Inspiration and advice for your building project
With the impetus to squeeze as much accommodation as possible onto a plot to justify high land prices, it’s surprising that any bungalows are built at all today in the UK. Yet, planning restrictions on ridge height and the many attractions of single storey living have kept this once hugely popular building form alive and well — often encouraging designers and self-builders to be highly innovative.
Although frequently mocked as homes for the elderly or infirm, living on a single storey is many people’s ideal, with no stairs to negotiate, the potential for garden access from bedrooms and opportunities to have vaulted ceilings and rooflights throughout the main living areas, creating spacious, light-filled interiors.
A planning restriction imposing a single storey ridge height – typical on infill plots and other sensitive areas where impact needs to be constrained – is often viewed as an obstacle. But it can also be an opportunity. With clever design a bungalow can be anything but boring, and a height restriction need not be a significant limit on volume, as there is often scope to create additional storeys without raising the height.
The key to successful single storey house design is to ensure efficient circulation and flow without wasting too much space, and to make the most of natural light — both are easier to achieve with a more open plan layout. It is also important to have a clear vision for the building’s style and form, and there are many options to consider — as explored over the following pages.
The award-winning Origami House, designed by Northern Ireland-based architect Jane Burnside, takes the classic pavilion concept but substitutes the flat roof with a more traditional pitched roof form, conceived to overcome planners’ objections to flat roofs in rural locations.
To achieve the desired open plan arrangement – without the walls normally required to support a pitched roof – the design is based around a series of 7m² interlocking and overlapping pavilions, each with its own intersecting pitched roof supported by a delicate framework of steel posts and beams, entirely concealed within the walls and ceiling.
The result is a beautiful origami-like vaulted ceiling of many intersecting planes, over a light-filled central open plan living space with vast areas of glazing, and a linear rooflight. Jane D Burnside Architects: janedburnsidearchitects.co.uk
The traditional single storey timber-clad Cape Cod-style house is an attractive style that particularly suits rural plots and wooded sites. Typically there are rooms in the roof with dormer windows, and a veranda-style porch wrapping around the front and/or rear.
Timber-clad houses particularly suit the eastern counties of Sussex, Kent, Essex and Suffolk, and many coastal areas. But this style of house is increasingly being accepted elsewhere across the UK, especially where it can be justified that there is a mix of local materials and vernacular.
George and Louise Winch built a six bedroom timber frame ranch-style house (above) with rooms in the roof in West Sussex, designed by architect Peter Rawlinson. Leading timber frame package supplier Potton Homes (potton.co.uk) has also designed several timber-clad American- inspired homes for self builders.
Peter Rawlinson: 01273 330929
Inspired by the Barcelona Pavilion (above) designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe for the 1929 International Exposition, this style remains the archetype for contemporary single storey design 80 years on — with an informal open plan layout, filled with light by floor-to-ceiling windows that blur the boundaries between inside and out, and a simple flat roof plane that appears to almost float. One interesting recent take on the style is Skywood in Buckinghamshire (below) designed by the architect-owner Graham Phillips.
Layout configurations are almost limitless, as flat roofing can cover almost any arrangement of intersecting rooms, and can cover outdoor areas, too, from entrance porches to outdoor rooms.
The style has evolved and many pavilion- style homes are now using softer and more sustainable materials than white cement render and concrete, including natural timber and stone cladding, lime-based breathable renders, and sometimes sedum roofs.
Foster & Partners: 020 7738 0455
One of the oldest vernacular forms is the longhouse, a simple one-room-deep single storey cottage, often with small windows and one or two gable end chimneys. Originally built from stone and sometimes cob or rammed earth, with a turf or thatched roof, examples still survive widely across Scotland, Ireland, Wales and the South-West. Many now have slate or tin roofs, or have been extended upwards to add rooms in the roof.
This humble style is still favoured by planners on open country sites in areas where it is the traditional form. Architects like Skye-based Dualchas Partnership have taken the concept and reinterpreted it, giving it a contemporary twist, updating the structure and creating an open plan layout, often with vaulted ceilings, and introducing large expanses of highly energy-efficient glazing to maximise light.
Mary Arnold Forster of Dualchas Partnership built her own home based on the traditional Highland longhouse form (above). The 133m² house is timber frame and cost £86,450 — just £650/m².
Dualchas: 01471 833300
It is not unusual for a new addition to an existing house or bungalow to be restricted to single storey height by planning policy, especially in a sensitive location. And in the case of a large extension, much of the same design criteria apply as to a new dwelling.
When Edinburgh-based Paterson Architects were briefed to design a new family home as an extension to a traditional 65m² L-shaped cottage on the Aberdeenshire coast, they came up with a design for a long, low, flat-roofed form, with large windows and clad in vertical larch boarding (above).
The sleek modern addition is in total contrast to the old white-rendered, slate- roofed cottage — now restored as an open plan home office and guest accommodation. Yet, it is low in impact both visually and ecologically. Despite being almost three times larger, it remains subservient to the cottage, to which it is linked via a generous hallway corridor.
The original inward-looking cottage is centred around the warmth and comfort of the hearth with small windows and solid stone walls. In contrast, the new 190m² space is built using a highly insulated timber frame structure, with open plan spaces and large, carefully positioned windows that make the most of southern views of the North Sea and Montrose Basin; the cottage also has panoramic views north to the Angus Glens.
Children’s bedrooms and the open plan kitchen, living and dining areas face south with large windows to maximise the views and benefit from passive solar gain. The master bedroom faces west with views north to the Glens.
Paterson Architects: 0131 220 1088
Many single storey or one-and-a-half storey schoolhouses were built in the mid to late 18th century and when looking for a traditional single storey form, this is one of the nicest options.
Old schoolhouses typically had steeply pitched gabled roofs with decorative bargeboards and at least one large ‘schoolroom’ window, lighting a double-height space that is ideal as an open plan living room or kitchen breakfast room, with a vaulted ceiling.
Although the schoolhouse would be single storey, there is often a section with accommodation in the roof space with dormer windows, and this makes more efficient use of the built volume.
It’s not unusual to have a small bell tower or clock tower, a feature that can be utilised to add interest. Twelve-time self builder and HB&R Contributing Editor David Snell built a Victorian schoolhouse-style bungalow in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire. Designed by Beverley Pemberton of Design and Materials, the double-height vaulted-ceiling living room features a wonderful glazed gable wall.
Design & Materials: 0845 404 0400
The traditional log cabin is a single storey form that lends itself well to certain locations, particularly more secluded sites close to woodland and/or water. There are several log cabin suppliers in the UK, mostly importing kits from the US, Canada and Scandinavia.
Cabins are popular as second homes, or as garden lodges/annexes. Under Permitted Development (PD), it is possible to build outbuildings covering up to half the original garden area of a dwelling, up to 4m in height (visit planningportal. gov.uk for more on PD).
Try Scandinavian Log Cabins Direct: slcd.co.uk
A popular style for a single storey house in a rural location is the agricultural building. The key to getting this style right is to copy details from traditional barns, typically very utilitarian, using materials such as stone, oak frame or brick under slate or clay tiles.
Roderick James Architects: 01803 868000
Carpenter Oak: 01803 732900
A single storey height planning restriction might seem to preclude any prospect of a three storey dwelling, but it is possible to achieve this within what is apparently a single storey form by utilising the roof space and creating a semi-basement level by excavation.
Lorn MacNeal Architects managed to achieve just this when designing a new house in Edinburgh (above) in what was formerly part of the grounds of a listed mansion house. The planners limited the height at the boundary in line with an adjacent single storey garage. The key to overcoming this was to combine a monopitch roof and to use the slope of the site to create a large inverted house with bedroom, garaging and storage accommodation at lower ground level.
The monopitch roofs create a strong sense of space and height in the main open plan living areas at the upper level, with large areas of south-facing glazing. The ceiling height reduces towards the north boundary to ensure minimal visual impact to the neighbouring property.
The kitchen and dining area are positioned under the lower, more intimate part of the sloping ceiling, which steps down through a half storey to a garden room opening directly onto the rear patio terrace and garden area. The three storey stairwell, lit by clerestory windows, creates an imposing, attractive and inviting entrance hallway — completely belying its single storey status.
Lorn MacNeal: 0131 226 3838