Kansas City is bursting with bungalows

05/27/2014 3:11 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

The house was so ugly that Diane Reuter didn’t want to get out of her car to take a closer look.

It was October 2011, and she had been driving around for what seemed like an eternity, shopping for a bungalow.

Reuter, 68, had never actually lived in a bungalow, but she loved the architectural style so much that she was already a member of the Kansas City Bungalow Club and owned enough arts and crafts furnishings to fill one.

“I really like the arts and crafts aesthetic; the quarter-sawn woodwork, the size of the rooms and the low-slung appearance from the street,” she says.

So there she was, sitting before a Craftsman bungalow on a lovely block in a historic neighborhood in Independence, five blocks from Harry S. Truman’s childhood home.

And she was unimpressed.

Signature design elements on the home’s facade had been covered or removed. The large front porch had blue carpeting and was enclosed with glass.

Her daughter finally convinced her to peek in the windows.

The inside had been split into three apartments, all the copper plumbing had been torn out and there was no functioning HVAC system.

But the bones … the bones were amazing.

“I knew right away I had to have it,” Reuter says.

KC has thousands

According to Merriam-Webster, a bungalow is a house that’s all on one level or that has a main level and a second smaller level above it.

But that’s a generic description.

A traditional bungalow was built between 1910 and 1930, specifically, and have a low-pitched roof and a long, deep front porch, says Jan Bentley, a bungalow owner and founder of the Kansas City Bungalow Club.

The roof usually has wide overhangs with exposed wood brackets and rafter tails supporting them. The front door usually opens into the living room and the floor plan is relatively open.

The typical size of bungalows in Kansas City is between 1,700 square feet and 2,000 square feet. But that varies around the country.

“We think there are about 10,000 bungalows in the Kansas City area, maybe more than any other style,” Bentley says.

Most are between 47th Street on the north, 75th Street on the south, Wornall Road on the west and the Paseo on the east, she says.

Ask bungalow owners here what they love about their homes, and they’ll usually rattle off popular Craftsman design elements such as an abundance of solid wood trim, a fireplace flanked by bookcases and art glass windows and the simple lines of original lighting fixtures. Owners also love custom features like inglenooks and window seats and the Craftsman-designed hardware, lighting and tile work.

But not all Craftsman homes are bungalows and not all bungalows are Craftsman homes. According to Bungalow Magazine, there are 20 types of bungalows including Tudor, Craftsman, Cape Cod, Spanish, Colonial Revival and Moderne.

That said, most bungalows in the Kansas City area are Craftsman, which reached its height of popularity during the housing boom from 1915 to 1925, just as the middle class was moving out of apartments and into houses in droves, Bentley says.

“It was easy for builders to pick up a bungalow pattern book from companies like Sears or Aladdin, order a prefabricated home kit for about $3,000, have it shipped in by railroad and put it together,” she says.

Kansas City, which was and is a train hub, could accommodate the large kits, she says.

Bentley bought a 1,900-square-foot 1919 Craftsman bungalow in Kansas City in 2003 and founded the bungalow club a year later.

She is an avid fan of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, an architectural contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright, known for designs that have contrasting right angles and floral-inspired decorative motifs with subtle curves. Such details work nicely with the Craftsman style, so Bentley has sprinkled Mackintosh patterns and designs liberally through her house.

The wainscoting in Bentley’s dining room was designed to look like wainscoting at the Glasgow School of Arts, a Mackintosh masterpiece in Scotland. She was so determined to get it right that she called the school to find out how deep the plate rail is atop their wainscoting so she could duplicate it. She hired Renditions of Weston to stencil walls, cabinets and even a shower curtain with Mackintosh patterns.

“You put your heart and soul into it, and if it was ‘ruinated’,” she says, making air quotes, “which a lot of them were, you try to bring it back to what it wants to be.”

She’s also replacing her furniture with simpler, straight-line pieces.

“I’ve always been a Country French girl. But that doesn’t work in a Craftsman,” she says. “It’s too froufrou. When you move into a Craftsman you are supposed to weed out the froufrou. So I’m trying to get rid of this.”

She tapped her Country French dining room table.

“It’s just wrong. It has to go,” she says. “Craftsman calls for less stuff.”

Lovely inside and out

Tami and Brock Rule moved into their Craftsman bungalow in Kansas City seven years ago and didn’t have to do much restorative work.

As far as Tami Rule could tell, the yards of wood trim had never been painted, and many of the original light fixtures were intact.

“The home had been rented a couple of times, which probably saved it from renovations,” she says.

At 3,500 square feet with five bedrooms, it’s huge for a bungalow. The Rules believe it was built in 1913, because a photograph taken that year from across the street, at St. Teresa’s Academy, shows it under construction.

The living room spans the front of the home and has two seating areas, one on each side of the entry.

“This is the girls’ side and this is the guys’ side. Guys don’t like to sit on sofas next to each other,” Tami Rule laughs, pointing to a set of four chairs facing each other on one side the room. Another chair and two sofas sit on the other side in front of a large fireplace, flanked by bookcases and windows.

The home is so elegantly furnished that Hallmark has used it several times for photo shoots.

Rule was intimidated by the idea of decorating the home when the couple first moved in, so she hired interior designers. But their styles were fussy, she says.

“I decided I was doing better on my own,” she says. “So I stepped back and went room by room and ended up with a mix. My first thought when we bought this house was that it needed all antiques, but I went away from that and have thrown in a little modern.”

The Rules outfitted the large front porch with outdoor draperies and an upscale outdoor patio sofa sectional.

“We were mostly attracted to the porch,” Tami Rule says. “We sit out there and invite neighbors up for a glass of wine. We are sad when winter comes.”

Polishing a diamond in the rough

Reuter’s porch is now equally welcoming. The screened-in walls and blue carpeting are gone. She, too, welcomes visitors to sit on nice patio furniture.

After several rounds of bidding on the home, which was in foreclosure, Reuter took ownership in early 2012 for practically a song.

She spent the next two years restoring it — for nine times the purchase price.

Highlights include the overmantel on the living room fireplace that was custom-fitted with a wood panel resembling the original but opens to reveal a flat screen TV; a Craftsman-style staircase custom-made of solid oak that leads from the dining room to the second floor, and a reproduction coffered ceiling in the dining room.

Reuter spent three months stripping the dining room’s wood trim and a large buffet and hutch with leaded glass doors. She was able to preserve several original sconces and found antique doors on Craigslist for second-floor bedrooms.

Her all-white, state-of-the-art kitchen has period lighting and custom cabinets made to look like an original found in the basement. All of the walls have been painted using Sherwin Williams colors that are historically accurate.

She decorated with Tiffany-inspired lamps and arts-and-crafts furniture.

“This is stuff that I already had. I haven’t bought anything since I moved in here,” she says. “It about as close to the original as it could be. It was a labor of love, that’s for sure.”

About the series

KC Dwellings is an occasional series that looks at residential architectural styles in the area. The next feature will focus on midcentury ranch homes. If you’d like to submit your ranch for consideration, please email photographs of its exterior and several rooms to cgregorian@kcstar.com by Friday.

For more information

The Kansas City Bungalow Club offers information at kcbungalow.org, or contact Jan Bentley at 816-363-0349, or at jbentleyinkc@yahoo.com.

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