Remodeling the California Ranch

By Annie Schwemmer and Ann Robinson

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, March 8 2013 5:54 p.m. MST

The California Ranch home style often referred to as a "rambler" was designed for people who wanted to celebrate the outdoors and wanted to relax at home.

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For the past few weeks we have been discussing home styles in our column. Last we talked about the challenges and solutions in remodeling the Cape Cod-style house. This week we are focusing on another favorite house style from the opposite coast: the California Ranch.

This home style — often referred to as a "rambler" — evolved in California in the 1920s and '30s with roots in Spanish colonial architecture. It is a truly domestic style that originated in the United States. One of the pioneers was Cliff May, who designed for people who wanted to celebrate the fabulous climate of southern California and who wanted to relax when at home. Minimizing the distinction between indoors and out is the basis for much of this style.

The California Ranch is a one-story house typically rectangular or L-shaped. Because the style originated in the wide-open spaces of the West, land was cheap and plentiful so the house could spread out over the lot. The massing (shape) is long and low to the ground. The exterior is typically asymmetrical with a strong horizontal element. It typically features lots of glass, including floor-to-ceiling, strip, or ribbon windows which serve to connect almost every room to the outside. Other features include a low but visible chimney, a very visible garage, a recessed entry door with flanking sidelight, and a low-pitched roof with projecting eaves.

Inside, you'll find an open, free-flowing floor plan. The rambler interior typically includes a simple room arrangement, minimal trim and floor-to-ceiling views of the backyard.

It also commonly has partially enclosed courtyards and patios serving as an extension of the living space.

A term you may hear referring to these ranch or rambler homes is “mid-century modern,” and they are now all the rage. If you have one of these American originals in need of remodeling, we recommend capitalizing on its simple features and clean design. While the essential details are typically not ornamental, they do not need to be boring, either. Today, we have a variety of materials to choose from, such as metals or engineered woods, to add flair — not decoration — to the exterior of your rambler. New membrane roofing material is a positive upgrade to these low-sloped roofs as a replacement for the original tar and gravel roofing. The original single-pane windows are another replacement target to improve the energy efficiency of these homes. New windows should be chosen carefully to reflect the more modern style of a ranch home.

We also recommend embracing the indoor/outdoor elements unique to this design. We live in an area famed for its amazing outdoor views and activities, and this home style allows you to connect to them every day.

By the 1970s, the ranch style had gone out of favor. They had become over-used, bland and boring, and took up too much land for developers’ tastes. The '60s moved into a style known as "neo-eclectic," which combined features from many styles. The elements preserved from the ranch style are the open floor plans, the eat-in kitchen, the attached garage and built-in patios.

Today we are experiencing a revival of the ranch home, and it is popular again: Young buyers are attracted to them, as many are affordable entry-level homes; more mature couples appreciate the concept of main-floor living; and everyone appreciates the mature trees and landscaping that have developed in their subdivisions and neighborhoods over the last 60-plus years.

Studying and analyzing your home’s style can be interesting and informative, and should be your first step when you begin to consider a remodeling project. Remember, your home may be a combination of several styles. Once you determine its predominant style, it is up to you to decide whether to revive and enhance it, or change it completely. Applying good design — regardless of the house style — will enhance the value of your home and your entire neighborhood.

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the Principal Architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at RenovationDesignGroup.com. Send comments or questions to ask@RenovationDesignGroup.com

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