Classic Comfort at the Ranch

The Old House Web

by Allison E. Beatty
Old House Web Columnist

The casual, relaxed living found in a low-lying ranch home is not just for the hills of California. This style is an integral part of almost every suburban landscape throughout the country. With its one-story design and low-pitched roof, the unassuming ranch sits quietly next to the statelier Georgians and the showier Victorians. While often overshadowed architecturally by other styles, the ranch still holds its own among those who prefer its simple design and comfortable floor plan.

Ranch Houses Welcome Homecoming Heroes

The one-story ranch home has its roots in the post World War II housing boom. As soldiers returned and looked for housing for their families, ranch homes were considered a good economical choice to fill the demand.

The inception of the ranch house also coincided with the movement outward from city centers. This migration provided home owners with the opportunity to enjoy a simpler lifestyle and relax in their yards. Developers bought more affordable land further away from the city limits, which made it possible for bigger houses to be built without adding second or third stories. Lots were offered in larger sizes and patios and yards gained prominence in home design.

Ranch Dressing: Architectural Elements

The "mass production" label, however, often casts a dim light on the ranch home. As a result, many people do not look beyond the simple architecture to the many benefits the ranch offers.

Instead of an ornate front porch and carefully crafted crown molding, the ranch typically features bay windows, natural oak floors, and a simple floor plan. The uncomplicated layout--with living space in the front and bedrooms in the back--is more important to some ranch owners than other architectural niceties.

Among the common attributes of the ranch home are:

  • One story design with living room, dining room, and kitchen near the front and bedrooms at the back.
  • A low pitched gable roof with deep eaves.
  • A long, narrow layout.
  • Large picture windows in the front.
  • Sliding glass doors in the back, often leading to a patio.
  • Simple floor plan.
  • Attached garage, sometimes with courtyard planting area nearby.

Splitting the Ranch

The basic ranch also evolved into several similar floor plans over the years. The "split level," for example, is a ranch with a staircase that leads up half a flight to the bedrooms and down half a flight to a rec room or basement.

Ranch Floor Planning Issues

The potential downside to owning a ranch is that all of the living is spread out over a larger floor plan. In many cases, ranches have an "L" or "U" shape that can make interior design and landscaping a challenge.

The rectangular footprint also affects housing costs in today's market. In some cases, a ranch requires a larger lot just to accommodate the rectangular expanse of living space. This can increase property costs, making a ranch less affordable than a similarly sized two story house. In other cases, the layout can cut into usable yard space or create landscaping dilemmas.

Ranch Building Materials

Most ranches were built from natural materials, including wood or brick on the outside and oak floors on the inside. These materials help create a warm, comfortable feeling without all the fuss of other architectural styles.

When renovating an older ranch it is important to maintain the simple architecture and use similar materials. By properly matching the exterior brick during a room addition, for example, one can create a seamless transition from old to new.

Another downside to renovating a ranch is the added cost of some building materials. Because the ranch stretches farther on a lot than a similarly sized two-story house, it requires more roof and gutter material.

Resurgence in Ranch Style

The one story ranch design that captured the hearts of many home owners during the 1950s and 60s is seeing a resurgence in popularity. Many older home buyers are moving toward ranches as they age. This also is being seen in new homes, prompting builders to add ranch plans to appeal to an evolving demographic.

Many Baby Boomers, for example, are moving away from their traditional two-story homes and into floor plans that allow for one floor living. Many home owners are either ready to give up the daily trips up and down stairs or they are planning for the day they have to.

Also, many of today's ranches have more flexible open floor plans that fit with current lifestyles and entertainment trends. The combination family room and dining room layout is more conducive to entertaining, for example, than the small room layouts of many older homes.

Expanding the Ranch

The comfortable ranch also is taking on new shapes, as home owners renovate and expand it to suit their needs. One option is to take a screen porch along the rear of the house and convert it into an enclosed room.

The layout of the ranch also makes it well suited for a second floor addition, assuming the first floor has the appropriate structural supports in place. Before crossing that line back into two-story living, however, home owners should weigh their goals carefully. They may be losing all the simplicity that drove them to a ranch in the first place.

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