From Bungalow to Contemporary

Tag Along as We Explore Some of L.A.’s Most Iconic Home Styles


Among the many advantages of living in Los Angeles is the chance we have to see prime examples of the city’s historic residential-architecture styles—some right around the corner and others in a neighboring city just up the freeway. Though we pass homes that epitomize these styles every day in our commutes or travels, we don’t always take the time to truly appreciate the details and features of these classic homes that continue to give L.A. its unique and colorful character. So sit back, relax, and join us on a mini tour, complete with a few stellar examples of some of our area’s most iconic home styles. Better yet, take the time to check out some of these styles for yourself.

A California Classic: The Bungalow

An L.A. home tour wouldn’t be complete without mention of the bungalow. We love everything about this simple yet eminently functional home. With its humble beginnings in the early 1900s, the California residential bungalow owes its origins to a burgeoning turn-of-the-century population in Los Angeles and nearby Pasadena, which at the time was a popular resort town.

L.A. Bungalow Home

“The climate was perfect for a rambling natural house with porches and patios,” Patricia Poore wrote in a December 2011 story for Arts & Crafts Homes. “By 1930, Los Angeles would have more single-family dwellings than any comparable city, with 94 percent of its families living in single-family homes. An essential part of this mass suburbanization was an innovative, small, single-family, simple but artistic dwelling—inexpensive, easily built, yet at the same time attractive to the new middle-class buyer. Enter the California bungalow, a term that was in use by 1905, if not before.” So popular were these quaint yet classic homes that Sears Roebuck & Company sold kits with everything needed to construct a bungalow home.

“The climate was perfect for a rambling natural house with porches and patios.”

What’s not to love about these unpretentious houses? Constructed of mostly local materials, like wood and boulders, these homes often feature terraces, verandas, patios, small courtyards, or screened-in porches. The very first bungalow homes had one story, but as different architects brought their own ideas and customer demands into the mix, designs shifted a bit. While the homes are alike in many ways, with their characteristic gabled roofs, overhanging eaves, wood siding, and open, airy interiors, what makes a tour of bungalow neighborhoods compelling is finding the unique touches, the colorful tweaks, the distinct flair.

You can find numerous examples of classic bungalow homes with individual personalities in Bungalow Heaven in Pasadena. Named a historic Landmark District in 1989, the 16-block area can be found between Orange Grove and Washington boulevards and Lake and Hill streets. Anaheim, Fullerton, and Long Beach are also great places to spot bungalows.

Gamble House
Photo courtesy of Flickr

If you have a little time and really want to get a feel for this type of architecture, head over to the Gamble House. One of Pasadena’s true gems, this beauty was built in 1908 by U.S. bungalow pioneers Charles and Henry Greene for David and Mary Gamble of the Procter & Gamble Company. The house—a California Historical Landmark, U.S. National Register of Historic Places site, and a U.S. National Historic Landmark—is now owned by the city of Pasadena, and every year two lucky USC architecture students get to call it home. One-hour tours are available (it’s best to buy tickets in advance online), but we recommend you stop by on Brown Bag Tuesdays. Eat lunch in the yard and take in a 20-minute tour for $8. You’ll be glad you took the time.

Recreate the bungalow look in your designs with a palette that inspires the inner artist. Saturated jewel tones are a modern nod to this classic California style.

Edmund's Beige
14-26

Moss Stone
18-19

Indian Buff
13-10

Beau Geste
24-18

Raven
14-17

Red Mosaic
3-18

Early Modern Styles

In and around the L.A. area, we are also fortunate to have many extant examples of homes with early modern architectural design roots. Most of these homes were built in the years between the World Wars, and what impresses us about these dwellings are the clean lines and sparse decoration. A far cry from the mass-produced track homes that would later be built to house the massive influx of defense-industry workers during World War II (think Westside Village and Toluca Wood), these structures proudly displayed their individuality. As we look at these homes, we see nods to art deco and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School.

L.A. Early Modern Home

Want to see one of these homes up close? Drive over to the Schindler House, at 835 North Kings Road, in West Hollywood. A tour of this historic home gives you a chance to see firsthand the rooftop sleeping porches and communal kitchens in this dual-family concrete structure built in 1922 by Austrian architect Rudolf Schindler. The site is now the home of the MAK Center for Art and Architecture, which offers up a full slate of concerts and art shows. On the days it’s open to the public, you can wander through the house and meander around the bamboo grove outside. We think you’ll be impressed by the clean, almost stark look of the home that Schindler called “a real California scheme,” and we’ll be surprised if you don’t find yourself daydreaming of a simpler time in the city. The house is open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tours are reasonably priced at $10 for general admission and $7 for students and seniors. Maybe make a day of it with a tour of the house and some time spent perusing a MAK exhibit.

As we look at these homes, we see nods to art deco and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School.

The early modern style is about pairing inviting neutrals with pops of deep, warm hues. This Pratt & Lambert Paints palette breathes the comfort and simplicity America longed for during times of uncertainty.

Carbonite
14-30

Sumac
9-11

Milk White
15-32

Bryce Canyon
5-19

Whale
14-25

Flint
32-20

Midcentury Modern and Contemporary Homes: Experiments in Design and Materials

Sprinkled throughout the suburbs, many homes in the L.A. area fall into the contemporary and midcentury modern categories. Homes built in these styles first appeared on the scene after World War II, and they continued to be built in the Los Angeles area—and nationwide—into the 1970s. Influenced by European modernism and the international style of the 1920s and 1930s, these dwellings reflected architects’ fusing of the aforementioned styles with American influences, such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic design elements.

One of the things we find interesting about these homes is that their builders took advantage of new materials that grew out of the war effort, including plate glass, stainless steel, plastic laminates, alloys, and plywood. Details to look for are white-rock roofs, geometric-pattern windows, wood accents, and rock siding, touches that were popular with homebuyers in the 1950s and 1960s. Architects who made names for themselves building contemporary and midcentury modern homes in L.A. included Gregory Ain, A. Quincy Jones, and J.R. Davidson, whose Case Study House #1, at 10152 Toluca Lake Avenue, in North Hollywood, was part of a program sponsored by Arts & Architecture magazine in which prominent architects in the post-war years were commissioned to build affordable and efficient model homes to help accommodate the booming demand for houses.

Builders took advantage of new materials that grew out of the war effort, including plate glass, stainless steel, plastic laminates, alloys, and plywood.

Still standing, the Toluca Lake home, built in 1948, is worth driving to. Talk about curb appeal! Sitting atop a gentle slope, this wood-frame post-and-beam house has a flat roof, floor-to-ceiling windows, and sliding glass doors. Lush foliage surrounds the structure and the pool in the back, making this house a perfect example of the relaxed indoor-outdoor lifestyle that drew people to Southern California after the war. Drive through Westchester, West Los Angeles, and the San Fernando Valley, and you’ll see plenty of other contemporary and midcentury modern homes.

We tone things down a bit with our midcentury modern colorways, featuring muted shades and warm neutrals. These Pratt & Lambert colors reflect the move toward organic design in midcentury modern—a concept many designers still love today.

Honey Butter
8-30

Tarragon
8-24

Designer White
33-1

Butternut Leaf
15-20

Tumbleweed
7-28

Quartz Moon
31-29

What’s Now? What’s Next?

Exploring home-design influences over the past century or so makes us curious about the future. What’s in store for our city? Jeanine Centuori, an architect and the director of the ACE (Agency for Civic Engagement) Center at Woodbury University, believes the small-lot ordinance is having an impact on home ownership and lifestyle. Enacted five years ago, this ordinance allows lots to be subdivided into smaller parcels for individual townhomes.

“Because the ordinance encourages small parcels, the architecture tends to have tight, structured spaces with a synergy between interiors and green spaces,” she told the Los Angeles Times. “Many are row-house-like with pedestrian-friendly porches along the street face.”

Another prediction emerged from a design conference at the Lusk Center for Real Estate at USC in the spring. Expect developers to build as quickly as they can to keep up with demand, Leo Duran wrote for KPCC’s Take Two. But, he added, “Homes have sprawled pretty far horizontally in the region,” so it looks like the next logical direction is up, as in high-rise apartments and condo buildings.

Small townhomes or towering multifamily units, whatever types of homes get built, they’re sure to add yet another layer of character and charisma to L.A.’s eclectic housing landscape.