The Enduring Popularity of the Californian Bungalow

The definitive style of the California Bungalow remains popular with Aussie families and lends itself well to a modern makeover while still retaining its classic characteristics.

The Californian Bungalow, also affectionately known as the ‘Cal Bung’ became one of Australia’s most popular forms of housing in the 1920s shifting away from the architectural influences of the European-style Victorian and Edwardian houses to the less decorative styles of America’s west coast.

It was a style created by Los Angeles architects, borrowing from the English Arts and Crafts philosophy popular between about 1880 and 1920 with its emphasis on traditional craftsmanship, and then adapted to suit their hotter climate and casual lifestyle.

Surprisingly the Californian Bungalow was also influenced by the single storey detached houses of Japan and the ‘Bengali’-style native thatched roof huts modified by the British in the Indian province of Bengal.

California Bungalows soon popped up as family homes throughout the Los Angeles region. Typically, it was a one or one-and-a-half storey house with a triangular roof supported by tapering pylons. It had a front porch and sleep-outs, pergolas, and breezeways for easy indoor/outdoor living.

Imported from Pasadena California, the first of its type here was assembled in Sydney in 1916 by a real estate agent. It quickly captured the attention of Australians in awe of the glorified Hollywood image of the American way of life they saw in movies and magazines.

In addition, they were relatively cheap to build and easily adapted to our lifestyle and the dry warm climate similar to California. This cemented their popularity with middle-class families who were looking for affordable, single-level dwellings in the suburbs.

A variation called the ‘Airplane Bungalow’ is characterised by a ‘pop-up’ second floor, usually of one or two rooms; resembling a cockpit of an airplane, which was more popularly seen along the west coast of the United States and south-western and western Canada.

The construction of Californian bungalows in Sydney lasted for about two decades until the start of World War II.

Design Features

The original American designs were typical of a solid construction and built of rustic materials including rough-hewn sandstone, heavy timber and wood shingles. Other typical features included gabled roofs (triangular shape) with shingled detail (overlapping layers of wood, slate or tiling) and veranda balustrades built in timber and brick.

Locally California Bungalows were generally built of brick, and to a lesser extent, with weatherboard or timber. Red or liver-coloured bricks are common, but exteriors can also feature rendered roughcast and weatherboard finishes. Veranda balustrades are built in timber and brick (exposed and rendered).

Gradually, regional adaptations started appearing, e.g. a red brick version in Melbourne, liver-coloured brick in Sydney and in limestone in South Australia. The Queensland version was raised on high stilts to allow movement of air and made from timber and galvanised iron roofing.


The California Bungalow was planned and designed for casual living with an informal, open layout, and the intention that every room had a view to the outdoors.

Common features  include:

  • simple rectangular house plan with connected living and dining rooms
  • clinker brick (darker discoloured brick) chimneys (see photo below)
  • high ceilings
  • larger blocks of land
  • stained glass or bay windows
  • timber floors, window and door frames and picture rails stained dark to contrast the lighter coloured plaster walls
  • plain external timber joinery
  • deep shady veranda under a low-pitched or flat roof that is supported by substantial masonry piers, sometimes with squat colonettes or grouped timber posts
  • a separate garage, typically for a single car, to the side and behind the house in the backyard
  • post and wire fences rather than the timber picket fences associated with Victorian and Federation styles.


Fitting in with Today’s Lifestyles

While Victorian and Edwardian homes tend to sit within 5–10 km of the major city CBDs, California Bungalows were generally built in the 10–20 km ring.

In Melbourne, this kind of house dominates the middle-ring suburbs, like Thornbury, Northcote, West Footscray and Glen Iris – suburbs that were subdivided and populated between about 1910 until 1930.

They have also made their mark on large areas of Sydney, including Bellevue Hill, Randwick, Daceyville, Eastwood, Coogee, Clovelly, Maroubra, Willoughby, Roseville, Concord and Rockdale.

Because it originally embraced open space and simple lines, it is a family-friendly house design that can be very easily adapted for modern lifestyles without interfering too much with the traditional Cal Bung style.

Common renovations include balconies, second storeys and extensions to the back of the house for outdoor or entertainment areas.

Recent Purchase

Californian Bungalows remain extremely popular with Cohen Handler’s clients, especially because they are usually solidly well built on larger blocks of land and include many attractive features such as big verandas, high decorated ceilings and open-plan living.

Cohen Handler recently bought a classic Californian Bungalow (see photo below) in Sydney’s inner western suburb of Five Dock for a family with three children.


The home offered 3 bedrooms plus study, a free-flowing layout, high ornate ceilings, polished timber floors and a feature fireplace. The family was extremely keen on finding a property with significant value-add potential, such the addition of a second storey (subject to council approval).

[Photo caption] This classic Californian Bungalow in Sydney’s inner west was recently purchased by Cohen Handler for a family of five.

Cohen Handler can help you find the Californian Bungalow of your dreams. Contact us now to ensure you find the right property at a price that suits your budget.

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