We present an extract from Little Republics: The Story of Bungalow Bliss, the first non-fiction book by author Adrian Duncan, published by Lilliput Press.
Bungalow Bliss, first published in 1971, was a book of house designs that buyers could use to build a home for themselves affordably. It first appeared two years before Ireland was to join the EEC as a self-published catalogue by Jack Fitzsimons from his Kells Art Studios in County Meath. He and his wife designed and collated it and printed it locally. Over the course of thirty years, Fitzsimons sold over a quarter of a million copies of his catalogue. The first edition contained twenty designs – the final edition contained two hundred and sixty.
This guidebook of how to build your own home radically transformed housing in Ireland. Now, for the first time, author and structural engineer Adrian Duncan looks at the cultural impact that Bungalow Bliss and the accessible bungalow design had on the housing market, the Irish landscape, and on the individual families who made these bungalows their homes.
I grew up about a mile outside of a medium-sized town called Ballymahon in south County Longford. Across the road from us was a large farmhouse owned by a farmer whose cousin, also a farmer, sold my parents the plot for their home. To our right and left were houses that came from Bungalow Bliss designs. They were lived in by young families, with whom we became friends. These bungalows were all single storey, about fifteen to twenty metres across and ten metres deep. Each had a pitched roof of dark brown tiles. Such was the angle and colour of the roof that these houses appeared, like other bungalows of this time, to be roof-heavy or 'capped'. I would say each neighbour had between a half and three-quarters of an acre of land. To the rear, then, there was open farmland, and this was where we would go to adventure. This roadside ribbon arrangement of houses was typical of the Bungalow Bliss era.
All of these houses had large horizontal windows on the front façade. The windows, indicated in the drawings through all the editions of Bungalow Bliss, varied with each design between sash, cross and picture. The predominant window size was based on ‘off-the-shelf’ concrete
‘Spanlite’ lintels (and sills) made in large quantities by companies such as Quinn Group, Roadstone or Banagher Precast Concrete. These companies began as family affairs that grew and diversified with demand. In the Bungalow Bliss period there were at least four standard window openings and four standard window frames to fit them, and these were soon advertised in Bungalow Bliss – it became a one-stop shop for information on how to build a house.
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Watch: Bungalow Bliss : Adrian Duncan, Emma McKeagney and architect Hugh Wallace in conversation
The walls of these houses consisted of concrete blocks. They were rendered with plaster, then painted a different colour along the base, and this strip – the plinth – was a foot or so high and continued around the house (refer to Fig. 21). The plinth is a strong feature of these bungalows and though at first seemingly decorative, it stems from function – the top of it is where the damp-proof core (DPC) sheet emerges from beneath the ground-floor slab. The DPC was a polyurethane membrane placed underneath the slab of the building to keep moisture from infiltrating from below. It was laid onto the compacted earth, and folded up over the first course of blocks of the external wall. This membrane was snipped at what is called the bell-cast – the junction on the wall that distinguishes the plinth from the rest. Rainwater flows down the upper part of the wall and drips from the bell-cast, shy of where the blocks below enter the ground. The plinth on these houses was generally painted a more adventurous colour than the upper part of the wall. This is one of the aesthetic improvisations that occurred on these houses; another is the range of pebble-dashes used. Pebble-dash and roughcast had been used as a protective plaster on buildings since the nineteenth century. Roughcast is made up of a mortar pre-mixed with pebbles. It produced a rough coating on the wall, but the colour is uniform. Pebble-dash, however, consisted of a smooth wet mortar applied to a wall, and while wet the homeowner could simply dash handfuls of coloured pebbles onto it and there they would set. DIY stores provided countless kinds of pebble mixes for this, from the single- to the multicoloured. The person carrying out this dashing then had control over this aspect of the façade. The pebble-dash is in this way an advancement from the roughcast.
Many of the houses also had wall cladding on the front elevations that mimicked indigenous stone. This became a sticking point when the buildings were being appraised by the architectural establishment and broadsheet press during the mid- to late eighties. The natural surrounding stone on the landscape was not being used on the buildings, but referenced, and this kind of quotation lay outside of the ambit of the critics’ taste.
These bungalows usually sat between twenty and forty metres from a public road, with a low concrete-block wall as a front boundary. Along the top of this wall there was often a precast concrete capping stone painted the same colour as the plinth of the house itself, usually in a pastel tone reminiscent of the tones of colour found on clothing fashionable during the seventies and eighties. If you look at any communion or confirmation photographs from this time, these greens, pinks and mauves ping from the scenes. Some front-facing boundary walls were made with vase-shaped balusters, about a half metre high and at about half a metre centre to centre, again with a painted capping stone across the top. These balusters derived from those seen on parapets of the landlord estate houses. Other Bungalow Bliss houses had fences and a row of shrubs as the boundary with the public road. A timber fence was often built between these homes, with trees and shrubs planted in line to increase the sense of separation and privacy. These fences were straight out of the Texan ranch, the shrubs from an English garden. However, at the end of one of these ribbons of houses, the grounds would suddenly give way to a ditch, a hedge or open farmland – a reminder that this was all a strange, ad hoc suburbia.
Little Republics: The Story Of Bungalow Bliss is published by Lilliput Press