What is a Ranch-Style Home?

Present from around 1955 to 1985, the unique California style once dominated the American suburbs.

Odds are you’ve seen a ranch-style home. Until recently, they were the most popular style of home in America. Still, most people can’t quite pinpoint what the term “ranch-style” means or where it comes from. Let’s get to the bottom of it!

The Style

Most commonly, the ranch-style home features a single story, a low-pitched roofline with hanging eaves and an open floor plan, usually in an “L” or “U” shape. Primarily prevalent on the West Coast, these vintage homes often include an attached garage, a large picture window facing the street and sliding glass doors leading to an outdoor porch.

The houses, also referred to as rambler homes, are most often associated with the ’50s and ’60s. Remember the Brady Bunch house? That’s a ranch-style home! Now that you can picture it, how about a little history?

History of the Ranch Home

The ranch house was first developed and made popular in the 1930s, taking inspiration from North American Spanish colonial buildings, Mexican adobe haciendas and—you guessed it—Southwestern ranches. The style was a way to rebel against the boxy Colonial homes dominating the market.

Originally constructed for optimal ease (bye-bye stairs!), the simple and open layout was designed to meet the basic needs of the occupants. For example, the U-shape became popular as a way to build around outdoor courtyards while the low roofs with wide eaves were essential for keeping out the brutal Southwestern heat.

With wings stretching into backyards and courtyards and patios mingling with interior spaces, the ranch house quickly became a comfortable and enjoyable lifestyle choice for the majority of California families.

Growth in Popularity

After World War II, veterans looking to settle down and start a family away from the city had to look no further than the beautiful ranch homes popping up all over the country.

By the early 1950s, ranch homes exploded in popularity, accounting for one in nine new homes in America. The boom can be traced back to a variety of factors, including low costs, ease of construction and a desire for something unique. Today ranch homes may be considered conservative, but at the time they were the epitome of new and chic.

What Makes it Different?

Exterior

The ranch home’s customizability made it ideal for a generation looking to get away from the stereotypical white picket fence and dormer windows of the average American home. While many of the houses at the time featured porticoes, steep roofs and porches, the ranch home provided a new layout.

What truly set the ranch house apart was its indifference to the styles of the past. For example, the low-to-the-ground rambler house was not interested in the usual status symbol qualities of the domestic two-story house.

While certain styles, such as Victorian or Colonial, featured multiple small windows on the front-facing side of the house, ranch houses usually included one large picture window looking out towards the street. This extravagant feature was designed to project the domestic life out—a great way to show off those cozy Christmas trees or spooky Halloween decorations.

Interior

Instead of separate rooms, the ranch house was known for its open and casual floor plan and simple wooden adornments as opposed to wallpaper or paint.

As a way to build on those pesky Californian slopes, some houses featured the design innovation of the split-level house, a way to divide the floor plan into two distinct, half-story sections.

The rambler-style house also featured the added space of basements and attached garages, though now infamous for having super low ceilings.

Problems With the Ranch House

As land became more expensive in the early 1970s, people began opting for the less expensive option of the classic two-story home by building up instead of across.

The style also dropped in popularity as it became clear that it was best suited for the Southwestern climate. Rain often collected on the nearly flat roof, resulting in flooding and freezing.

Another potentially problematic feature of the ranch house was its tendency to be built on a concrete slab. This foundation often resulted in random cold spots and a decrease in heat efficiency.

The Future

Ranch-style homes are now considered historic, with a restoration movement finding its footing in the U.S. While some prefer to keep the traditional ranch design, many are looking to remodel. Luckily, the single-floor layout makes it extremely easy to move walls as there is never a second story to worry about.

Though ranch-style houses will never be as popular as they once were, there is no doubt that these homes will always have a place in America’s heart.