Ranch-Style Houses

For a while it seemed every house and garden-type magazine had articles deriding the ranch-style house. Not a western ranch house, but the relatively long, one or two-room deep single-story style, often with a large picture window in the front, that was built in subdivisions across the Midwest and West in the 1940s-1970s. They are not energy-efficient (too much glass to let heat in or out), they are all alike, there’s no historical pattern to them, and they are “common,” meaning both numerous and unsophisticated. You do not associate ranch (or “rambler”) houses with fancy trim and gingerbread.

To my eye, ranch-style houses come from two sources. First is the dog-trot cabin of the American south, where you had two separate cabins with a roofed-over breezeway connecting them. I’ve seen a few that had an attic or loft over the breezeway for storage or as a sleeping area. The other inspiration is the adobe and Spanish-colonial style from the Southwest, where long and low with thick walls served as a way to stay warm in winter, cool in summer and protected from attackers all year round, and you had privacy to do things on the patio inside the U-shaped walls. I’d also nod toward Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie Style in some areas, but that depends on who designed the original subdivisions and houses.

Ranch houses tend to sprawl because they are usually built on I-shaped or L-shaped plans. Redquarters was L-shaped, with half of the second bedroom and the master bedroom and bath forming the short leg of the L. The patio was tucked into the corner. The front of the long leg has the front room and dining room, and the garage, while the back has the living room and kitchen, a utility room, and the back half of the garage. From what I’ve seen, that was the basic design of 3/4 of the houses in the square mile around Redquarters.

The floor plan makes sense. You have the bathrooms and bedrooms at one end, and the public and common-use spaces at the other. Guests don’t have to go through/past/into the bedrooms, but there is easy access for the family. The public spaces flow into each other and it is easy to move around. Redquarters and about half the ranch houses I’ve been to have a bathroom close to the front door where guests can use it but again, without needing to go past bedrooms (or with a front bedroom that can be closed off).

Some ranch houses had a second, lower story or section, and are called “split-level.” All the split-level houses I’ve seen have been on sloped land and make use of building into the slope. They are also in tornado-prone areas, so that is sometimes touted as a feature. Some have decks that cover the lower level, others don’t.

Small world. I've been past this house when I lived in the Decatur area. But yo can see the slope and how the house fits into it. https://activerain-store.s3.amazonaws.com/image_store/uploads/4/2/0/3/0/ar126987538703024.jpg

Small world. I’ve been past this house when I lived in the Decatur area. But you can see the slope and how the house fits into it. https://activerain-store.s3.amazonaws.com/image_store/uploads/4/2/0/3/0/ar126987538703024.jpg

Over the years, a lot of ranch-style houses have been modified, added on-to, decorated, and otherwise tweaked by their various owners. Some have second floors, or faux-second floors added on to conceal their ranch-ness. Others have more rooms tacked on to the ends or the back, as happened at Redquarters, where the original patio was closed in and turned into a book room and office, which also allows a second (emergency) exit from the back bedrooms.

Note the front porch and the trim on the posts. This is on a pier-and-beam foundation. Most of the houses around Redquarters are on slabs. From houseplans.com

Note the front porch and the trim on the posts. This is on a pier-and-beam foundation. Most of the houses around Redquarters are on slabs. From houseplans.com

I’m not certain the following is really a ranch-style house. I’d call it western cabin-style or Allegany Camp-style, but I could see it on the modern luxury “ranch” properties appearing all over the western US.

One big advantage ranch-style houses have today is that they do tend to be on one level. As more and more older adults try to stay in their homes for as long as possible, not having to navigate stairs becomes more important. The open-ish floor plan is also good. On the down-side, doorways and halls in older houses might not meet the current 36″ or wider standard. And all the added rooms can turn into a maze. I was in one that seemed to go all over the place until I realized that it was really two houses, one L shaped and an I shaped addition with a patio filling half the space in between. Apparently the first owner had purchased two lots and built for a large family. I did have closet envy – three cedar closets. And the kitchen was about twice as large as any I’ve been around since the Red family moved to Texas. Some of the appliances dated to the original construction in 1958, though.

After 50 years, the ranch-style houses around Redquarters and in other neighborhoods have taken on an enormous variety of shapes and forms, with new porches, faux-dormers, bay-windows, rooms added on, porches deepened and sloped so the house looks on first glance like an old cabin from East Texas, and a few re-engineered into true two-storey colonial brick boxes. New trim makes them all different and intriguing to walk or drive past.

 

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3 thoughts on “Ranch-Style Houses

  1. And how many of them have priced themselves out of the neighborhood with all the add ons? That seems to be a chronic problem with older generic neighborhoods, especially in the east.

    • Yes. And complicating the roof line makes re-roofing that much more expensive, among other problems. Once you get past a certain square footage, the return on investment seems to tank. In the area around Redquarters, there are a bunch of “stock” houses (1250-1500 sq. ft.), a number of enhanced stock houses (1800-2200 sq. ft.), and a few dozen super houses (3000 sq. ft. and up). Most of those are later builds or were the developers’ show houses, but some are rather awkward extensions and add ons and odd bits. Not counting the back-yard follies like full outdoor kitchens . . .

  2. I never understood the hatred of the ranch house. Today the thing seems to be the tiny (less than 1000 sq ft) house. A single story house would seem to be cheaper to heat/cool than a multistory. Some people seem to think the preferred state of people should be squashed. “Urban Sprawl” i.e. suburbs are wrong. Sprawl is a dirty word.

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