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Why We Love Ranch-style Homes

March 31 2010

If you’re a homebuyer, you either love ranch-style homes or you think they’re hopelessly out of date. Either way, here are a few tidbits you didn’t know that will help you appreciate them a lot more. 

Eighty percent of existing housing was built before 1980, according to the U.S. Census, and the majority of the homes still standing are ranch-style, particularly in the west, southwest, south and mid-west.

Everywhere except the east coast, where populations are densest, the ranch-style home is ubiquitous, and that means they’re nothing special. Or are they?

All housing reflects the culture and the economics of their day, and the ranch-style home was the first icon of post-war prosperity, growing in popularity with the increasingly affordable family automobile.

You know the look – it’s the horizontal shoebox-shaped house with the living and dining rooms on the front, the bedrooms all together down the same hallway, and the kitchen and attached garage at the other end.   

Designed for economy and functionality, ranch-style homes were mass-produced to serve post World War II families, and they stayed popular while 78 million baby boomers matured into homebuyers.

The 1950s through the ’70s saw the first real sprawl in communities, away from town centers, and mostly accessed by President Eisenhower’s new highways. Land was plentiful, so most of these single story or split-level homes are situated on comparatively large lots.

These homes were designed as machines for living. They’re modern, part of the design cycle of the space age. The only thing these mid-century homes need is a little 21st century flair.

As a buyer, you may come across many ranch-style homes that appear dated, but their functionality is as useful as ever. Single-story homes, which the majority of ranch-style homes are, serve young families and seniors equally well.

Ranch homes are easy to remodel or expand. Most load-bearing walls are on the outside perimeter, which makes knocking out or moving interior walls easy. 

Take the kitchen, for example. In the family-centered ’50s, the kitchen was the mother’s magic kingdom. She would conjure her recipes and emerge wearing her pearls and high-heels with dinner on a tray like there’s nothing to it.

Fast forward 50 years to today’s two-income, time-starved families. Spending time together is precious. Instead of being walled off, the kitchen of today is open to become part of the family room. If that’s the look you want, it’s easy to accomplish with a slight remodeling in the ranch-style home.

When you preview a ranch-style home, don’t let yourself be prejudiced by what appears out of date. Think instead about how this home can serve your needs today.

These homes were built to last. Just replace those Jetson-era Formica countertops with polished concrete, hammered copper or honed granite. Install elegant French doors in place of the sliding glass patio doors. Raise the 8-foot ceilings to nine or ten feet.

Have fun decorating with the latest furniture. Open any furniture catalog and you’ll see a trend toward retro low-slung contemporary designs. With today’s emphasis on machines (flat-panel TVs, computers), and family-gathering places like dens, it’s not so very different from the 1950s.

Since 1960, our population has added 100 million people. As our neighborhoods have sprawled outward, the mid-century generation ranch-style home is comparatively close to city amenities and jobs, saving you a long commute. 

Retro is in because it works, and with a little imagination, you’ll find the ranch-style home can work for you.