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Design Chat: Bungalow Designer Brooks Ballard

Design Chat: Bungalow Designer Brooks Ballard
Brooks Ballard's Craftsman bungalows, like this one, Plan 461-31
Growing up in Spartanburg, S.C. Brooks Ballard would walk old Sears kit homes with his father, a remodeler. The outings fostered a deep appreciation for American Craftsman bungalow vernacular (as shown here in a favorite historic Sears bungalow design), known for

its economy of construction, compact footprint, and ample interior trim. “Bungalows are super-efficient,” says Ballard, who started drawing his own versions while in architecture graduate school at Georgia Tech. “There’s no wasted space.”

The practice Ballard runs today, Home Patterns LLC, produces bungalows that could be mistaken for the ones he used to visit, even as he brings the plans into the 21st Century. “I try to make the elevation look as traditional as possible,” says Ballard, whose plans consistently rank among the best selling at “Too many homes take standard plans and ‘craftsmanize’ them by adding details here and there. You need to start with the right elements.” One of the most important of those is a roof overhang of at least two feet, supported by a 24-inch bracket. “You want it to fit well on the beam that goes across the front porch. You need a big thick beam and a big thick column to support it. It all works together. I hate it when people slap up a small bracket under a bigger eave. The edge of the column top should align with the side of the beam.” Here is Brooks' diagram of key bungalow details.

Window details are another thing that separate the best bungalow plans from the rest. It’s important to leave space between windows instead of mulling them together. Ballard has started calling out key details, like using four-inch trim between windows,

on his plans. Here’s a correctly executed 2268-square-foot design, Plan 461-48. “If you mess up one or two details, it won’t ruin the house. But if you get several wrong, the house won’t look right. I’m really giving advice to the framers. So many builders hand off the plans, and then don’t spend much time on site.” Framers who receive Ballard’s plans should like what they see for another reason: The architect designs in four-foot increments. Framers and trim carpenters can build with 4 x 8 sheets of sheathing and drywall, without making cuts, which results in less waste during construction. Ballard’s plans economize in other fashions as well. He keeps to a minimum bump outs that are expensive to build. He draws simple, elegant rooflines with minimal punctures. Stacked bathrooms in many plans save on plumbing runs. Using windows of the same size throughout the house helps produce volume-purchasing discounts. Savings in construction can be poured into energy upgrades – solar panels, energy-efficient appliances, and better insulation.

The designer hopes to one day provide material lists for his designs. In the meantime, building suppliers typically do a material takeoff after a builder or homeowner brings them a plan. That usually results in a better list anyway, Ballard thinks, since local suppliers may be more familiar with how local framers, plumbers, electricians, and trim carpenters work.

While Ballard works overtime to properly draw exterior details, he also focuses on drawing open floor plans, as opposed to the compartmentalized ones with bedrooms pushed to the back that characterized homes in the 20s and 30s. Opening plans from front to back can be a challenge since Bungalows tend to be narrow.

“You don’t want it to read like a shotgun house,” he says. In this 2116-square-foot, best-selling design, Plan 461-3, the front door opens to a living room that looks through to a framed, wainscoted dining room and the

kitchen beyond. The kitchen (complete with an island that you didn’t find in the 1930s) and family room orient sideways, across the back of the house. The plan leaves room for a first-floor flex room with easy access to a

full bath so it could be used as a guest bedroom. Back stairs lead to three bedrooms – a master and two secondary bedrooms that share a hall bath.

Besides the elevations, what Ballard likes best about bungalows is the interior trim, especially signature built-in bookshelves around a fireplace. He tries to create a separate media wall, space permitting, so that the television doesn’t wind up over the fireplace. He’s also fond of kitchen nooks and pass-throughs from the kitchen to dining space. “All those elements are very adaptable to the modern house plan.” Early bungalows were sold as modern family homes, and in several ways presaged the way families live today. “They were among the first homes where you walked right into the living space as opposed to the foyer, as in Victorian homes. They also were among the first to have integrated bathrooms that related to bedrooms.”

Ballard cut his teeth designing small homes for affordable communities, making them feel bigger by using every square inch of available space. A good example of this attention to space-conserving detail would be

this 1,783-square foot home, Plan 461-24, with an off-center entry that creates a longer diagonal view

through the house. Ballard managed to find room on the first floor for the master suite in this three-bedroom plan, which also has a den.

These days the architect often sells bigger plans that may be built as infill homes in close-in neighborhoods. (They may even wind up near bungalows built nearly 100 years before.) Some of these homes include integrated outdoor spaces in back, difficult to execute in a traditional plan. “I’m trying to design a cabin for my family here in the Catskills and that’s what I want -- a covered space in the back, someplace soft to sit

and enjoy the outdoors.” A good example is this stately 2,600-foot Plan 461-45, with a wrap-around front porch and integrated back porch, which could be easily screened. With very little interior space lost to

hallways or circulation, Ballard managed to fit four bedrooms (plus a den) into the house, including two masters, one upstairs, one downstairs. Other modern features include an office nook and a large, eat-in kitchen island.

The main focus of Ballard’s practice, however, is perpetuating the legacy of traditional design. It’s the front elevation with its dignified front porch, low roof, stately trim, and perched dormer that attract people to bungalows. “One of the best compliments you get is when people say the house looks like it was built in the 20s or 30s. I really like to hear that.”

Browse more bungalow plans here.

Boyce is the author of The New New Home, from Taunton.      

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