‘Bungalows were about us as a society growing up’

Whether you consider them bliss or blight, these iconic dwellings deserve to be repurposed for our times, as Hugh Wallace tells Eve Kelliher
‘Bungalows were about us as a society growing up’

Whether you consider them bliss or blight, these iconic dwellings deserve to be repurposed for our times, as Hugh Wallace tells Eve Kelliher

IS IRELAND poised to rekindle its love affair with the bungalow? Often-scorned, it could soon be waltzing right back into the nation’s affections — with sledgehammers whacking the violins out of the way to provide the romantic soundtrack.

In the 1970s, bungalows began to pop up across the countryside courtesy of readily available off-the-peg plans.

If only those instantly recognisable walls could talk, they’d have a few sagas worthy of Maeve Binchy to tell — because these are dwellings where sometimes over three generations were raised.


But nips and tucks are well overdue: Many bungalows have been untouched since they were first built, and could benefit from new designs and sustainable interventions to keep them fit for purpose, believes architect Hugh Wallace.

Fascinated since childhood by the part they played and continue to play in Irish society, Hugh will helm a television show, My Bungalow Bliss, starring these iconic residences. “Everyone feels thatched cottages are synonymous with Ireland but I think these days bungalows are synonymous with the Irish countryside and the Irish psyche,” Hugh says.


Next year is the 20th anniversary of the publication of the book that changed the appearance of our landscape dramatically. First hitting the shelves in 1971, Jack Fitzsimons’s Bungalow Bliss featured 20 plans for affordable bungalows.

In later years, he wrote, in a follow-up, Bungalow Bliss Bias, published posthumously: “For many thousands of people, Bungalow Bliss was a godsend. Others regard it as a curse.”

But there’s no denying that bungalows improved the affordable housing options available to rural dwellers.

The development of bungalows represents “people having a little bit of money” and moving out of the traditional homes they grew up in, agrees Hugh.

Because nowadays, it’s just about possible to forget how aspirational it was to plan your own brand-new, ultra-modern home. “Back then 30% of houses did not have inside toilets,” notes Hugh.


Fitzsimons’s bestseller was also, in its way, about social responsibility. “The tenements in Dublin were being demolished but in the country people were still living in damp-riddled houses,” says Hugh. “The bungalow was the perfect solution for Ireland. It was cheap to build and of such low technology you could self-build.”

Hugh regards the quirks of the Irish bungalow with affection. The “posh bungalow”, he adds, had “stone stuck on its front”.

And, exploring some of these dwellings, you’d remain convinced that, when the layout was drawn up, “nobody knew where the sun was”, he reasons.


Again, darkness loomed night and day when venturing from one room to another, as the typical corridor was 800mm wide “to give an extra couple of inches to the rooms”, says Hugh: “These were corridors where you would always need to have the light on.”

As for that holy grail, the bungalow with split-level interior spaces? “If you had to step down into your living room — you knew you’d made it in life,” says Hugh.

Doors adorned with Basta locks (“posh”, says Hugh) completed many a fitout.

But from the holy water fonts to avocado bathroom suites, these are houses Hugh is keen to see

repurposed. “People give out about the bungalow but it was a necessity,” he says.

“Along the way bungalows became maligned. Architects didn’t like them. There was snobbery about them.”

Now you’ll find rural sites occupied by properties comprising the “old, original house where the cattle have moved in” and on the same land, the bungalow, and thirdly, observes Hugh, a sprawling mansion or dormer bungalow.

Hugh is adamant that bungalows can be upcycled and retrofitted to meet today’s needs, “You can buy a bungalow for €80k, €60k or €100k and this is all about reusing and recycling what’s already there,” he points out.

Hugh adds: “Bungalows were about us as a society growing up.”

In My Bungalow Bliss by Animo TV and RTE One four bungalow owners will be paired with four architects, who will update their homes and make the buildings more eco-friendly. To apply to the show, email bungalows@animotv.ie

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