This common, one-story house with a low profile has a distinguished American pedigree. Yet, for decades it’s been overshadowed. As the ranch again attracts attention, learn about its best features and how older, dated examples can become strikingly modern.
Cliff May, considered the father of the ranch house, drew his inspiration from Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie-style and Usonian homes, as well as later Arts & Crafts designs. May designed and built these ranch homes in Southern California from the 1930s on with a goal to develop a prototype that would suit home owners in a warm climate who favored informal living and easy outdoor access.
After the Second World War, developers borrowed May’s concept to construct small variations quickly and affordably and meet growing housing demand. Some ranch-style homes were cranked out, cookie-cutter-style, in large tract developments such as Levittown on New York’s Long Island. Yet at the same time, other iterations grew into more sophisticated “California Modern” designs in the hands of developers such as Joseph Eichler, who had lived in a Wright home.
Hot, Then Not....
In more recent times, the popularity of ranches has waxed and waned, depending on typical homebuying criteria: location, condition, and price. In Southern California, they remain a favorite that can command top dollar, especially if they’re near the ocean and good schools, says Kelly Morgan, sales associate with Troop Real Estate in Westlake Village, Calif. “A single-story in Thousand Oaks, closer to water, will bring a higher price than in Santa Clarita,” she says.
Back East, they remain popular on New York’s Staten Island because they’re among the more affordable options and offer relatively open plans as opposed to Colonial- and Victorian-style layouts, says broker-owner Holly Wiesner Olivieri of Holly’s Staten Island Buzz. She and her husband bought a ranch 17 years ago for its private cul-de-sac location, proximity by ferry to Manhattan, and handyman-special price. In other parts of the Northeast and Midwest, ranches can be a tougher sell, as more home owners typically prefer a two-story Colonial or Cape, says Connecticut architect Duo Dickinson.
Who’s Buying Now?Overall, the greatest interest nationwide is coming from two demographics:
Give it the right name.
Ranches share many similar features — a single story with low-pitched gabled roof, for example. But that doesn’t mean that one moniker works everywhere. In some areas, the term “ranch” won’t raise red flags. But Chicago architect Stuart Cohen of Stuart Cohen & Julie Hacker Architects thinks that for some buyers, it has a negative connotation in the same way “tract” housing does. “‘Mid-century modern’ is a better term since it connotes a classic collectible,” he says.
Play up its manageable, affordable size.
Averages vary, but generally these homes are under 2,000 square feet, and some are less than 1,000 square feet. Rooms are usually small by modern building standards. Most were built with three bedrooms and two full bathrooms, though this also varies, says Levesque. The small footprint, along with a typically small lot, works well for those interested in keeping down costs, maintenance, and taxes.
Highlight the open layout.
Most feature a small center hallway that separates living quarters from bedrooms; the living area often consists of an L- or U-shaped living-dining room with a small, separate kitchen, says Dickinson. While not as open as many of today’s informal loft-style plans, ranches offer more openness than other older traditional homes do. That arrangement works especially well for young families who want to keep a close eye on children, says Guinzburg.
Share how to improve profile and layout.
Because of the style’s simple form, roofline, and construction method, ranch homes’ low ceilings can be raised and vaulted to 10 to 12 feet or higher. A second story can be added and interior walls can be removed, says architect Jeff DeGraw of DeGraw and DeHaan in Middletown, N.Y. By replacing the genre’s small windows with bigger panes, the home can also look larger. In fact, new windows are often a good investment here, since the originals weren’t usually the most energy-efficient, DeGraw says. On Staten Island, most ranches were built with a basement, so Olivieri often hires an architect to draw a simple floor plan to show how an unfinished lower-level space can be transformed.
Explain how to modernize while respecting the facade.
The exteriors of ranch homes can easily be updated with paint or new siding materials. But the goal should be to respect the home’s roots and not turn it into a totally different animal, says DeGraw. “Keep it simple, with the same proportions and trim, so it still reads as a mid-century modern house rather than a New England–style Colonial with shutters,” he says. Levesque follows a similar mantra and also makes changes that fit the house into its site and neighborhood. Due to its small footprint and one-story design, adding on can be relatively easy if funds and the site, setbacks, and septic system permit, says Cohen. The key is to do so with similar proportions so what’s new fits with the original, he says. Levesque stresses the importance of respecting the site and existing trees.
Channel the modernist spirit.
To attract buyers who find it hard to visualize furnishing a ranch, consider staging with mid-century modern pieces. Reproductions are readily available online at sites such as Allmodern.com and Retrofurnish.com. Los Angeles designer Kimba Hills, owner of Rumba, a mid-century modern design store, also advises installing modern light fixtures and cabinet hardware, painting backgrounds white, and adding a skylight if the house is dark. “So many buyers want what’s modern, yet they also want something with character and a hint of nostalgia,” McMahon says.
When all’s said and done, the ranch provides a cool way to live for another generation. Ultimately, Dickinson says, “It’s more about the living that goes on within.”
JANUARY 2016 | BY BARBARA BALLINGER Realtor Mag.
Looking for a large Mid-Century Modern home? You don't have to go too far outside of the city to find one.
For those buyers looking for larger modern homes, there are many Mid-Centruy Modern enclaves outside of the city. I have toured and sold many of these homes. For more information about this home or other Mid- Century Modern homes contact Dana. And check out the Boston Magazine article.
319 Farm Lane, Westwood
Size: 3,250 square feet
Another mid-century modern gem south of Boston is for sale this month. The crimson-colored construction offers more than 3,000 square feet of space in an open floor plan. An abundance of picture windows align with classic mid-century modern design—they’re meant to integrate the home with nature, allowing for views of the landscape and plentiful natural light. Fittingly, the home is situated near the Lowell Woods and the Mulvehill Conservation area. The house was also recently expanded with a new addition swinging off of a cathedraled atrium. The wing includes two levels with a master suite above and a family room below, fusing 1958 architectural details with more modern ones.
Which cities and towns in the Boston area have the most affordable single family homes? Keep in mind that much of the housing stock in more urban areas (Boston, Cambridge, Brookline, and Somerville) are condos. If you're in the market for a single family home near Boston, then Revere, Everett, and Malden top the list for affordability. The chart above, made with data provided by the MAPC (Metropolitan Area Planning Council) on its Mass Housing Data Portal shows the percentage of homes sold since the year 2000 that were affordable to households in various income brackets. In case you're wondering, the median household income in the Boston Metro area in 2014 was $75,667. Click here to dig deeper on this interactive chart.
ePlace Offers Free Condo Conversion Workshops
ePlace will hold condo conversion workshops in a number of towns This Spring: Arlington, Belmont/Watertown, Cambridge, Malden, Medford, and Somerville. In each, a panel of experts will discuss how the numbers work in your town, legal set up and preparations, town specific rules and regulations and the costs of condo conversions. Don’t let developers earn what you could be gaining! Workshop are free and space is limited and registration is required to attend. More information and registration here. Contact Dana for more info.
ePlace will also be hosting a Landlord Symposium on April 6th. Reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617.864.4600 for more info.