Roots of the Ranch Style House
What's a Ranch Style house? The formal
definition of the style couldn't get more basic. The American Heritage®
Dictionary defines the Ranch as a "rectangular, one-story house with a low-pitched
roof." Wikipedia gets a little fancier: The Ranch is "a common term
used to describe a single story house often built with a very horizontal
appearance. The entrance is often low to the surrounding grade of land,
although some with basements have a more elevated entrance and are called
'raised ranches.' They are occasionally surrounded by large amounts of land,
but in the second half of the 20th century it was commonly used as a style
in tract developements."
The first Ranch Style house... was built in 1932 in San Diego, CA, by building designer Cliff May, but the style wasn't widely built until Abraham Levitt and Sons used it in their famous planned community called Levittown, in Pennsylvania, beginning in the late 1940s.
Speaking of tract developments... the Levitts were among the first to build tract housing on a wide scale. In the years following WWII, the demand for affordable homes soared as returning vets with new families, and help from the GI bill, looked to settle down. The Levitts stuck to a few simple, flexible house plans and smart building methods that allowed them to maximize economies of scale, and by the time they built the Pennsylvania Levittown (not the first community they built with that name), they had perfected their method. They were lauded as visionaries by some and demonized by others as the originators of the phenomenon of "suburban sprawl," but the popularity of their communities at the time meticulously planned down to the last detail is unquestioned. By 1950, one out of every eight new homes in the U.S. had been built by the Levitts; they remained the nation's largest homebuilder throughout most of the decade.
The genius of the Levitt design: Levitt designs made maximum use of limited space through an "open" design plan that eliminated some interior walls. Large windows invited plenty of natural light and sliding glass doors opened onto exterior living spaces. The Levitts were keenly aware of consumer trends, and all of their models featured state-of the-art kitchens with a built-in range, refrigerator and other labor-saving accesories. With a nod toward those growing post-war families, many models featured unfinished second floors or attics that could be finished as the family grew. Keeping some of the interior space unfinished also helped to keep costs down and the housing affordable. Even the exterior spaces were considered in the Levitts' meticulous planning: every lot got the same allocation of green stock, including evergreens, flowering shrubs, even fruit trees. The illusion of variety was perpetrated by rotating the houses on their lots and varying the placement (but not the quantity) of landscape features. Because the developers knew many buyers were moving to the 'burbs from the cities, every new home came with a "how-to" guide for maintenance of the home's interior and exterior features.
Read more about the history of Levittown, PA, in the illustrated Levittown:The First 50 Years (click on image for more information).
The "Campi" The name refers to the ranchers -- some 8,600 of them -- built by the Campanelli Brothers in eastern Massachusetts during the 1950s and 1960s, primarily in Peabody, Beverly, Framingham and Natick. According to the Wikipedia, these are "classic cookie cutter style homes that feature the same general shape and floor plan; while there are six or seven styles of the houses, the large majority ... are referred to [as] Campanelli "L" ranches because their floor plan resembles the letter 'L.' At the time of construction, these homes were considered by many to be the epitome of the American dream of homeownership; today they are viewed as more modest homes." Most of the one-level houses were 3-bedroom, single bath, and like those offered by the Levitts, the Campis featured all the latest amenities: electric appliances, built-in kitchen cabinets, and an attached garage (recognizing the growing importance of the car in the post-war period). Today, the Campi subdivisions are mature reflections of their earlier selves -- the trees have grown, the landscaping's filled in and the houses reveal how needs and materials have changed over these past decades: many of those attached garages are now family rooms, some homeowners have built out or up in search of additional space, vinyl windows have replaced the old metal frames, and more often than not, the original siding has been covered with vinyl -- but their essential character survives.
Read more on the origins of the Ranch Style and it's Mid-Twentieth Century Modern cousins:
Books ~ For books about the Ranch Style, it's history and the best in past and present design, see our book section on our Ideas & Discussion page.
Campanelli Brothers homes ~ Wikipedia.org http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Framingham,_Massachusetts and "Postwar Housing Comes of Age," Betsy Friedberg, Preservation Advocate Spring 2003: http://www.sec.state.ma.us/mhc/mhcpdf/pasp03.pdf
Cliff May, Father of the California Ranch Style house ~ Beginning in the early 1930's Cliff May started designing and building homes for the Southern California climate and the people who wanted to enjoy it. Drawing on influences from western ranch houses, the Hacienda style, and Modernism, May's houses stretched out instead of up, with wide open spaces and walls of glass that blurred the boundaries between indoor and outdoor spaces.
-- Beautiful examples of Cliff May's Rancho Style houses in Long Beach, CA: http://www.ranchostyle.com/gallery/index.html
-- Cliff May Library: http://www.ranchostyle.com/clifflibrary.html
Joseph Eichler ~ A developer, not an architect, Eichler (a contemporary of the Levitts) built thousands of houses in California between the 1940s-1960s, working with several different architects. Influenced heavily by Wright, Eichler had a genius for simplifying and adapting "modern" style for the booming post World War II housing market.
-- Eichler Design, a beautiful site by Eichler homeowner Barry Briscoe :http://www.totheweb.com/eichler/
-- Eichler Homes of Southern California ~ a rich resource of information on the style, and lots of beautiful photographs: http://www.eichlersocal.com/index.html
Preservation ~ Movements are afoot in many communities across the country to preserve outstanding examples of mid-twentieth century housing design, including Eichlers, Mays, and others. Two Bay area Eichler subdivisions, for example, were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005.
-- "Rescuing the Relics of Modern Times," from U.S. News and
World Report, June 2000. Article by Margaret Loftus: http://www.eichlersocal.com/NewsandArticles/USNews.htm
-- Eichler History/Preseveration: http://www.totheweb.com/eichler/preservation.html