The ranch architectural style is like jazz and great cheeseburgers - it’s an art form unique to America. Low-slung ranch homes, modeled after the casual style of homes on true Western ranches, were first built in the 1930s and spent the next four decades popping up like mushrooms all over the countryside. After falling out of favor in the 1980s and 1990s, ranch homes are now enjoying a return to vogue, mostly as custom-built homes.
The ranch house can be considered a subtype of modern-style architecture, which embraces open spaces and the connection between indoor and outdoor living. The art form was pioneered by California architect Cliff May, whose houses were often a single room deep so each room could open to the outside and benefit from sunshine and warm breezes.
- Single-floor living. The ranch home’s low profile comes from its roots in the Western United States, where working ranch homes were one-level, practical and unadorned. Modernist influences also kept ranch homes simple and single-story for the most part, although split-level ranches did become popular in the 1950s.
- Asymmetry. Classic ranch homes are often shaped like “L”s or “U”s.
- Sliding glass doors. One major purpose of the ranch style is to link the outdoors and the indoors. Sliding glass doors became a standard way to let in as much light and view as possible while connecting the living space directly to a patio.
- Backyard emphasis. Earlier American homes focused on the front porch, but ranch homes were designed for a private life out back.
- The garage. The spread of ranch homes coincided with America’s flight to the suburbs, which meant these homes had to accommodate cars - usually two.
- Rancho del Cielo. Ronald Reagan’s “Western White House” near Santa Barbara, Calif., was the former president’s retreat from public life.
- The homes of Joseph Eichler. Like those of Cliff May, the ranch homes designed by California architect Joseph Eichler are enjoying a resurgence. Eichler’s designs are heavily influenced by modernist principles.