By Melissa Allison
The popularity of mid-century modern homes makes the lack of luster surrounding their cousins from the same era — long, low, exceedingly popular but sometimes bland ranch-style homes — all the more obvious.
Built from 1935 to 1975 in such numbers that many people grew up in them or have parents who did, ranch homes are enjoying a mini-revival among people who appreciate the ease of single-story living and, in many cases, the lower mortgage payments.
The ranch style originated in Southern California in the mid-1930s, according to “A Field Guide to American Houses” by Virginia Savage McAlester. It was by far the most popular home design through the 1950s and ’60s, as people relocated from urban areas to large subdivisions.
The rise of ranch tracts accompanied the rise of the automobile and sprawl of all sorts, including the expansion of Sunbelt cities from Atlanta to Dallas to Phoenix and Los Angeles. Ranch homes were popular in the north, too, but northern suburbs had more split-level and two-story homes, possibly because of higher land prices and the lower cost of heat in compact housing, McAlester wrote.
Guidelines from the Federal Housing Administration played a major role in the construction of homes beginning in the 1930s, and shaped the design and popularity of ranch homes in particular. The size of the homes grew as builders lobbied for higher loan limits, according to McAlester.
The rambling form of ranch homes is an expression of how decadent Americans were becoming with land. Flush with economic success and no longer confined to streetcar commutes, people favored large houses and lots.
The style is loosely based on early Spanish Colonial designs from the Southwest, including “larger pitched-roof homes that featured private courtyards and covered inward-facing porches, ” McAlester wrote.