That old advertising slogan – ‘you’ve come a long way, baby’ – is a decent signpost to Irish house design down the decades. From rural thatched cottages to gated communities and sky-high penthouses, our humble four walls have charted the unsteady progress of a nation.
Dominating midfield in this habitation premiership is the humble bungalow – an object of construction ridicule that refuses to fade away. Indeed, in a country presently peppered with a fast ageing population, this oft pilloried property could be the answer to a range of gathering domicile dilemmas.
Fifty years ago this month, shop counters everywhere from rural post offices to urban supermarkets marked the arrival of a manual that would literally change the face of Ireland, a handbook of self-sufficiency destined to rival the family bible.
Bungalow Bliss, by county engineer and architect Jack Fitzsimons, became a publishing sensation, a do-it-yourself guide to bungalow building offering 20 affordable designs. An immediate bestseller amongst a youthful population yearning to own a basic home for under £2000, it dominated Irish bookshelves for the next 20 years, updated and reprinted a dozen times.
Over the following decades it would spawn a proliferation of these one-storey properties across the nation – creating a never-ending debate between one man’s bliss and another’s blight. A half century later as the cost of home ownership balloons ever further beyond the reach of the average couple, might this modest construction be the answer to one of Ireland’s greatest social issues? While the bungalow gloried as a visible sign of upward mobility in 1970s Ireland, its origins date back to the Raj in India. Derived from the Hindi word ‘bangla’, it described the detached single-storey cottages with wide verandahs much beloved by sun-shy colonials. Eventually crossing the oceans to the UK and US, the style became a blueprint for ranches, villas and haciendas across the world.
Hip? Jim Morrison thought so, as attested in the lyrics of LA Woman: “look around, see which way the wind blows/the little girls in their Hollywood bungalows”.
Less rock excess, more relaxed lifestyle, the bungalow of 2021 fits neatly into the growing retirement demographic. Easy living for older limbs and wheelchair access, it offers single storey safety with the benefit of a manageable garden. Empty nesters departing the four-bed family home for mini pastures greener find downsizing perfection through bungalow bliss.
And if it’s snob appeal you’re after, check out James Dyson’s recently purchased Singapore bungalow – a €30m piece of proof that one storey offers a billionaire plenty of room to improve. As we await the Government’s imminent ‘Housing for All’ plan, one hopes the affordable legacy of Jack Fitzsimons will inform some of its thinking.
Bungalow Bliss was a revolutionary call to arms against social deprivation and the simple aspiration of a better life. It was his blueprint to the downtrodden multitudes seeking a sacred corner of the Irish dream.