Never come between an Irish person and their 1970s bungalow

TV: My Bungalow Bliss turns out to be as bog standard as the homes it sets out to transform

My Bungalow Bliss: Liveline listeners bombarded Joe Duffy with complaints about Hugh Wallace’s new series

My Bungalow Bliss: Liveline listeners bombarded Joe Duffy with complaints about Hugh Wallace’s new series

 

Never come between an Irish person and their 1970s bungalow. Such was the message this week as some members of the public took umbrage at the suggestion that the nation’s stock of 40-year-old single-storey dwellings urgently needed updating.

RTÉ had described its new series My Bungalow Bliss (RTÉ One, Wednesday, 9.35pm) as a collaboration between “four innovative architects” and “four first-time bungalow homeowners” who were “desperately seeking a solution to their dark, damp and dated homes”.

This was perceived as disrespectful towards those who love their bungalows just as they are. Adding to the insult was a suggestion in a promo for the show that 1970s bungalows “were bog standard”. Cry havoc and unleash the listeners of Liveline, who bombarded Joe Duffy with complaints.

The problem with My Bungalow Bliss is that it sprinkles a pinch of social history into a standard property-makeover formula – but doesn’t go nearly far enough in conveying the bigger picture regarding Ireland and bungalows

Even if you couldn’t tell a bungalow from a gigolo, it set the scene for a lively hour of Wednesday-night telly. Alas, part one of My Bungalow Bliss wasn’t nearly as exciting as the storm in a cement mixer preceding it. “Bog standard” is the phrase, all right – but one that applies more to RTÉ’s slap-’em-up school of property television than to the bungalows that are the series’ focus.

The problem with My Bungalow Bliss is that it sprinkles a pinch of social history into a standard property-makeover formula – but doesn’t go nearly far enough in conveying the bigger picture regarding Ireland and bungalows.

The origin story touched on goes back to the early 1970s, when Jack Fitzsimons’s Bungalow Bliss, a book of off-the-shelf bungalow plans, transformed the landscape of the Irish hinterland. Lookalike bungalows popped up all around our towns and villages, seemingly assembled from a sort of grim Irish Lego.

In My Bungalow Bliss the architect and designer Hugh Wallace – aka the senior judge on the RTÉ series Home of the Year – clops to the rescue of present-day homeowners who want to turn their properties into something more contemporary. And, so far as it goes, episode one ticks the boxes. We are introduced to Connemara-dwellers Niki Byrne and Davin Larkin, whose “cold, dark and warren-like” bungalow is transformed with the assistance of the Dublin practice Studio Red into a stylish open-plan dwelling with an on-trend corrugated roof.

Yet it is hard not to notice what is left out. My Bungalow Bliss breezes past the buildings’ physical and social impact on Irish society and entirely glosses over the potential environmental downsides of the ribbon developments that they involved. Was it really a positive for so many houses to be built outside urban areas through the 1970s and 1980s? And how should we feel about this sort of one-off living today, when we are supposedly pivoting towards more sustainable living? Would Greta Thunberg roll her eyes? Or, in the working-from-home era, are bungalows and rural lifestyles more ecofriendly than we might assume?

There is a gripping and provocative documentary be made about one-off housing and the long shadow of the 1970s bungalow. Sadly, My Bungalow Bliss isn’t it.

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