What Is Split-Level Architecture?

The exterior of a split-level home.

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Sometimes known as "raised ranches," split-level homes became an extremely popular variation of traditional American ranch homes during the later part of the 20th century. While wide, open ranches were the preferred style of housing from the 1920s through the 1970s, split-level homes, which first appeared in American suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s, offered homeowners the opportunity to pack more square footage into a smaller—and presumably, more affordable—lot. What's more, because split-level homes appear to have multiple levels, they felt grander than the typical bungalow or single-story ranch found in most American suburbs.

Although split-level homes are no longer considered modern among today's homeowners, they remain a common housing type across the United States. Read on to learn more about split-level architecture, including its history, must-have architectural elements, and where you'll find massive groupings of split-level homes.

The History of Split-Level Architecture

Following World War II, tract housing—a type of housing development characterized by many houses built on a single tract of land—became increasingly popular in the suburbs of the country's major cities. This style of development gave rise to the American suburbs, as well as certain architectural styles, namely, ranch houses, bungalows, and split-level homes.

Ranch homes were originally inspired by mid-century modern architect Frank Lloyd Wright's single-story, open-concept prairie homes; in turn, ranch homes inspired the development of split-level homes. In a ranch-style home, all of the rooms are contained to a single floor, although bedrooms and bathrooms are usually built in a separate "wing" of the L- or U-shaped homes. In a split-level home, however, "public" and "private" rooms are separated by half levels. For example, a split-level home may have the entryway, kitchen, dining room, and living room on the main floor with a half staircase leading to bedrooms and bathrooms upstairs, and a family room, guest room, and laundry room downstairs.

In addition to building greater square footage on a smaller lot, split-level homes offered veterans the opportunity to purchase a larger or grander home with their G.I. Bill funds. Prior to the development of split-level homes, smaller bungalow-style homes were extremely popular among families of veterans moving into the suburbs.

Although split-level homes originated in the 1950s and 1960s, they gained immense popularity in the 1970s thanks in part to the famous split-level house in the sitcom The Brady Bunch. In fact, during this time, many suburban communities were comprised entirely of split-level homes or "ramblers," which are single-story ranch houses with basements.

As larger homes were built during the 1980s and 1990s, split-level homes waned in popularity. You're unlikely to find a new construction split-level home, but many of the original split-level homes from the 1950s, '60s, and '70s are still available—and inhabited—today. Not only are split-level homes often more affordable, but they can offer buyers greater square footage, too.

Architectural Elements of Split-Level Homes

As previously mentioned, split-level homes share many characteristics with ranch-style homes and prairie homes made famous by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Some of these characteristics include:

A low-pitched roof

Like ranch and mid-century modern homes, most split-level homes have a straight, low-pitched roof, although some homes may feature hipped or gabled roofs. Typically, the second level of the home is cantilevered over the first level to increase square footage without increasing the home's actual footprint.

A plain, asymmetrical facade

Most split-level homes have very simple, plain façades with minimal decoration. Typically, the only architectural elements on the exterior are a few windows, one large picture window, and the front door. Cars are required in suburbs, so many split-level homes have double garages that face the street, as well.

Simple, open floor plans

Taking inspiration from open-concept ranch homes, the interiors of split-level homes are typically open to maximize square footage. As previously mentioned, "public" and "private" living spaces are typically separated by half staircases.

Natural, affordable materials

One of the original draws of split-level homes were their affordability. Accordingly, most homes were built with natural materials that were readily available—and more affordable. Think: brick and panel exteriors, hardwood floors, and simple finishes.

Where to Find Split-Level Homes

Because split-level homes became extremely popular in America's suburbs, you'll find them all across the country today. Following World War II, the southwest experienced a major influx of new residents, so states like Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and parts of southern California have massive groupings of split-level homes and ranch homes that are still inhabited today.

Split-level homes are no longer considered a modern style, but thanks to their high square footage and small footprint, they have tons of potential for renovations.