Ranch Style Houses Have Iconic, Modern Appeal

Ranch-style houses emerged in the 1920s and remained popular for the next 50 years. Most ranch homes are one story, with an open floor plan, large windows, and a back door leading to a patio.

Ranch homes are again at the top of the popularity list for homebuyers. 

History of Ranch-Style Houses

Ranch house architecture style

Ranch-style architecture first made its appearance in America in the 1920s in California. Inspired by the Spanish styles of the 19th Century, these homes were found on the working ranches of the West.

With sprawling open floor plans, stucco walls, and wide eaves, people could modify these styles to fit their surroundings. The Arts and Crafts movement also influenced this type of home, which is called a California ranch or rambler house.

Come the 1950s, after World War II, ranch-style houses took the US by storm, accounting for nine out of ten new houses. While some had mixed styles based on the region, like Colonial or Craftsman, they kept common characteristics.

By the late 1960s, American architectural tastes moved toward more traditional styles. And by the 70s, no one was building ranch-style houses anymore.

However, more recently, interest in ranch homes began to increase. The younger generation, interested in preserving and maintaining history, is acquiring the ranch houses of the 50s and updating them. They are even taking the classic features of ranch homes and creating different styles, showing it’s possible to preserve history and upgrade it at the same time.

Types of Ranch-Style Homes

As the ranch-style house grew popular, variations popped up throughout the country. While all styles focus on an open floor plan, low profile, and a connection to the outdoors, there are distinct characteristics of each.

Here’s a closer look at the top five types of ranch-style homes:

  • California Ranch – The original style of ranch features a low profile with Spanish influences, including a white stucco exterior, red-tiled roof, and wooden accents.
  • Suburban Ranch – These ranches provided low-cost housing after World War II. Suburban ranches are the most basic, featuring one-story, a patio, and an open floor plan.
  • Raised Ranch – A raised ranch has two levels divided by a short set of stairs. The bedrooms are on the upper level.
  • Split-Level Ranch – A split-level ranch features three levels, one of which is underground. The main floor holds the living room and kitchen, the upper floor houses bedrooms, and the lower floor boasts a basement, garage, or den.
  • Storybook Ranch – These ranches are decorative, featuring steeper roofs and wooden accents on the exterior. They are reminiscent of a home in a children’s story.

Modern ranches are variations of the types listed above. They feature contemporary materials and color schemes.

Key Features Of Ranch-Style Homes

Sprawling layout

Ranch Style Homes - Sprawling layout

One of the most noticeable features of the ranch house style is the sprawling layout. The interior boasts large open floor plans with sleeping areas in a separate part of the house. 

While there are a few examples of a ranch home with two floors, most are a single-story. The single-story makes for a casual living experience.

Sometimes, there’s an added partial level underneath, creating a split-level or raised ranch home. Split-level ranches feature a finished basement set partially into the ground, adding more living space.

L or U-shaped layout

L or U-shaped layout ranch house

Often, a ranch house layout has a U shape or L shape. The shape creates a protected backyard area for hosting and helps connect nature to the house, which was the original intent.

Ranch homes have devoted patio space connected to the house with sliding glass patio doors. Some feature pergolas and spacious front porches.

Many modern ranch homes in warmer states boast a pool. The shape of a ranch protects the pool and adjacent patio from the view of the street. 

Suburban ranches have multiple back doors that lead to the same place. A door from the kitchen, sliding glass doors from the living room, and even a door from the bedroom all look out onto the patio.

Attached garages and large driveways

Attached garages and large driveways

Attached garages are common ranch features. Some older ranch-style homes have a front-facing garage, but newer ones feature a side-load garage.

Large driveways accompany the attached garages – an ideal feature for families with children. 

Mixed exterior materials

Since original ranches were modeled after Spanish-style houses, the ranches of the West are stucco. But exterior materials vary by region and include brick, wooden clapboards, vinyl, or stone. 

Like many other homes, ranch houses are rarely one material. Most have two or more materials on the exterior. Wood shingles are one of the newer features but no less welcome.

Ranch house architecture style

For a more modern look with the same rustic charm, contemporary ranches feature concrete. Paired with wood, it contrasts with the dual tones.

Large windows

Large windows

Large windows help connect the ranch-style home with nature. Big windows are a defining feature of this type of architecture. Some ranch-style houses have deep eaves to provide respite from the sun. Others feature porches with roofs over the largest windows.

Doors, windows, and shutters

Decorative shutters are typical for original and modern ranches. The shutters add contrast to the exterior. Ranch homes often feature double-hung windows in addition to large picture windows.

Front doors for ranch-style homes vary. Some are stained wood, while others feature a bright pop of color.

Doors, windows, and shutters

The original Spanish-style ranches feature a terracotta roof, a white exterior, and wooden shutters and doors.

Examples of Beautiful Ranch Houses

Modern ranch-style house in Colorado

Modern ranch-style house in Colorado

Axial Art Architecture and rebaL Design designed this modern ranch-style house in Granby, Colorado. Its overall aesthetic is a beautiful blend of rustic, modern, and industrial elements.

From the outside, the rustic details are prominent, but the large windows and openings emphasize the modern side of this design. Inside, the open-concept layout features reclaimed wood, sliding barn doors, and warm and comforting colors and textures.

Beautiful ranch remodel in the Rocky Mountains

Beautiful ranch remodel in the Rocky Mountains

A remodel or renovation is ideal when you have ranch house plans. Studio Design Workshop worked on such a project a while ago. They reimagined a ranch house located in Snowmass in the Rocky Mountains.

It has a main house with garage, a pavilion, a storage barn and a caretaker house. The goal was to preserve its authenticity and rusticity while giving it an update.

Four Corners ranch house with a contemporary design

Four Corners ranch house with a contemporary design

This 100-acre site is in the Four Corners region — between Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. It’s a remote country site without many neighbors, perfect for a vacation home. Surber Barber Choate + Hertlein Architects designed this modern ranch-style home with an open-concept layout and exposed beams on the vaulted ceilings. In time, this became a permanent country home and evolved to contain more living spaces.

A rustic ranch house in Wyoming

A rustic ranch house in Wyoming

Sitting on a big country property in Sheridan, Wyoming, the designers aimed for a rustic look that blends into the landscape as much as possible. Faure Halvorsen Architects created the big house, measuring 3,000 square feet, with cathedral ceilings. It has three bedrooms and three bathrooms, as well as lots of indoor and outdoor living space.

A classic ranch house style in Montana

A classic ranch house style in Montana

Located in Livingston, Montana, this ranch-style home has a classic look. It’s rustic and what most of us imagine a ranch house would look like. Miller | Roodell Architects and Yellowstone Traditions preserved its charm and beauty and reinvigorated the property.

The plan was to retain the original building materials and repurpose some of the annex buildings on the site. For example, the granary was transformed into a guest house with bedrooms, and a barn became a gathering hall.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ

What makes a home a ranch?

Common characteristics of ranch-style homes include a single-story structure, an open layout and a dedicated patio space. In addition to the open concept floor plan, common features in a ranch home generally include a low-pitched roof, big windows and wide eaves.

What makes a California ranch?

More than just ranch house style, a California ranch emerged from the Arts and Crafts movement and from Spanish colonial architecture. A California ranch generally has an L-shaped or U-shaped layout. This gives California ranches a courtyard area.

What is a raised ranch house?

Raised ranches sit on a foundation that creates living space below the main level. The space under a raised ranch is like a basement set partway into the ground. The lower part is usually a finished basement that includes a bathroom, laundry room, and a garage. These are also called split-level ranches or a split-level home.