They are an icon of their time. Bolstered by an expanding economy riding post war confidence, American home builders of the 50’s, and 60’s turned to the efficiency and fresh face of the American Rancher house as former GIs and their families bee-lined to the suburbs. Inspired by the houses of the American southwest and a peaking modernist architectural dogma, the ranch abandoned the vertical format of the traditional multi-storied, steep-roofed homes and embraced the low lying, horizontal format of the ranch’s one-story living. Gone were all of the architectural features too. The new single feature became the picture window facing the street. (1) Its function is still questioned to this day. Did it let in light and provide real view or was it intended to expose the interior view of this “new way of living:” an encouraged social voyeurism? We may never know the true intention of the picture windows, but the ranch love affair ended in the late 70’s only to see a revival from nostalgic baby boomers as early as the 90’s. Many baby boomers also desire the “Aging in Place” design possibilities not easily achieved in popular two-story colonial house designs.
My clients were looking for an addition to their classic 50’s split level ranch. They were two very successful professionals with more than just a passing fancy for the ranch. The modern aesthetic was a passion for them. With many ranch projects, I have added a second floor or pushed, pulled and wrung the “ranch” right from the house per many clients’ requests, but now my charge was to enhance the ranch with contemporary up-fits in a modernists language.
The finished house now performs like analog clockwork. A new flexible family room would provide a TV area and a possible guest room thanks to a couple sets of well-placed pocket doors. The existing living room can now be preserved as a formal room and technology free area. An expanded kitchen would also serve the client’s lifestyle better. The original rancher designers did not regard the kitchen as a social hub the way we do today, but no crafted wooden cabinets were to be used here. The original metal kitchen cabinets were to be repaired, re-painted and added to. A new full bath and laundry room would also be positioned for the necessary multi-tasking of today’s family. All the while true modern furniture and décor adorns the interior. More proof that modern living is alive and well.
There are many sources for modern ranch design ideas. Dwell and Atomic Ranch magazines are just two noteworthy sources other than searching on-line. You may even notice that traditional designs are being streamlined as the design pendulum swings back toward this clean modern aesthetic. As they say”, sometimes we need to go back to move ahead.”
Footnote (1) Last Harvest: How a Cornfield became New Daleville, Witold Rybczynski