Negative associations with the bungalow are a thing of the past with more and more people choosing to build single storey regardless of planning constraints. 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 the once hugely popular bungalow alive and well — often encouraging designers and self builders to be highly innovative.

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Although frequently mocked as homes for the elderly or infirm, living in a bungalow is many people’s ideal. The single-storey layout means no stairs to negotiate, and 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 is very appealing to some.

Traditional single storey timber-clad Cape Cod-style house

This dormer bungalow by Shona and Jerry Ponder is a perfect example of a well-executed ranch-style design

Consider Ridge Height

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.

If you consider most ground floor storey heights are circa 2.4m from finished floor to ceiling (which optimises wall boards which are themselves 2.4m), you easily have good space above for an attractive roof design and of course, the option for vaulting the spaces within. You could even consider taller ground floor ceiling heights up to around 3m and still remain in the many planning constrained ridge height scenarios.

Bear in mind that if you are looking to use a plain tile on the roof then you’ll be unable to go less than 35° in any case. That said, 35° is too low for some people. To get the proportions right,  keep room/span widths below 5m and opting for a steeper roof of between 37.5° and 47.5°.

Avoid Deep Floorplans

One of the key design principles for successful single-storey new builds is avoiding overly deep floorplans. This will inevitably lead to rooms ‘locked’ within the footprint which do not have external walls — in turn, the opportunity for windows and/or doors to the garden is lost. You could bring light in from above by way of roof glazing, but this type of feature often works best as an enhancement rather than a single source of light.

To avoid deep floorplans, look to design more linear arrangements such as T-shape or L-shape plans, or to break the plan up into smaller components, which can be staggered.

Another approach is a courtyard layout. This will at least double the number of external walls available for glazing. It also provides extremely good visual connectivity between the various rooms, which is great if you love open plan layouts.

However, courtyard designs can sometimes suffer from poor privacy, so this needs thought during the initial concept stage. The privacy issue can arise if, for instance, the main living areas look straight across into the bedrooms. It’s worth considering details such as brise soleil with partial vertical screening outside of those rooms that require more privacy.

white render home self build

This Highlands bungalow was built on a budget of just £100,000 and configured in a courtyard style

Rethink Space-Wasting Corridors

The other mantra that should be going round in your design thoughts at an early stage is ‘no corridors’. Corridors should not really be necessary to get around the building if you understand the principles of space planning and spatial flow. But humans like corridors — we are conditioned to follow routes rather than transferring from space to space.

Break away from convention and work out what works best for you. You may want to have the master bedroom closer to the kitchen/dining/living areas and perhaps the kids’ and guest rooms further away. However, these could be accessed through a large central atrium hallway which is spacious and light and acts a central hub circulation zone.

This single storey bungalow is designed as a pavilion style

Inspired by the Barcelona Pavilion designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe for the 1929 International Exposition, this take on the pavilion style bungalow was designed by the architect-owner Graham Phillips

Bungalow Styles

A number of styles are single-storey in nature, or lend themselves to bungalow arrangements.

Contemporary

A bungalow of a contemporary style will likely favour an open plan arrangement of rooms for living accommodation, while the exterior is likely to be clad in a crisp white render — a combination of contrasting cladding materials including timber, metal or slate might also feature to break up the façade and add interest.

Ranch House-Style

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.

Barn-Style

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.

Pavilion

This style remains the archetype for contemporary single storey design, 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.

Longhouse

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.

Schoolhouse

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.

Cabin-Style

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.

Sloping Sites Can be Advantageous

Often sloping sites are considered prohibitive by most commercial developers, but the changes in level can provide some exciting opportunities for the self builder. Caution should be exercised, though. If you build two storeys at the front of a site, which then slopes down, you’ll end up with a three-storey element at the rear — which can very often be too tall and have too much massing to be acceptable to the planning authority. This is where the humble bungalow can come to the rescue.

There will also be instances where the property needs to appear low profile and low impact from the road. Designing a minimum verticality, which can be further softened with extended roof lines to create greater eaves coverage, is a good solution. The first floor windows would typically be low-impact inset dormers or flush rooflights so as to keep that visual bulk under control.

As you move into the design, it is typical to place secondary rooms such as the WC, utility, study and perhaps a couple of bedrooms at upper level, but then you can really go to town with enjoying the benefits. The main living, kitchen, family, dining zones could then be set into the sloping site at lower level, with access to the garden. The resulting two-storey appearance at the rear, which could be fully exposed or partially absorbed into the landscape, is a far more familiar built form than three storeys and is therefore ‘softer’ in planning terms.

Vaulted Ceilings Need Careful Planning

With single-storey design comes the general desire to open up all of the ceilings and go for vaulting throughout. Bear in mind that you will need some roof space for general storage, unless you have the intention of providing this elsewhere, i.e. in a basement or outbuilding.

If you are opting for an energy-efficient, airtight home, then you will likely need a mechanical ventilation heat recovery (MVHR) system and as such, you’ll need to keep some of the roof zone to accommodate this, too. The heat exchanger sits above your living space and is ducted down into and around the various rooms, so it definitely needs some thought at an early stage to ensure it can be accommodated.

A contemporary, sustainable longhouse

This longhouse-style bungalow by Skye-based Dualchas Partnership has introduced large expanses of highly energy-efficient glazing to maximise light

Michael’s Key Tips

Make the most of taller ceiling heights, vaulted ceilings and the chance to bring in light from above via rooflights or lantern

Don’t mix public (living) space and private (bedroom) space. Try to create a clear divide via a hallway

Don’t design a deep plan that leaves rooms in the heart of the house without much light

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