Monday, June 13, 2011

The bungalow staircase

California spearheaded the popularity of the bungalow (or ranch home), in mid-century North America. In California, basements are rare. During WWII and immediately afterward, some Ottawa houses were built without basements to save costs. But, the appeal of having a basement as extra room for storage and expansion space, meant that the basementless house did not last long.

Having a basement meant that California-inspired designs had to be adapted to allow room for a staircase down. The placement of the basement stairs in bungalow design is sometimes a challenge. With a two-story house, often the staircase is located in the front hall, but this is not the case with many bungalows. While a staircase up leads to finished rooms on the upper floor, the staircase down to the basement was historically linked to service spaces. Basements in older houses were more utilitarian, so there was no need to have the basement stairs on display like the stairs to the upper floors. A staircase down also does not have quite the same visual impact as one going up.

Traditionally, the staircase to the basement was connected to a service entry, either at the side of the house or at the back of the house. This is the case with many MCM bungalow designs, where the basement stairs are next to a door to the outside. With older MCM houses, the milk box is located at this service entry.

 Campeau, Queensway Terrace/Riverside Park, 1961. The basement staircase is located next to the service entry and the Kitchen.

Teron, Beaverbrook (Kanata)c, 1960s. In this example the service entry is actually at the front of the house and leads out to the detached garage.

 Campeau, Bel-Air Heights/Queensway Terrace, 1956. The service entry is located partway down the basement staircase.
 Dan McSweeney Construction, Glen Cairn (Kanata), 1960s. The basement stairs are located off the front hall, but lead to the side service entry.
Campeau, Carson Grove, 1973. The basement staircase in this plan leads right off of the entry from the garage. Its location is very utilitarian, yet it leads to the finished basement with a Bedroom and Recreation Room.

Campeau, 1976. This large bungalow has the basement staircase located in the Service Entrance area, next to the Garage, Laundry Room and Powder Room.
 Teron, Lynwood Village (Bell's Corners), 1959. These 2 designs from the "Planner Series" have the staircase behind the windowless Dining Room. In recent years, renovations to these houses have seen the wall to the staircase removed and replaced with a railing, and a window is sometimes also added at the back of the house.
Teron, Lynwood Village (Bell's Corners), 1959. These plans from the "Executive Series" have the staircase located behind the bathrooms, thus opening up the back wall of the Dining Room to allow for a window.

For mid-century pioneer suburbanites who moved into their neighbourhoods as they were being built, muddy, unpaved roads were commonplace. The service entry with basement stairs was practical as it was a direct route for soiled children and adults to scoot right to the laundry room [which was almost always in the basement of a MCM house]. For practical reasons, a bathroom was sometimes located next to the service entry and basement stairs.

 Campeau, 1950s. This design has a second door to the main bathroom next to the basement stairs.
  Campeau, Leslie Park, 1966. With this design, the master ensuite has a second door next to the service entry and basement stairs.

Having a staircase to the basement in the front hall, was more common in larger houses where the front hallway was large enough to have enough space to prominently display the staircase down.
 Teron, Beaverbrook (Kanata), C. 1960s. This large foyer has enough room for a switchback staircase. In this example the service entry is separate from the basement staircase.
 Connelly Homes, Glen Cairn (Kanata), 1966. The location of the service entry so close to the front door may at first seem superfluous, but it serves a practical purpose due to its location next to the basement staircase.
 Minto, Skyline North, 1969. The basement staircase has a prominent location in the front Foyer.
Teron, Beaverbrook (Kanata), c. 1960s. Another example with the basement stairs in the Foyer.

With some bungalow designs, the staircase almost seems like an afterthought and is located in awkward places. While in other cases, the staircase can be used to define a space.
 Campeau, Queensway Terrace/Riverside Park, 1961. The staircase seems oddly placed in the Dining Area, and eats up a lot of square footage in this room.

Holitzner Homes, Barrhaven, 1972. This is a rather curious placement of the basement stairs.

Minto, Ryan Farm/Beaconwood, 1971. With this plan, the location of the basement staircase is a hindrance to opening up the wall between the Kitchen and Dining Room - which I always thought would be a nice update to the plan.

Campeau, Leslie Park, 1966. This is a great example where the staircase serves as a divider between a hallway and Family Room.

No matter where the staircase is located, one of the appealing aspects of living in a bungalow is the large basement - hopefully outfitted with a wood-panelled Rec. Room, complete with a swanky wet bar!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

How the car changed the suburban house

A few years ago, while completing my Master’s Degree, I wrote a paper on how the car changed the suburban house. I subsequently turned it into a lecture taught to Urban Planning students, and have now adapted that same research piece for this blog.

Living in the suburbs and owning a car have gone hand in hand ever since the advent of the automobile suburb. The two coexisted comfortably, until a turning point when the shelter for the car (the garage) became so important, that it negatively impacted the design of the shelter for people (the house).
To show this change, I will start with housing built early in the mid-century.

During WWII, and for a while afterward, “Victory Houses” were built for returning veterans as a means of affordable yet comfortable housing. These straightforward houses were usually 1 1/2 stories and had an almost square footprint. In Ottawa, the area south of Carling Avenue, between Fisher and Merivale is an excellent example of such housing. To cut costs the houses were built without garages. Subsequently, detached garages have been built behind many houses.
Wartime Housing Limited design, c. 1940s

In the 1950s, many of the Canada Housing and Mortgage Corporation’s (CMHC) stock designs, published in regular volumes, did not have an attached garage. If a garage was desired by the owner, it would have been built as a detached structure near the back of the house.
CMHC Design 604, c. 1957

During the 1950s, the only tract houses built by Campeau that offered a garage as standard were split-level models. In this case, the garage is tucked under the bedroom level.
Campeau split-level plans, c. 1956

Tract builders in the 1960s started to offer carports as standard with their homes. In some cases the carport could be upgraded to a garage, while with more expensive houses garages were often standard. Attached 2 car garages were only reserved for luxurious houses.

Campeau Carillon plan, c.1960s. With this particular design the attached garage was standard.

It wasn’t until the late 1960s and into the 1970s, when families started to own more than one car. At the time, attached 2 car garages were found on houses where the lot widths were wide, and usually located at the side of the house.
Campeau Playfair plan, c.1970s

The 1980s can be seen as a turning point. Lot sizes started to become narrower, while having a 2 car garage became commonplace. As a result, the garage had to be located at the front of the house. During this period the garage was often just appended to the front of the house and not really an integral part of the overall design.
Footprint of one of the houses I lived in when I was younger, 1987. The garage is just like an appendage to the front of the house.
Sandbury Homes, Shakespeare plan, Fallingbrook (Orleans), 1988. While the house is fairly wide, the 2 car garage is prominent.
In the late 1980s and into the 1990s, a new type of house began to be built: the “snout house”. These houses are characterized by a protruding ‘snout’ garage. Many were built en-masse in Toronto area, but are also found in Ottawa (some are still built today). This type of plan usually has few (if any) windows overlooking the street and could cause security and safety concerns.
Snout houses in Brampton, ON

Snout house footprint from Brampton, ON, 1993
Coscan Windermere plan, Kanata/Orleans, c. late 1980s. Notice that the exterior renderings are angled and do not show the protruding garage from the front. The plan below shows the 'snout' garage.

With some snout house designs, the back of the garage and part of the front room are angled to make way for the front door. The resultant design makes that side of the garage too shallow for a second car, and creates an awkwardly shaped front room. For the first time in history, the shelter for cars impacted the design of our own living space.
Coscan Montclair plan, Kanata/Orleans, c.late 1980s. The garage and the Living room have been angled to accommodate the front door.

Macdonald Homes Pontiac plan, Heritage Park (Barrhaven), 1987. With this plan, the Breakfast nook is angled, creating an awkwardly shaped room.

Sandbury VP404 plan, Fallingbrook (Orleans), 1991. Another plan with an angled garage and front room.

Although more common starting in the 1980s, during the mid-century, narrow lots did exist, but if there was an attached garage, it was almost always a 1 car garage, and not as overwhelming as the 2 car garage on a snout house.
Minto, Cherbourg plan, Barrhaven Common, c.1970s. While the house is fairly narrow, there is only a 1 car garage.

By the end of the 1990s, there was a backlash against snout houses (particularly in the Toronto area). So, designers pulled the garage in to the massing of the house, allowing for more front-facing windows. They also reverted to building houses with a 1 car garage, as that is all that could be possible with narrow lot widths, although wider lots allowed for a 2 car garage.

 Mattamy Homes Kingston plan, Brampton, 1999. Mattamy also builds similar plans in Ottawa.

 Mattamy Homes Kingston plan, Brampton, 1999. A wider version with a 2 car garage.

Where the recessed garage design becomes problematic is when the house is very narrow. In these designs, the rooms beside the garage must do double duty as passages to the rest of the house. Furniture placement thus becomes a challenge.
Townwood Homes Sandpiper plan, Brampton, 2001. The room beside the garage is narrow, and also serves as the passage to the rest of the house.

In more recent years, recessed two-car garages have become more common even on narrow houses. While the garage is no longer a protruding snout, it still takes up the entire main floor fa├žade, save for the front door.  
Lakeview Homes Cardinal II plan, Brampton,2001. Notice the back of the garage is angled making it impossible to park 2 full-size cars. This type of plan is starting to become common in Ottawa.

Ottawa has yet to see the extremely narrow houses built in the Toronto area with recessed garages. But are they on the horizon?
 Touchstone Homes, Espada Plan, Vaughan, ON, 2005.

During the mid-century, the design of the places we live was of utmost importance. In more recent years the importance of the design of garages to shelter cars has ultimately had a negative impact on how houses are designed.

Below is a visual summary of how the design of houses and garages has changed since the 1940s. Of interest is the fact that the footprint of the Victory Houses is only slightly larger than a two-car garage.