Photo credit: ThShriver via Wikimedia

The city of Chicago is
known as the birthplace of modern architecture and offers some of the most forward-thinking designs of the 20th century. 

One of the area’s most iconic styles, with their instantly recognizable brick exteriors and pitched roofs, Chicagoland’s bungalows present a ubiquitous architectural style across the city’s neighborhoods and beyond. Between 1910 and 1940, over 100,000 were constructed in Cook County and over 20,000 are still standing today. 

Many residents dream of owning one of these historic buildings. Still, it’s crucial to do your research and become as educated as possible about what to look for in a charming bungalow — and what you should avoid. 

Legendary Origins

To truly appreciate this type of dwelling, one must delve into the history behind the style. Emerging in the early 20th century, these homes were a response to the changing urban landscape. A booming manufacturing sector encouraged the population to more than double in the years between the First World War and the Great Depression. 

As the city expanded, developers sought a practical yet aesthetically pleasing solution to rapidly increasing housing needs. The result was the unique Chicago bungalow, a one-and-a-half-story structure that seamlessly blended affordability with architectural appeal.

These homes also offered modern amenities like central heating, electricity, and indoor plumbing, and promised a “less stressful urban life,” according to the Chicago Bungalow Association. Many were built with bathrooms and kitchens of now-classic white subway tile, which was developed in 1904 due to the Victorian obsession with personal hygiene and cleanliness.

This type of residence originated in the Bengal region of South Asia during the mid-1800s, and the word “bungalow” derives from a Hindi word meaning “in the style of Bengal,” which were small, cost-effective houses with a sloping roof and large veranda, constructed for workers and middle management.

Other identifying features of the Chicago bungalow include:

  • Brick construction with stone trim
  • Rectangular shape (to fit long and narrow lots)
  • Low-pitched roof
  • Off-center entrance
  • Generous amount of windows and a distinctive front bay
  • Full basement
  • Dormer
  • Practical floorplan with 2 or 3 bedrooms and 1 bath
  • Front porch with overhanging eaves 
  • Large fireplaces
  • Decorative elements such as art glass or intricate woodwork

Many were built using mail-order kits from companies such as Sears and cost between $5,000-7,500. Chicagoland’s bungalows were the darling of the American Arts and Crafts movement, so they usually emphasized a high level of craftsmanship and a connection with nature. 

Good Bones

Almost a third of Chicago’s single-family residences are bungalows, and it’s a style well-suited to the region’s fierce weather and harsh winters. The signature brick facade was a response to the Great Fire of 1871 when flames destroyed thousands of timber homes and encouraged by the bustling brick manufacturing industry of the time. 

While they may have originally been constructed using a similar construction kit, not all Chicago bungalows are the same, and not all are considered to be of historical significance. A historic property’s value can be 5% higher or more than a newer home in the same market, but they also come with certain baggage, such as more frequent or costly repairs. 

For hopeful homeowners who want to preserve their iconic bungalows while upgrading to modern and more energy-efficient technologies, it’s wise to consider the pros and cons of committing to such an undertaking and whether you’re really making the best investment. 

Partnering with a locally-owned and highly respected home inspection firm that has valuable experience in Chicago’s vintage bungalows can help you avoid the usual pitfalls that come with buying an older place. A thorough inspection before you buy and regular inspections and maintenance every year can help you ensure your family’s security and comfort. 

Here are some considerations to keep top of mind when you’re hunting for mature fixer-uppers in the Windy City region:

  • An official historic designation means your renovation plans and materials may need to be approved by local authorities.
  • Prepare for both pleasant and unpleasant surprises and many learning experiences.
  • Home repair projects can take months or even years to complete.
  • Do your due diligence and ask your real estate team for recommendations regarding contractors, architects, and other service providers. 
  • You may be eligible for certain tax benefits or grants. 
  • Your homeowner’s insurance or interest rates may be higher than that of a newer residence.
  • It could be haunted or simply have lots of character, resulting in neighborhood popularity and unexpected visitors.

Get the Home of Your Dreams

If you’ve always pictured yourself living in one of Chicagoland’s iconic Arts and Crafts-inspired bungalows, our team of experienced inspection specialists will help you discover and maintain the perfect property for your family.

Founded in 1999, we’ve been educating Chicago property owners for almost 25 years, providing our clients with vital resources and assistance, as well as mold and radon testing and termite and pest inspections

From unfinished basements to double-gabled roofs, we’re here for you — schedule your historic home inspection today!