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!


  1. Good morning, Saul,
    I very much appreciate your blog as I have been able to gather useful information about the house my wife and I purchased last year as our retirement bungalow. It appears to be the Minto Genville 1 model with only minor differences.(The fireplace backs onto the street not the driveway and the living and dining rooms are fully open to each other.) It is interesting that you noted how the location of the staircase prevents the kitchen and diningroom from being opened up to each other. We commented on this when we bought our house. In our ongoing renovations, the kitchen has become a galley style work space and the exterior door in the kitchen was moved to line up with the basement stairs. In the next phase of our work, the stairwell will be opened to the diningroom to visually open the space and to bring more light into the basement which we are finishing currently. (The 40+ year old basement had never been finished.) We do plan to change the bedroom configuration to a two bedroom plan by enlarging the middle bedroom borrowing space from the third and smallest bedroom. What remains of the third bedroom will become a laundry/mudroom opening to the hall where the linen closet is currently housed. One or two extra bedrooms may/will be added to the lower level. (We also have opened up the front hall removing the closet and enclosed vestibule to create a much larger entry space, approx. 6'6" x12'6". Thanks again for your research. It has been interesting and informative following your work.

  2. Hi Saul - would you be able to provide a higher resolution image of the teron bungalow plans in the Lynwood Village section of the post?

    1. Hello Spirit,

      I have just added a new post with the Teron plans in Lynwood Village: