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The Crazed Ranch

October 6, 2010

 The first Raised Ranch was a single story affair built by a man named Cliff May in San Diego in 1932.  The idea was to build a home that was as economic as possible and fit the minimal needs of depression-era families.  What made this building a Ranch?  Hard to say, but it has a layout that’s evenly split between bedrooms on one side and living space on the other side, with low pitched roofs and broad eaves.  The incredibly bland, bourgeois-friendly Ranch proliferated across the United States in the 1950s, as the gist of its exterior aesthetics and interior organization can be traced directly to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie houses.  It was as if fine Szechwan cooking was interpreted by La Choy. 

The greatest outrage for Frank was when the one-story ranch soon became the “Raised Ranch” with story and-a-half or two story walls, completely violating every aesthetic tenant of the Prairie style horizontality.

Ranch homes today represent almost the worst of all worlds; a home that is bisected like a center hall colonial and constrictive like a cape.  Because these are often split-level homes, or one-floor homes with bedrooms on one side and living space on the other, there’s virtually no opportunity to escape the strait-jacket of their extreme plan limitations.

 How can the wrongs of the Ranch be righted?  The “freed ranch” can benefit from a relocated entry to end the rending split that leaves two half loaves of space.  Or you can add a floor to most or all of the footprint to open up the first floor and segregate private spaces to a different level.  Additionally, the often awkward half-out-of-the-ground site location can be eased by creating decks that step down to ground level, or even the backfilling of earth to bring the site up to the informal side of the house.

 Here are the “danger zones” for many Crazed Ranches and how to defeat them:


 a.   The typical driveway disaster is the gaping maw of driveway dominance when you first see the house.  Think about entering the garage from the side!

 b.  The 1950’s fringe planting has often “eaten” the Ranch – remove and rethink.

 c.  Ranches often have an invisible front door.  A new separate rooflet can draw attention (and shed water).


 a.   Ranches often have windows by rote, following the room’s centerline and ignoring views.  Try connecting trim lines and adding windows to channel the Ranch’s inner Wright.

 b.  All too often, Ranches feature siding from hell/bizarrely huge shingles.  Think about several siding types to “layer” the house.


 a.  Kill the “split the baby” mindset of 50-50 planning – half social, half bedroom with a single wall splitting the two.  A simple addition can free up the first floor plan, moving bedrooms either up or out.

 b.  The interiors are almost always blind to the site.  Open up views by adding windows and doors to access your site.  Kill windows that happen to see the “bad side of town”.

 Interior Finishes:

 a.  Ranches still harbor shag rugs, “popcorn” ceilings, plywood paneling, dark stained wood and every Brady cliché imaginable – lighten, whiten, and naturalize!

 b.  Double height space silliness.

 c.  Bathrooms are bleak and lightless – try skylights.

 d.  Kitchens are cramped and cloistered – let the walls come down!

7 Comments leave one →
  1. October 10, 2010 2:44 pm

    In the throws of freeing a raised ranch with a reverse gable and volume spaces inside

  2. duo permalink
    October 11, 2010 3:27 pm

    Ranches are always a good place to start – almost as elemental as the true Ur-House, the Cape

  3. December 28, 2010 2:10 pm

    Another few things to keep in mind, with all houses, Ranch, Contemporary, Cape:

    *What happens to the rain? The snow? Gutters and leaders don’t work well when they fill up with leaves and snow. Consider BIG gutters like the old days, with down drains of black plastic chains to a tidy edged catch basin filled with river run gravel. Or, carry a band of gravel around the house, except entrances, that will conduct rain to the trench drain below surface.

    *Think about the sun, and it’s good and bad effects, as well as creating an interesting sun and shadow pattern.

    *Night and dusk lighting. 24 hour architecture. How will it look from the approach, car/truck/bike/

    *Landscape approach

    *Consider drive under overhang on side of house, like FLLW to the entrance. If lot is too small, put a generous overhang in front of garage doors, on side.

    Good work, Duo

  4. March 29, 2013 9:06 am

    Excellent write-up. I definitely appreciate this site.

  5. April 16, 2013 8:27 am


  6. June 9, 2013 9:00 am

    I do consider all of the ideas you have offered to your post.
    They are very convincing and can definitely work.
    Still, the posts are very quick for newbies.
    May you please extend them a bit from next time? Thanks for the post.


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