Mid-century America was dominated by the ranch, those low horizontal homes typified by a rambling floor plan. Indeed, the ranch—or "rambler"—accounted for a whopping 9 out of 10 homes built in the US during the 1950s. But by the 1970s, the rambler's allure began to fade. As the US grew more prosperous, and as such post-war ideals about community and family made way for post-modern cynicism and individualism, Americans began to clamor for larger homes that reflected their personality.
But recently, the ranch has enjoyed a resurgence, due to the economic recession and the design's wide availability and reasonable prices. Though long maligned for its uniformity, these contemporary versions have proved that the ranch can be stylish and modern.
Maynard and Katharine Buehler House, Frank Lloyd Wright, Orinda CA
The Californian architect Cliff Mays is generally credited with conceiving the first modern ranch, though Frank Lloyd Wright's Usonian homes and Prairie Style also had a large impact on the development of ranch-type houses. But it was William Levitt, however, who would mastermind the tract housing and subdivision developments so often associated with the rambler.
Levitt, nicknamed the “King of the Suburbs," seized on Mays’ and Wright's ideas and employed them as the main design scheme for the homes in his Levittowns. These have little variation, sometimes creating a dizzyingly infinite, mind-numbing landscape. Indeed one song from the 1960s, which was later used as the theme song to the suburban satire "Weeds," mocks the uniformity of these towns, saying the homes are "all made out of ticky-tacky, and they all look just the same." Ranches were sprouting and proliferating like an infectious design principle driven by market demands.
But not all ramblers were not built in the cookie-cutter mold of Levitt. In California Joseph Eichler incorporated the design values of Cliff Mays with those of modern architects such as Mies van der Rohe.
Eichler homes used single level post and beam construction with open floor plans similar to other ranch houses, but he incorporated a plain exterior with floor to ceiling glass windows. The transparent walls accomplished a key Eichler idea to “bring the outside in”. Steve Jobs himself grew up in an Eichler home and acknowledges a debt to the architect in his design philosophy. “His houses were smart and cheap and good," Jobs said. "They brought clean design and simple taste to lower-income people.”
Here are a few examples of our favorite ranch homes that break out of the “all look the same” mold and show that the typology does have the potential to inspire amazing modern designs.