Tuesday, 28 April 2015

A villa is not a bungalow

Since I’m such a big fan of what’s called California Bungalows I’ve been meaning since the new Bungalow book (right) came out last year to talk about it, if not talk it up.

Jam-packed with beautiful photographs by Patrick Reynolds (with whom there’s an interview here), unfortunately the text of Bungalow: From Heritage to Contemporary doesn’t always match their quality – and sadly around 250 of its large, glossy pages are filled with text and photos bungalow renovations. I can understand why, don’t worry, but that doesn’t assuage my disappointment at what seems a wasted opportunity.

Anyway, New Zealand cities are filled with bungalows and villas – and with “bungled villas” representing a mongrel mix of the two – yet despite their differences, which are vast, many folk fail to distinguish between the two.

So, to help you, this picture below is an stuffy, upright, formal villa of the general type, usually found with cold, dark boxes opening off a central hallway, many examples of which still litter places like the People’s Republic of Grey Lynn …

imageExample of a Victorian bay villa, from the Auckland Council
Design “Guide” mandating how one should design in a streetful of villas

… and this is a warm, spreading bungalow with few hallways, of the type you might find around the suburbs that exploded out of our cities after WWI:



Can you see the difference?

Why does it matter, you ask?

Because bungalows are almost the only informal, organic house-type built on a large scale in New Zealand – the first designed from the inside-out to impress the occupants rather than passers-by and, (contrary to the text of the book) if you bring out that organic character rather than attempt to suppress it they are easy to renovate, simple to add on to, and richly rewarding if done well.

That’s why I love renovating bungalows – but refuse to renovate villas. Because they are different. A villa is not a bungalow…

  • Villas are constrained and static, with a form, upright appearance; bungalows are dynamic and spreading, stressing the horizontal, the human plane.
  • A villa is the last of the ‘classical’ line, bungalows the first of the modern.
  • A villa stresses the public, a bungalow favours the private
  • A villa has a formal arrangement of rooms, a bungalow an informal arrangement of spaces.
  • Villa floor plans cut up daily life into separate discrete elements; bungalow spaces invite elements of life to flow together.
  • A villa is outside-in; a bungalow is inside-outward.
  • A villa is very much about its relationship to the street; a good bungalow about its relationship to the site.
  • A villa’s verandah is for show; a bungalows decks, porches and terraces are to be used.
  • A bungalow goes out to break the box, a villa to live within it.
  • A bungalow can be as individual as their owners; a villa is produced by a cookie-cutter.
  • Villa windows are spare, small, guillotine windows, one to a room; bungalow’s casement windows appear in horizontal ribbons, and open out to light and air.
  • With its tiny guillotine windows and general demeanour, a villa repels the sun and outdoors; with its wide casements and spreading floor plans, bungalows invite them both in.
  • A villa is intended to impress passersby, a bungalow to please its occupants.
  • Villas value symmetry; bungalows favour balance, or dynamic symmetry.
  • Villa ornament is frou frou and applied; bungalow ornament is integral and organic.
  • A villa has a finial pointing to imaginary heavens; a bungalow has sheltering hands over a welcoming entrance.
  • A villa’s timberwork is cut up by wood butchers and hidden by several coats of paint; a bungalow’s is generally exposed and enjoyed for itself.

And finally …

  • To renovate a villa successfully requires removing or ignoring everything that makes it a villa; to renovate a bungalow easily and well requires only that you enhance it.

As you can see, I despise villas.

Oddly, however, the dark, stiff, formality of the villa is often loved by those who purport to despise the conventional. And then they go out and spend millions buying houses that place an Edwardian straitjacket of formality on daily life – and spend hours writing District Plans enforcing their preservation.

In my opinion, they can keep their straitjackets and Edwardian formality to themselves.

In my opinion, we should harvest all the beautiful timbers locked up and hidden in these dark, damp, hard-to-develop prisons– all that beautiful matai, rimu, totara and kauri used in villas for foundations, wall framing,weatherboards and painted-over timberwork – by demolishing the bastards and doing something better with it.

That’s a kind of recycling I could get right behind.

[Pics from Auckland Council, and from Jeremy Ashford’s 1994 The Bungalow in New Zealand]


  1. I wrote to Bangkok girl PC. I said do you like stand alone house with separate borders and so drifty
    like the sun cones in the east and goes out the West, I will be in the Office
    She said this. .. I love you too much a long time.


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