Wednesday, May 22, 2013

OT: How Not to Bungalow

[Somewhere, we have a White Album; pretty much the entire Beatles vinyl output from Meet the Beatles onward, too. Probably in a box somewhere... Pictures of them taken at the Cow Palace in 1965, Candlestick Park in 1966. Such innocent times... Hay, Bungalow Bill, what did you kill Bungalow Bill...]

The Johnson House, Los Angeles. (Photo from the Google Maps, c. 2011; house constructed c. 1910)

While pondering the issue of the Vast Bungalow, I found these images of what not to do -- bungalow-wise -- but what was done by some who adopted the style but not the ethic of the Bungalow Era. I don't recall ever being in a house quite like this one, to tell the truth, but I did visit a few quite fancy places before they were redone in more modern styles.

Note, the Johnson family that built this house in Los Angeles in 1910 really had no idea or concept of what a Bungalow was meant to be. They clearly wanted an up to date house that would be in the fashion of the times, but which would hold both their old stuff (such as the Victoriana you can see in the parlor) and their assemblage of new things, as in the matched suites in the chambers upstairs.

It looks just... wrong.

Several things boggle the mind:

  • The patterned wall to wall carpeting practically throughout the house. Wall to wall carpeting was a High Victorian affectation that had been largely disposed of during the early 20th Century as uncleanly and unsanitary. In the proper Bungalow style, carpeting was eliminated and rugs were reduced to a minimum -- so as to be easily taken up and beaten to within an inch of their lives at least twice a year over the clothesline in the back. Vacuum cleaners were not unknown in these days. In fact, they were quite popular among those who could afford them (as the Johnsons clearly could.) But the spirit of the times was to eliminate all the potential hiding places for dust, dirt and germs, and that meant eliminating the well-known filth that accumulated in wall to wall carpeting. The Johnsons thought otherwise, it would seem...
  • The plethora of heavy pseudo Renaissance and High Victorian furnishings, no doubt walnut and mahogany, in all the public rooms and the matched suites of furniture in the chambers upstairs. This violates every precept of the Bungalow style. It's not simply the wretched excess of it all, it is the fundamental incompatibility of the heavy carved look of the furniture with the (relatively) spare woodwork of the house. The woods are wrong, too. Mahogany? Walnut? Never. Bungalows used oak, Douglas fir, and (in California) redwood almost exclusively. Furnishings were made of the same materials, or wicker. The Mission Oak furniture style was standard (and it wasn't just from Stickley and Roycroft. There were many manufactures of the style nationwide and internationally.)  The Mission Oak furnishing style was standard, modern, clean, and most of all, moral. If there were pieces from the previous era, they were kept as artifacts, examples of what not to do. But here we have the Johnsons literally filling their house with such examples. 

  • The dark, heavy flocked wall papers downstairs and the painted wall papers upstairs... These no doubt were laid on in a futile attempt to match the style of the furnishings with the style of the house. These papers scream Victoriana, almost defiantly so. A proper bungalow would have plain plaster walls, perhaps covered with Japanese style grass cloth, perhaps bare, often colored butterscotch or some other relatively light neutral (pale gray, green, gold, rarely blues or pinks...), sometimes textured, frequently with a paper or stencil border near the ceiling. Alternatively, a proper bungalow might have wood paneled walls, such as we can see in the photos of what appear to be the servants' rooms. The paneling would be made up of narrow planks of tongue and groove pine or fir or redwood, laid directly on the framework. The look would be considered stark but functional. In other rooms, there might be fancier paneling up to the level of a chair rail (though in such rooms as libraries, the paneling might be taken to the ceiling.) The fancier paneling would still utilize the standard woods, however. In the Johnson house, we see what looks like walnut or mahogany paneling in the Better Rooms of the house, and that simply would not happen in a proper bungalow.

  • The light fixtures in the Better Rooms are some of the most extravagant and baroque I've ever seen from the period. Even the plainest ones seem to be overwrought, though if they are still preserved in the house, they would be considered spectacular examples of early electric lighting fixtures and be coveted by collectors. The table lamps, on the other hand, though also highly collectable today, seem almost chaste by comparison with the ceiling and wall fixtures. In fact, for the most part, the portable lamps would not be out of place in a proper bungalow of the era.

  • On the other hand, the kitchen, pantries and bathrooms appear to be very straightforward and very up to date according to the precepts of the Bungalow ethic. The kitchen, in fact, is spectacularly modern, with built in cabinetry and countertops, a high-end gas range, and in the pantry an excellent refrigerator. Though it is probably cooled with ice, it is just barely possible that an early mechanical refrigerating plant was installed in the basement to provide remote cooling for the upstairs refrigerator. The flooring is an attractive linoleum, and the walls and cabinetry appear to be painted with white enamel. While there is only one electric light shown in the kitchen and pantry photos, there must have been more. The style suggests they may have been semi-flush mounted ceiling fixtures that are out of the range of the camera.

    The bathrooms are fully equipped -- including at least one sitz bath -- and at least one is fully tiled for sanitary cleanliness. The sense of modernity in the kitchen, pantries and baths (for the times) contrasts sharply with the heavy-handed anachronisms of the rest of the house.

    Of course part of the problem with the Johnson house is that it is so very big. It seems to go on forever. One of the advantages of its relative defiance of Bungalow style, however, is that no doubt its many rooms did not echo, the floors didn't creak, and while it was not easily cleaned or cared for, there were plenty of servants for that, and it felt relatively homey and comfortable to its residents, as opposed to the more ideologically driven Mission Bungalows that were not intended to be either homey or comfortable but were instead intended to reflect a sense of reform, mission, purpose, simplicity, modernity and -- frankly -- discomfort.

    Many issues of Gustav Stickley's "The Craftsman" magazine are available online, and it can be instructive to sit with them for a while to absorb the spiritual essence of the reform he and others working in the Mission/Craftsman Movement were trying for. In a sense, they failed, marvelously, as a "bungalow" like that of the Johnsons' in Los Angeles illustrates. On the other hand, the spirit of the era, and at least something of the style, lives on through deeply passionate and dedicated Bungalow fanatics all over the country and the world.

    Back when the Beatles presented us with "The Continuing Story..." the Bungalow was considered a not-so-quaint anachronism from a bygone era. They were being demolished or modernized everywhere; but here and there, some of them were inhabited by the surviving elders who had built them back in the day, and who treasured them as the only real home and hearth they'd ever known. Those Bungalows that had been preserved or that could be restored to their pristine original look are now treasured by younger generations who seek or act on their own mission of reform today.

    Hay Bungalow Bill...

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