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The Features Series: Rooflines (Label That Lid!)

Welcome to the second installment of The Features Series—a series that highlights the unique visual elements that make a Chicago bungalow a Chicago bungalow. This round, we’re going straight to the top and talking about the distinct yet varied collection of bungalow rooflines!

If you missed last month's blog post about Defining Feature #1, the iconic bungalow bays, click here.

Defining Feature #2: The Front-Facing Roofline


One of the primary characteristics shared by Chicago bungalows is a low-pitched roof with overhanging eaves. Why did our bungalow architects opt for “low-pitched” roofs instead of taller gables? Well, because they add a horizontal emphasis. Overhanging eaves stretch out past the exterior walls for the same lateral effect. Bungalows actually have a lot of horizontal lines in general—from the eaves/fascia to the patterns in the brickwork to the limestone details and planter boxes. (Compare these to Workers Cottages, for example, which stress height and vertical elements with an extra story and a peak-ier roof.)

Who cares about horizontal lines? Well, here’s the deal: the low-lying roofs allow for that extra half story, but still give the feeling of a building that is spreading out across the Illinois plains. This is done in an effort to look more expansive on city lots that are often seen as cramped. Bungalows look and feel roomier than other homes, not due to their square footage, but due to their design. For example, have you ever been invited into a large, corner lot bungalow (aka bungaloid), walked inside, and realized it was approximately 5,000 times larger than it looks from the street? That's perhaps a bit of a rough estimate, possibly an exaggeration, but still. That’s not witchcraft, it’s just some stellar design tricks.

So what are these rooflines actually called? Do they have names? Heck yeah, they do. There are actually a lot of variations—bungalows never disappoint—but we’ve broken down the most common types for you below.

Hipped Roofline


A hipped roofline—sometimes referred to as a “hip” roof, especially when it’s wearing tight jeans—is a roofline where all four sides of the roof slope downward toward the exterior walls. You’ll see these more than any other roof type plunked on top of a Chicago bungalow. In addition to keeping the general horizontality mentioned above due to their low pitch, they’re actually fantastic for Chicago weather. The low profile protects against high winds while the pitch of the roof allows snow to easily slide off. This prevents standing water, which can really wreak havoc on a roof.

Most Chicago bungalows feature dormers at the front and back of these roofs. Over the years, many owners have added them to the sides of the roofs as well for additional light and headroom. Dormers also have their own tiny rooflines! The form and details vary considerably—sometimes they’ll have their own little peaks on top for front gables, sometimes they’ll have their own hipped roofs, and, occasionally an eccentric outlier may have an eyebrow-shaped top (an arc).

A Chicago bungalow built in 1925 with dormers on the front, rear, and side.

Side Note: What’s a dormer? A dormer is an addition that extends from the side of the roof. Because attics are often dark and gloomy (you might opt to call them cozy and mysterious if you’re a romantic), a dormer window brings in some light while also adding a little visual pizzazz to the exterior. Unlike skylights, dormer windows let light and heat into the space without risk of leakage and also have operable windows that are easy to access for some fresh air. Bungalow dormers are frame elements, meaning they're constructed of wood, and are often covered in clapboards or in asbestos or asphalt shingles that match the rest of the roof. Some dormers feature decorative wooden eaves, and most include small casement or double-hung windows in groups of two or three.

Gable Front Roofline

Left: ‘True,’ uninterrupted gable front. Right: Interrupted gable front.

Gable front rooflines are likely the second most common Chicago bungalow roof type. “Gable front” refers to the open end of a roof, or the upside-down V shape (^), if you will. Gable front Chicago bungalows can be divided into two categories: true gable fronts and interrupted gable fronts.

True gable fronts are an extension of the brick façade, meaning the brick on the front of the house just keeps extending upward, uninterrupted, to the point of the gabled roof. There will likely be an attic window opening along the way.

An “interrupted” front gable resembles more of an overgrown gable dormer or a classical pediment, so it’s visually set apart from the first floor of the house. The triangle shape that forms the roof is essentially outlined along the bottom as well, so another horizontal line is articulated. The gable may also be recessed, meaning it steps back slightly from the roofline.

In many cases, the gable is covered not with brick but with wooden clapboards, providing another visual break between the façade and the gable.


Side Note: What’s a gable? A gable is a type of roof design where two sides slope downward toward the walls and the other two sides include walls that extend from the bottom of the eaves to the peak of the ridge. Wondering what that looks like? Well, if you are standing in front of a house and the triangle end of a roof is facing you, that’s a front gable. If the triangles are facing the neighbors’ houses, that’s a side gable.

Side Note: Jerkinheads! Otherwise known as “clipped gables,” the jerkinhead is a gabled roof that has been cut off or clipped at the top-front edge. These are pretty common on both gabled roofs and gabled dormers. (Our Grants Manager at CBA calls them out gleefully whenever she sees them, so we’d be remiss to not include them!)

Jerkinheads! (The one on the right may or may not be original, but it is the jerkinhead-iest.)

Gambrel Front Roofline

Left: Gambrel front roofline. Right: Ad from 1944.

Even less common are gambrel front rooflines. These can be a half story or a full story, “interrupted” or “true.” We don’t have enough data to know for sure if many of these were original, but we do know that some were added in the 1940s to accommodate large numbers of people flooding into the city. During WWII, production boomed in many industrial cities, including Chicago, which received over $9 billion in war supply contracts. The industrial workers followed, and housing, like these gambrel roof additions, were built to create apartments for those workers.

Detroit Roofline

A Detroit bungalow is a Chicago bungalow but with a side gabled roof. If you ask a Detroiter what a Chicago bungalow is, they might say it is a Detroit bungalow with a hipped or front gabled roof. Fair enough, we’re lovers, not fighters. Both Chicago and Detroit bungalows have the same general proportions, materials, layouts, and wicked charm.

Side Note: If you have a protruding front bay... The street-facing roofline may be affected by the front bay and entrance. If either protrudes significantly from the front of the bungalow, it will most likely interrupt the flow of the main roofline, or bend it, if you will. Similarly, large corner bungalows that were built with finished living space in their top half story will likely feature large cross gables that interrupt the low roofline.

Left: Hipped roofs interrupted by extended bays. Right: Corner lot bungalows may have more complicated rooflines and/or cross-gables.

Excited by this new world of rooflines? Obviously. We hope you’ll shout yours out like you did with our Name That Bay segment. Wave your roof flag! #LabelThatLid


This is the second part of The Feature Series exploring the defining features of the Chicago bungalow and their variations.

If you have questions about your historic Chicago bungalow or vintage home, please contact us. We're here to help!

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