The ubiquitous ranch-style home, uniquely American and ensconced in suburbs and cities alike, was first built in the 1930s in California, and soon spread across the country. An outgrowth of Frank Lloyd Wright’s prairie style, early bungalow homes, and the Spanish colonial architecture found throughout the Southwest, “the ranch style was extremely popular with the booming post-war middle class of the 1940s to 1970s,” said Wikipedia. In fact, “By the 1950s, the California ranch house, by now often called simply the ranch house or even ‘rambler house,’ accounted for nine out of every ten new houses.”
While the popularity of the ranch-style home waned in the 1980s and 1990s, the style is “now enjoying a return to vogue, mostly as custom-built homes,” said Front Door, and among those looking for original ranch-style architecture and mid-century modern details.
Elements to look for: “The ranch house is noted for its long, close-to-the-ground profile, and minimal use of exterior and interior decoration,”’ according to Wikipedia. “The houses fuse modernist ideas and styles with notions of the American Western period working ranches to create a very informal and casual living style.” The ranch-style home’s single-story profile indeed draws from its western roots, where ranch homes “were one-level, practical and unadorned,” said Front Door. Additional elements typical to the ranch-style home include:
- Designs in a “U” or “L” shape
- An emphasis on outdoor living serviced by a rear yard through sliding glass doors
- Attached, two-car garages
- Low pitched roof detail
- Large porches and patios
- Deep-set eaves
- Walls of windows
Draw: When ranch-style homes were first built, “their livability, flexibility in floor plans and uncomplicated design were perfect for the post-World War II growth of American suburbs,” said SF Gate. Their popularity today is in part due to the one-story layout preferred by some families with small children and older individuals who wish to forgo stairs. Because a larger footprint is typically needed to accommodate a one-story home, lots can also be larger, while older neighborhoods can also offer both a budget friendliness and a more-lived in environment, which appeal to a wide variety of buyers.
“Younger house buyers find that ranch houses are affordable entry-level homes in many markets, and the single-story living of the house attracts older buyers looking for a house they can navigate easily as they age,” said Wikipedia. “Many neighborhoods featuring ranch-style houses are now well-established, with large trees and often with owner modifications that give these sometimes repetitive styles individual character.”
Architects: Architect Cliff May is credited with building the first Ranch-style house in San Diego in 1932 and is considered the pioneer of the style. To this day, his works are coveted as architectural wonders “built for individuals who want to erase the lines between indoors and outdoors and embrace the spectacular Southern California climate,” said Rancho Style. In Northern California in the 1930 and 1940s, William Wurster’s ranch houses gained a following among homebuyers and he become a darling of the media world, with his work published in magazines including Sunset and House Beautiful.
During the late 1950s and 1960s, the ranch style began to be re-imagined and reinvented by two architects in particular: Joseph Eichler, known for “California modern” and the Alexander Construction Company, whose “enclave of modern architecture…doubled the size of Palm Springs and caused the city to take on a new shape, direction, and character,” said Wikipedia.
“The ranch house can be considered a subtype of modern-style architecture, which embraces open spaces and the connection between indoor and outdoor living,” said Front Door. As such, imitators and creators over the years have taken the original inspiration for the ranch-type home and adapted it into more modern designs.
Neighborhoods: Ranch homes are found in Southern, Central, and Northern California, inland and coastal, suburban hamlets and urban centers. In Southern California, they can be found throughout Los Angeles, the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys, and Orange County. The “Long Beach Cliff Mays,” as they are known, comprise 700 homes in a Long Beach, CA neighborhood called Rancho Estates built in 1953 and 1954.
In Northern California, Wurster’s ranch houses can be found in such areas as San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood, in the Portola Valley, and in Gilroy. Eichler Homes span the state, with developments in San Francisco, Sacramento, The East Bay, and in Southern California’s Thousand Oaks, Granada Hills and Orange. Twelve hundred Alexanders were built in neighborhoods throughout Palm Springs, some of which fetch upwards of $1 million today (the least expensive Alexander was sold for $30,000 when it was built in 1957).
Is ranch-style architecture making a resurgence with you? Maybe it will when you see the example below.
6310 La Valle Plateada
Rancho Santa Fe, CA 92067