A blog about the restoration, remodel and renovation of a 1929 Chicago-style brick bungalow

Hips, Gables and Sheds

Pete and I have been talking extensively about our roof this weekend. One of the things that has always really bothered us about it is the gable dormer in the front. Bungalows are supposed to be ground-hugging with a low-pitched roof but ours looks like the roof is about to take off!

That’s not the only thing that bothers me:

  • The two attic windows are too far apart and separated by vinyl siding — it just looks plain wrong! They should be separated by a mullion, a vertical member between window units
  • The white trim seems like too much contrast to the red brick
  • The fireplace chimney is U-G-L-Y!
  • I have loathed the roof color — kind of a mix of red, white and gray — which just makes it look pink and gray. (The photo is a little overexposed, so it’s hard to see the true colors)

I don’t think Pete likes the roof shingles either. The windows, chimney and trim doesn’t really bother him, but he’s usually not as opinionated as I am.

We’ve often talked about modifying the gable and creating a hip roof instead, one that cuts across the top horizontally instead of coming to a point at the top. It seemed to be more in keeping with the true Chicago bungalow style and would give it more of a ground-hugging feel. And because our attic height is taller than many other Chicago-style bungalows, it really needs to at least look more low-pitched.

So after breakfast this morning we took a little walk around the neighborhood to look at other bungalows. There was a mix of gable and hip dormers, and somewhat minor details could really make a huge difference in looks.

In the two below, both have hip roofs, but you can see what a huge difference the “wings” make to the appearance of the one on the left. That one also had very old diamond-shaped roof shingles. It definitely needs a new roof, but for its apparent age, it was still in relatively good shape.

The single window in the bungalow on the right also looks out of place. (The arched French doors are nice on the entrance to this one, but it is not original to these bungalows; small open porches were the norm.)

The next one has a similar brick color to ours. The peachy pale orange window trim on the first floor tones down the white trim a bit. I don’t know if I’d use orange, but I’ve thought about doing something like this to ours. The hip roof looks nice here. It’s interesting to note how much further to the front of the house our dormer is situated.

According to Historic Chicago Bungalow Association guidelines, side dormers are supposed to be set back 20 feet from the front of the house in order to be less obtrusive. Many of the bungalows we saw with side dormers “violated” this guideline, including this and the next one, and you can see it makes a difference in appearance.

The last one has a gable dormer like ours, but you can see it looks much nicer. I think one reason is that the attic height isn’t as tall as ours, but I think the main reason is because the gable is set back further and is therefore more “squat” than ours.

Another thing we noticed is that while some dormers were clad with siding, traditionally the dormers were covered with roof shingles so that it blended in more with the roof.

All good things to consider as we move forward. (Stay tuned — lots of things happening at Bungalow Chronicles!).


  1. Carol on May 18, 2009 at 11:06 am

    Your dormer doesn’t look bad at all! Our Oak Park bungalow also has gable front and back dormers, with the original, small windows. I think the light color makes your dormer stand out more. We also have a low-slung shed dormer on one side of the house (also original). It is set-back much farther than the ones in your neighborhood photos, and has more downward slope. All the dormers are sided with shingles.

    We had to replace our light-gray shingles last week. We went with a walnut brown to complement our dark face brick which is a mixture of olive-y green and maroon tones. The color change made our light tan and maroon trim really pop and definitely made our bungalow suddenly seem more grounded.

    Good luck with your attic remodel. Ours will remain an attic for at least a few more years, now that we finally (after 10 years!) remodelled our kitchen and put on that new roof and gutters.

  2. Christopher Busta-Peck on May 18, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    If it was my house (and I’ll be the first to admit that my tastes are not for everyone) I’d consider removing the viny siding from the dormer and painting it a color that harmonized better with the brick. What that color would be, I’m not sure.

    The space between the two windows on the dormer wouldn’t feel so awkward if you ran trim around them that was a bit wider than what is there already.

    Slightly wider bargeboards on the gable might also help it fit in a bit.

  3. Karen Anne on May 18, 2009 at 5:23 pm

    Like Chris, my thought was to paint the dormer a color close to the brick. Colors make a big difference.

  4. southsideandy on May 18, 2009 at 10:46 pm

    Hi Denise…I think your front gable is the entire problem, honestly…I think because it’s set so far forward, it looks “taller” and makes your eye think in a more vertical fashion than horizontal. You were getting at that when you mentioned how far the others were set back.

    One note…in terms of roof color, watch how dark you go — we changed the rubber mat roof on our dormer (which I’m not sure is set back 20 feet, but hey, we bought it that way, so c’est la vie!) from black to white, and the difference in upstairs temperature was noticeable (though it still gets hot up there in the summer sun — just not AS hot).

    Other than that, I think it would be cool if you could somehow “push back” that gable face a few feet, exposing more of the slanted portion of the roof, and go with more horizontally oriented window(s) up there. It’s one of the things I actually like about our bungalow…we have plenty of headroom upstairs in our bedrooms, but the face gives the illusion that it’s a lower pitched roof than it really is…

  5. denise on May 19, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    Carol: the choices you made on yours sound great — seems like we’re thinking along the same line.

    Chris and Karen Anne: Yes, totally agree about the color thing. I want to get this right this time around! And good point about the trim around the windows too.

    southsideandy: I addressed some of those points in my latest post. I do love how “squat” yours is, and very interesting about the temp in your upstairs! The color I think we’re going with is the lightest color that goes with both the face brick and common brick, so hopefully it’ll all work out!

  6. Andy on August 18, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    I know this is an olllld post, but I’m still curious… what was the square footage of your attic pre- and post-dormering? I cant seem to find that info on any of the posts (but I could easily just have missed it…)


    • denise on August 18, 2015 at 5:12 pm

      Hi Andy, I don’t think I ever mentioned square footage. Since the attic was unfinished before this, I can’t really say what the original SF was, however in general the width of the finished space is about 13-1/2 feet (and then goes from the front of the house to the back lengthwise). The dormer in our bedroom/bathroom added another 7′ or 8′ to the width. Overall it only added about 120-130 SF, but I don’t think it would feel as spacious (and I don’t know how easily a bathroom would fit without it). Does that help?

      • Andy on August 19, 2015 at 12:12 pm

        yes, thanks much!

        • denise on August 19, 2015 at 1:42 pm

          You’re welcome! BTW, not sure if you have a Chicago bungalow or something similar in a sloped roof and are trying to figure out space planning, but we were extremely lucky to have a taller roofline than many I’ve seen. So within that finished square footage our knee-walls are over 4′ tall and our ceiling height is 8′ tall (with a 4-foot flat ceiling span at the peak). Hope that makes sense and is helpful.

          • Andy on August 19, 2015 at 7:17 pm

            Yeah I have a Chicago bungalow (i.e., in Chicago), it has a flat front (non-bay), with the entrance on the side. Hipped front- and -rear-attic windows, with a single bedroom finished in the attic. I actually dont know the square footage either, but I think the building is 25′ wide and the attic has quite a high peaked ceiling. My fiancee and I are trying to decide if we’re going to put in dormers before finishing the attic… or finish now with an option to add dormers later. We reallllly want a master bed-bath up there and dont want to wait until we can afford dormers to do it. We can start framing and finishing ourselves whenever we decide to…

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