What Is Ranch Architecture?

A white ranch style home with green grass, a large low-hanging tree, and flowering shrubs.

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In This Article

Also known as the American ranch, California ranch, rancher, or rambler, ranch architecture is a uniquely American style of home building. With a low, but wide profile and open layout, ranch-style homes combined modern building techniques with the wide, open spaces associated with the American west to create a casual style that's still commonly used today.

Ranch-style homes have gone through periods of popularity over the last century, but have retained many of their original architectural elements. Read on to learn more about the history of ranch homes, their rise in popularity in America, and the building and design characteristics unique to ranches.

The History of Ranch Architecture

First popping up in the 1920s, ranch-style homes became extremely popular with post-war middle class families and remained popular from the 1940s through 1970s. During this time, tract housing—a type of housing development that places several smaller lots on one large tract of land—also began to define American suburbs. Accordingly, you'll find many ranch-style homes in tract housing developments across the country.

A tract housing development.
A tract housing development. Edwin Remsberg/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Ranch-style homes have remained a popular building style across the United States since the 1920s, but the first major boom occurred in the American southwest. Following World War I and World War II, states like Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and parts of California experienced a massive influx of residents looking for affordable, family homes.

The original ranch-style homes that originated in the 1920s were fairly simple and basic in design. During the 1960s, however, many ranch homes—especially in Sun Belt states, like Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico—were custom built with more ornate architectural features and concepts. Some of these design elements included different roof lines, cathedral ceilings, and split-level or sunken level rooms. This shift in ranch architectural style coincided with the rise of mid-century modern homes, which share many common architectural and decorating elements, as well as the desire to bring the outdoors inside.

The popularity of ranch-style homes dipped beginning in the 1970's and continued to fall into the '80's and '90's, when classical and traditional building styles (like Colonial) became more popular. Ranch homes, however, have remained a popular pick among home buyers and home builders for nearly one century. Today, ranch architecture is experiencing yet another resurgence—this time, as custom-built homes for a younger generation.

Must-Have Elements

Although ranch homes have gone through many transformations—most notably, the jump from simple, unadorned ranch homes in the 1920s, to ornate, custom ranch homes in the 1960s and today—this style has retained many of its original elements. Some common characteristics of ranch-style homes include:

A single level

Inspired by the simple, low-slung, working ranch homes in the American west, ranches are typically only one floor. However, split-level ranches and ranches with sunken rooms became popular during the 1950s and 1960s.

An asymmetrical shape

Most classic ranch homes are shaped like a large "L" or "U," with living spaces sectioned from the bedrooms.

Simple, open floor plans

Taking another cue from working ranches, ranch homes often feature wide, open rooms that combine various living spaces. Pioneering ranch architect Cliff May often built homes that were only one room deep, so every space could access the outdoors, while letting in sunlight and cool air.

A connection to the outdoors

Like mid-century modern homes, ranch homes are designed to bring the outdoors in. Built with many large windows and sliding glass doors, ranch-style homes make accessing outdoor living spaces easier. Plus, these architectural features allow more light into the home.

An emphasis on the backyard

Another characteristic shared with mid-century modern homes, ranch homes put a major emphasis on the backyard, patio, and other outdoor living spaces. Prior to ranch homes, many American-built homes featured a large front porch; ranches, however, featured private backyards and patios.

An attached garage

The rise of ranch-style homes coincided with the rise of American suburbs. Accordingly, suburban residents needed homes that could accommodate at least one car, but typically, two. Attached, two-car garages became synonymous with ranch architecture.

Where to Find Ranch-Style Homes

As previously mentioned, ranch homes became extremely popular across the United States during the 1920s through the 1970s—especially in newly built suburbs. They first gained popularity across the American southwest, so you'll find large groupings of ranch homes in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and parts of southern California. During the 1960s, custom-designed ranch homes took the Sun Belt (think: Florida, Georgia, Texas, Tennessee, Arizona, and New Mexico) by storm.

Today, there's a renewed interest in ranch homes across the country. This generation—which hadn't lived in ranch homes previously—is focusing on modernized, custom-build ranch homes or major renovations of existing ranch homes.