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Bringing Back Bungalows – Affordable Prices, Great Design

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By John Gallagher

RISMEDIA, April 30, 2008-(MCT)-Around the time Henry Ford was introducing the Model T, the house of choice for many young families with middle-class aspirations was the bungalow-quaint, affordable and picturesque.

Today, as economic times toughen and finding a mortgage becomes more difficult, the Arts and Crafts-inspired bungalow is once again winning favor with buyers with modest incomes.

“The bungalow is ideal for a young family today because the size and proportions of a bungalow are suited for a family to communicate, to know which door is being used, and to track each family member,” Rebecca Binno Savage, an expert on the subject, said. “The open floor plans were a new way of living in the early 20th century, and they still are the most practical today.”

Today’s environmentally conscious buyers also find bungalows attractive.

“A historic home is always the most green and the most environmentally sound thing a new family can purchase,” she said.

Art Rizzo, an English teacher in Detroit, bought his bungalow in Highland Park, Mich., in 1996. Built in 1919 and designed by noted Detroit architect Leonard Willeke, the house features all the cozy touches that distinguish many bungalows of the era, including Pewabic tile and elegant woodwork.

“When I bought the house, I had a friend who is really into restoration and historical preservation, and he said the Pewabic tile alone in the house was worth what I was paying for the house. It’s hardwood floors throughout and all the great details that you find in Arts and Crafts homes. All those goodies,” he said.

One reason for the bungalow’s enduring popularity is price; bungalows tend to be priced below the average for any given market.

Rizzo paid $79,000 for his bungalow in 1996, and while it was appraised six years ago at $130,000, the price probably would be lower now given the depressed real estate market. In Grosse Pointe Park, Mich., a bungalow owned by Zachariah and Desiree Bobby is for sale by owner for $350,000, well below what many homes in the area would cost.

And the design virtues of bungalows-simplicity, harmony and good workmanship-can make up for a lot of overpriced froufrou in more pretentious neighborhoods.

“I think it’s just the character of the house,” Desiree Bobby said of their 1925 bungalow.

Detroit in particular enjoys a rich history of bungalow design. The rise of the automotive industry was spurring tremendous growth in Detroit just as the bungalow reached the peak of its popularity. Most bungalows are found in the city and inner ring suburbs such as Royal Oak and Ferndale, but examples can be found scattered throughout the metro area there.

In one particularly fine example, a historic district in Highland Park contains more than 200 bungalows built mostly between 1914 and 1925. Many show incredibly fine detail, including elegant wood carving, stonework, and chimneys with elaborate brick and tile designs.

“Highland Park’s bungalows are as architecturally significant as those in California’s most tony, expensive neighborhoods,” Binno Savage said.

Nor was the bungalow strictly a working-class home. The Highland Park district originally housed many doctors and business executives.

In bungalows built as long as 75 years ago, maintenance is an issue as it would be for any older house. But Rizzo said there are no particular problems beyond normal upkeep.

“Highland Park is just a gem in terms of these Arts and Crafts homes,” Rizzo said. “If they were in California, they’d be $300,000 homes.”

© 2008, Detroit Free Press.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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