powell & Svendsen's obvious fondness toward this particular building style is evident on every page, in the images and the descriptions of the many homes chosen. Those homes range from the strictest single-story examples to a wide array of homes imbued with the local style of their own communities throughout the United States, Canada, England and elsewhere in the world.

Part of the book is broken up into sections focusing specifically on regions and neighborhoods that embraced the bungalow and lent their own particular flavor: the suburbs of Chicago and Milwaukee and their Prairie-influenced bungalows; the Mission revival-influenced homes of Southern California (and the famous ultimate bungalows of Pasadena) and the wood-shingled homes of the San Francisco area that blend into that area's redwood and oak-filled hills; the wide-porched and columned stone-detailed homes of Memphis and the ornate and brightly-painted highwaters of Vancouver.

However, the authors do recognize that bungalow style reached its fruition here in California, with such ingredients as clinker brick, the high-grain oaks of the Craftsman furniture movement, wrought iron and hammered copper, decorative stencil and tilework and even Victorian wallpapers all coming together at the right time to truly embody the best aspects of the Craftsman tradition in homes that are far more examples of a philosophy than just places to live.

California, then, offers many of the finest examples of the interiors that fill the latter portion of the book - lush living and dining rooms, kitchens and baths that are sometimes spare and sometimes lavish in their decoration. It is here that the photography really shines: the rich colors, wood grain and other hallmarks of the Craftsman style are all on display, and Svendsen takes advantage of the lushness of these spaces in her well-lit and -composed images.

The book is written with humor and warmth, never taking its subject matter too seriously, which is a welcome alternative to many other books in the genre that treat these buildings as museum exhibits before their original purpose (and, in most cases, only purpose) as homes. The A&C movement is predicated on the usefulness and comfort of these spaces, elements that are wasted on houses that are not actually lived in, and it is wonderful that the authors recognize this and put the vast majority of their attention on structures that have evolved inside and out since their initial construction, constantly changing and becoming even better examples of this last of the humanistic architectural styles.

Certainly the finest examples of bungalow architecture are often well-served today as museums in their own right, and several restored masterworks that are now open to visitors are profiled in the last part of the book. Aside from the wear of years - negated in many cases by excellent restoration efforts - most of these homes did not age after their initial habitation, and have been frozen in time. Not so much examples of the A&C philosophy made alive as so many of the other homes in the book are, these are better seen as snapshots of the movement as it once was, or as some of the early and great architects and designers of bungalows wanted it to be.

All in all, Bungalow: The Ultimate Arts & Crafts Home is a very large volume, perhaps better suited for table than shelf, as it is certainly more fun to leaf through its pages and imagine your own project becoming, over time, the kind of home that is pictured within its pages. It is a good read and an even better picture book, a great tool for planning a home or remodel. I am sure it would make a very attractive holiday gift for anyone even moderately interested in the Craftsman aesthetic.

The only criticism I have is a petty one, something that only a graphic designer could see: with so many great typefaces and layout models coming out of the movement, why choose typefaces and a general style of typesetting that are in many ways the antithesis of the movement? But again, this is petty certainly not something that should detract from your enjoyment of this beautifully-written and illustrated book.