Book Reviews: Fall 2003

by Mary Reichardt, board member

Bungalows: Design Ideas for Renovating, Remodeling, and Building New (Updating Classic America series)
by M. Caren Connolly and Louis Wasserman (Taunton Press, 2002)

Milwaukee authors Connolly and Wasserman have produced a lavishly-illustrated coffee-table sized book aimed at inspiring bungalow owners with creative ideas for fixing up their space. Calling the bungalow the “ideal American house,” the authors acknowledge the difficulty in updating such homes for modern living while still preserving their distinctive character. Yet, they maintain, bungalows are marvelously adaptive and, with a little creative thinking (and a big-bucks architect) you may yet be able to turn your little cramped space into a contemporary soaring-ceiling masterpiece.

I suspect that most Bungalow Club members will be as divided on this book as I was. On the one hand, it is pure eye-candy with beautiful, detailed photographs of bungalow (loosely-defined) exteriors and interiors. The pictures make the book. Currently in the midst of the endless decisions that go into a kitchen remodel, I was delighted to find several photos of updated but period-sensitive kitchens here that proved very useful. On the other hand, the book’s text is written in such general, beginning-level terms (for example, defining what a baseboard is) that it won’t attract home renovators who are looking for more substance.

Readers will also be skeptical about just how far remodeling can go until an originally classic bungalow is no longer even in the (quite wide) bungalow ballpark. Can one really transform interior walls into curves, add a shiny vertical sheet-metal deck roof, and tack on a huge L-shaped addition that more than doubles the home’s size–and still claim to have a bungalow? Anticipating the question, Connolly and Wasserman arrange the book so that chapters progress from conservative renovation to radical alteration.

In Harmony With Nature: Lessons from the Arts and Crafts Garden
by Rick Darke (Metro Books, 2003)

Although some weekend gardeners such as myself would prefer it otherwise, there is no simple prescription for a bungalow garden. As horticulturist Rick Darke stresses repeatedly in this illustrated book, the Arts and Crafts movement was less a certain “style” than a set of philosophical ideals which admit to wide variation. Those ideals include an emphasis on the essential harmony between people and the natural environment and respect for the beauty and utility of simple, natural, local materials.

It is often hard for us today to understand how sharply divisive this philosophy was from the Victorian ethos with its insistence on controlled excess and its penchant for the exotic. As Darke states, the 1870 publication of William Robinson’s The Wild Garden (still in print) signaled the arrival of a new ethos, one that resonated strongly with the Arts and Crafts community. The “wildness” of nature now became celebrated over the artificiality and rigid environments of Victoriana.

Inheriting an essentially romantic outlook, the Arts and Crafts ideal placed emphasis on the positive, healthy, even moral influence of nature on humans. The garden was to be incorporated as closely as possible into the home environment through the use of, for example, a home’s built-in window boxes, open-air porches, vine-covered pergolas, and “outdoor” living spaces.

Although some formal elements such as trimmed hedges were appropriate, the ideal garden consisted of free-flowing, naturally drifting and self-seeding groups of plants, preferably hardy native perennials. The effect was to be both harmonious and spontaneous. A plant’s texture and form were as important as its flowers. Colors were to be subdued; various shades of greens, yellows, browns, and muted reds or pinks were especially prized as those most typical of nature.

Stately large native trees such as oaks and red maples were beloved, as were fruit-bearing orchard trees and climbing vines such as clematis and honeysuckle. Old-fashioned flowers such as hollyhocks and shrub roses are seen again and again in The Craftsman and other period magazines’ frequent articles on gardening.

A treat for the eye, Darke’s book showcases lovely Arts and Crafts gardens throughout Britain and the United States including Wright’s gardens at Taliesin in Wisconsin, Edward Bok’s gardens in Lake Wales, Florida; and Greene and Greene’s gardens in California. Any gardener will be inspired by these photographs.

Both books are in the Twin Cities Bungalow Club’s book collection in the Merriam Park Library, St. Paul.