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Ranch House Style

Ranch House Style

5.0 1
by Katherine Samon, Edmund Barr (Photographer)
If you grew up in postwar America, chances are you lived in or next to a ranch-style house. And the things we loved about ranches when we liked Ike are still attractive—perhaps more so—today: the liberation that comes with open-plan living, the casual feel of easy kitchen access, the comfort of having bedrooms and children near at hand, the convenience


If you grew up in postwar America, chances are you lived in or next to a ranch-style house. And the things we loved about ranches when we liked Ike are still attractive—perhaps more so—today: the liberation that comes with open-plan living, the casual feel of easy kitchen access, the comfort of having bedrooms and children near at hand, the convenience of one-level living, and the everyday luxury of smooth indoor-outdoor flow. So it’s no surprise that the ranch is in style again—and this book showcases the best of it. Whether that style is the mid-century modern of Corbusier and the Eameses, or the cross-cultural awareness of the sixties, or the Pop Art and plastic of the seventies, Ranch House Style offers inspiration and instruction on re-creating these looks in your own home.

But this book isn’t just for style mavens with professional decorators. Because if there’s any one completely American, democratic architectural style, it’s the ranch house. Ranches, in all their glory (and sometimes utter lack of it), are everywhere, usually affordable, just waiting for the right shag carpet to restore their hipness, the right flea-market find to liven up that patio. And Ranch House Style shows how—with examples of the ranch’s flexibility for any decorating style, from Victorian and French Country to thoroughly contemporary, from primary homes in the suburbs to vacation getaways on the shore, from vintage gems to newly built originals. It also shows how to solve the special challenges that come with one-story living in a decades-old house, including how to expand into today’s more spacious footprints, how to renovate for modern amenities, and how best to use the ranch’s typically large plot of land.

Remarkably, there hasn’t been a book on ranches available in decades. Despite the millions that exist across the entire country, the ranch has been ignored by the high-design community. To address that insult to ranch lovers, Ranch House Style also includes thoroughly researched, authoritative material on the style’s history, sociological context, architects, designers, and furniture. This is a serious work that stands alone in its field, in addition to being a beautiful, inspirational, and practical decorating book.

So come visit the ranch—both the remarkably familiar and the strikingly original, from modest to luxurious, in styles from charming to mod—available in neighborhoods everywhere, here showing in all its coolness.

Product Details

Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.76(w) x 11.25(h) x 0.67(d)

Read an Excerpt

adding on

a cook's paradise

It's a perfect match. First, the quiet, untouched farm and wine country of the North Fork of Long Island, New York, where tractors are more common than Range Rovers and where the signs for roadside flower and vegetable stands are often painted by hand. And second, the owners of Frog Hollow Hall, two men whose idea of a brilliant weekend afternoon is not about shopping-to-be-seen or celebrity spotting, but about poking through farm stands for the freshest locally grown produce and plumpest homemade breads, then heading home to create a satisfying meal.

Their 1979 house was a simple and small 850-square-foot ranch. Charles Morris Mount and Harold Gordon chose it because its three quarters of an acre, surrounded by untouched fields, leads down a slope to a large pond. "Because we loved the pond so much, we decided to call the whole place Frog Hollow Hall," says Gordon.

Mount, a New York interior designer with many restaurant clients, loves to cook. And both men prefer to socialize with friends and clients by hosting dinner parties rather than dining out. But this was barely possible in the house's cramped, closed-off kitchen, where a maximum of six sat knee to knee.

Inside the airy addition, half is the new kitchen pavilion and half is the new living room. The kitchen ceiling peaks at eighteen feet; the living room 's, at twenty. But it is clearly the dramatically lit kitchen that is the crown jewel. "When you get right down to it, preparing dinner for people is a bit theatrical," Gordon admits. "It's like a performance. And these days, guests want to be a part of it."

So the practical, carefully laid-out kitchen also has generous space for guests to join in the preparation as well as gather around the island. "I love that I can cook and be among my guests instead of cut off in a separate room," says Mount. "Now it's a shared experience for everyone."

Ranch Style entrances

The artful presence of this house's front came about through problem solving. To the right of the front door is a large bathroom window that needed to provide privacy and also to admit light. The owners installed a three-sided lattice screen that shields the window while filtering in light and adding texture and dimension. A planter built into the top of the screen secures cascading vines that suggest the gardening efforts in back of the house. The undrilled bowling balls are a sculptural, planetary play on glass gazing balls often used as garden ornaments.

Ranch Style textures

In the addition, the chimney, corner piers, and low terrace columns repeat the materials of the living room's fireplace, with textures coming from bricks and split-face concrete blocks tinted a desert-sand color. The effect mimics expensive stone, creating a layered, patterned support structure that is carried into the interior.

Ranch Style kitchen pleasures

The ranch house kitchen has always offered an abundance of pleasures and conveniences for cooking, from the first dishwashers in the 1950s to the more advanced accoutrements of today. Mount had the burners configured in a single row to avoid burns from reaching over a flame or pot; generous four-foot-wide paths lead around the island; a small island sink has a built-in rinsing colander; an open shelf of dish towels stands ready between stove and sink; ample electrical sockets are hidden on the underside of upper cabinets; and dimmers control every light in the kitchen, even those in the hood.

Ranch Style dining areas

The open dining area is a ranch-house hallmark. Here, the focus is the twelve-foot-tall custom ash bookshelf, most of which houses cookbooks. For the raised fir ceiling, custom plates, in black steel, act as anchors for the king-post trusses. Poised above the table, a custom copper-and-glass chandelier brings the eye downward to the table; it holds candles but also provides optional electric lighting. The Rais stove once heated the entire house and now has been refitted as a pizza oven.

secret in the neighborhood

In this Austin, Texas, suburb full of ranches, it would be possible to car-pool right by this house and take it for granted, and the owners appreciate that. "It fits in very well with the neighborhood," says owner Chris Berry. But here and there is clear evidence that the owners think outside the box.

Chris and Celia Berry had been very specific about what they desired. "We have prejudice toward ranches," Chris acknowledges. "We think it's more important to live in an older, smaller house that feels good rather than a large one that's a bit generic." Celia, a mosaic artist, agrees from a design point of view:

"I love houses that are spread out into interesting shapes and are more in touch with the ground. I'm not a fan of two-story homes." And they actually wanted a house that needed updating. "We're both happiest when we have a project to work on," says Chris.

The area was once considered north of town, but it is now central to the city, with easy passage to downtown and Lake Austin and Lake Travis. Untouched since it was built in 1952, the house seemed ideal, with good structure and old trees on three quarters of an acre. But it was too small-at only eleven-hundred square feet, it needed to accommodate their young daughter, Madeline, two home offices, and frequent visitors.

So the rectangular two-bedroom was expanded with an L-shaped addition, forming a U. A new family room joins the original structure, with a master suite beyond. Matching the 1952-vintage exterior brick allowed a seamless transition to the addition. The new house is 2,050 square feet and creates a classic courtyard, inspired by the couple's love for Mexico. The new rooms and the renovated dining room all have glass doors that open onto the courtyard with its Canterra stone fountain.

Celia and Chris renovated and did the building themselves, which was doable thanks to the combination of Celia's creativity and Chris's abilities-a software engineer, he also has degrees in civil and structural engineering. They drew their own blueprints, got their own permits, and "did ninety percent of the work with friends," says Chris. They contracted out jobs such as tile, cement, and Sheetrock. "Although it took us two years, by doing it this way we could make the money go further. And we could concentrate on details to get a true hand-built quality."

The house thus became a gracious Mexican-influenced home, with the hallmarks of easy, natural flow and exuberant materials and colors. "It's the courtyard that makes the house unusual and so hospitable," Chris comments as he opens all the glass doors. "We can hear the fountain from practically every room in the house. The best thing is that because we installed it between our wing and our daughter's, at night we can all listen to the water from our bedrooms."

Ranch Style vintage

An uninhibited mix of detailing-celebrated rather than eradicated by the owners-is a hallmark of much 1950s design. On this porch, the treatments of those details give them new energy. The wood door is painted an electric indigo-violet. In contrast, the screen's overlay of metal bird and curlicue foliage-highlighting a mid-century love of motion-appear to be etched as a result of delicate pink paint. Geometric themes are seen in a lighthearted metal support that replays the rectangular cutouts on the door. Sidelights, repaired with matching rippled glass, carry through the theme and afford privacy and light. The bonnetlike metal awning is finished in the same cream as the house's trim.

Ranch Style porches

The porch owes much of its vibrant mood to a careful use of color. Previously plain concrete, the porch was relaid with pink Canterra tile to make a soft, flowing transition from the sidewalk. A mosaic urn, made by Celia, anchors the space, lending artistry and a starting point for the Mexican-inspired theme indoors. Leading from the porch, flat sun-bleached stones fill paths through the yard, adding dimension. Party lights, chosen for their straightforwardness, go off when the party ends.

Ranch Style doors

All of the doors and fixed-glass panels in the courtyard have uniform styling. "Rather than French doors, we wanted the more traditional look of separate, classic patio doors," says Celia. "In the family room, the center support that runs between the doors and up through the clerestory window gives that wall a feeling of strength." The doors admit full light and views, making the courtyard immediately present.

Ranch Style courtyards

An open arch, recurrent over many Mexican patios, gives the space a larger, more expansive feeling than a flat pergola would have. Chris and a friend welded the pieces themselves, then rested the structure on carved wood columns shipped from Oaxaca, Mexico. Plantings of wisteria, cross vine, star jasmine, and native grapes add fragrance and cover. The outdoor floor, like the porch, is pink Canterra tile. In original ranch style, the family traverses the patio to go from one room to another year-round. The classic tiered fountain comes from Mexico.

Ranch Style

opening up

The owners removed two walls of the kitchen, opening it to the rest of the house. The backsplash tile, seemingly Mexican in mood, "came with the house," Celia explains; on top, the couple built a counter with identical tile found locally. For dimension, she inserted a blue-rimmed tile pictorial, a memento of a trip to Portugal. They stripped and pickled the wood cabinets for a lighter effect and to save on expenses. The raised ceiling in the dining room defines and enlarges a separate area and expands the open feeling of the kitchen. Celia and Chris removed a small window and a door on the exterior wall, replacing them with a glass door centered between the two fixed-glass panels. This same three-piece glass system repeats in the master bedroom; a ranch house standby, glass walls eliminate indoor-outdoor division.

Ranch Style bedrooms

The warm-tone four-poster bed was a barter with Celia's brother-in-law; she gave him a handmade coat. "I wanted our bed to feel ornate and plush," she says. She beaded the embroidered side of the duvet, making it one-of-a-kind, and added a ruffle in tea-stained organza; the bed skirt is raw silk from China. Fabric from India was assembled for the center pillow, and the two large supporting pillows in back were sewn from fabric from Florence. Rather than a formal painting, a heavily beaded tapestry in similar tones is casually tacked behind the bed.

elvis meets kuwait

It sits like a dare on the highest hill around, very, very sexy, and very strong. If it were a person, it would have its hands on its hips, defying time and place.

The flat roof suggests southern California's Case Study houses as much as it does the Palm Springs Modern movement and the Sarasota School of Architecture (Florida's modernist movement). But the house is located outside Austin, Texas, with commanding views of lakes, hills, and downtown.

Before its current splendor, it was orphaned for four years. Described as "International Style Ranch" on the real estate sheet, it had drawbacks beyond that questionable characterization: the property was rimmed by a dark wooden fence resembling tall louvered shutters; it had only two bedrooms; and the inside color scheme, says owner Cindy Morgan, a graphic designer, "was classic eleganza-avocado and gold with brocade drapes everywhere." But what she and husband Clayton, a design consultant, recognized were some of the same qualities that international opera singer Willa Stewart desired when she built the house in 1972.

Two decades later, standing with their daughter and two sons, the Morgans were entranced instead of baffled by the house's interior arches and front pool. Its ten years of rough living as a rental could free them to think creatively rather than simply repair it, and living on one level seemed liberating. Taking in the quiet street in front and the diva views in back, they were convinced.

The arches and flat roof held sway over Clayton. "It has aspects of the guest house on architect Philip Johnson's estate in New Canaan, Connecticut, which I love," he says. The Morgans' house does evoke many of the International Style's 1920s and 1930s hallmarks: generous use of glass, strong geometric shapes, asymmetry, and simple, unadorned lines. Additions to the house were made to reinforce that influence. Although the Morgans added two bedrooms for their sons, the more unusual enlargement was a private front courtyard that nearly doubles the living space. Clayton and Cindy enhanced the Mediterranean mood by bringing in twelve palm trees and building the tall, arched brick fence on two sides of the property for privacy.

The house has acquired a new drama, leading Clayton to call the sum total "Elvis Meets Kuwait." "Although today," he adds slyly, "he would be dressed in Prada."

Ranch Style

butterfly chairs

Much furniture of this era folded for new convenience, including the butterfly chairs beside the pool, derivative of Argentina's 1938 B.K.F. classic by Grupo Austral. The B.K.F. is also called the Butterfly, Sling, or Hardoy (after one of its designers), and is often associated with the 1950s and '60s. Although Knoll obtained the rights after the war, it lost a copyright suit because of the chair's diverse origins, beginning as an 1800s British Army camp chair, opening the way for imitators. Some estimates put the total number of chairs produced at about five million.

Ranch Style

courtyards and pavilions

A classic L-shaped ranch helped create an enclosed courtyard: the front of the house forms one side of the courtyard, the bedroom wing forms another, and the two other sides are shaped by fences. Originally, this area had contained a small cement patio and patches of grass. The owners completely paved the space in limestone, which gives the illusion of white sand.

The outdoor pavilion-a popular feature of many ranches, for good reason-has the feeling of a true room, beginning with its careful placement along the length of the pool. The furnishings add sophistication and exotic notes, from the low antique Afghani chairs and daybed to an antique hanging lamp from India. The two spaces-one for napping, the other for sitting-give the room more options than that of simply being a poolside retreat. Flowing linen draperies provide the room finish and movement, and are pulled for privacy and as a shield against the sun.

Ranch Style

charles and ray eames

Charles Eames, born in 1907 in St. Louis, is often considered the exemplar of twentieth-century American design. A standout trait of this architect was his great knowledge of production techniques and materials. "Technically brilliant, his work was characterized by pure colors, whimsical expression, lightness and mobility," note Kathryn B. Hiesinger and George H. Marcus in Landmarks of Twentieth-Century Design. While studying and teaching architecture at the prestigious Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, he met two great future collaborators: Ray Kaiser (born in 1916), an artist whom he would marry; and fellow instructor Eero Saarinen.

With Saarinen, Charles worked on prototypes for molding plywood into complex curves for chairs, pursuing the plywood experiments during the war for the Navy (see page 85). That work led to some of the Eameses' most important work, notably the Eames Chair, made of two pieces of molded plywood and joined with stainless steel tubing, and to their breakthrough in creating molded fiberglass chairs. Two of Charles Eames's greatest architectural achievements were for the Case Study program in California, which began in the mid-1940s, with Case Study #9 (1949, built with Eero Saarinen for the program's founder, John Entenza) and #8 (also 1949, built for himself and his wife, Ray).

With Sacramento-born Ray, an abstract artist who studied with Hans Hofmann, he began a relationship that would influence architecture, filmmaking, photography, communications, and the design of furniture, textiles, graphics, and toys. The Office of Charles and Ray Eames, as their office was known when they moved to California in 1941, aimed to mass produce affordable, handsome designs that would enhance American lives. Highly creative, the pair was also extremely productive. In the 1950s, the Eameses increased their interest in filmmaking and communications installations, notably for creating IBM's exhibition for the 1964-65 New York World's Fair and also for a seven-screen slide show for the 1959 Moscow World's Fair. Their American Bicentennial exhibit traveled the world. Charles died on August 21, 1978; Ray died exactly ten years later.

Ranch Style furniture

Architect-designed furniture was one of the glories of modernism. The chaise longue is an original made in 1928 of chromed tubular steel by Le Corbusier, Pierre Jeanneret, and Charlotte Perriand. Charles and Ray Eames designed the red Sofa Compact in 1954 with foam cushions and chrome-plated legs. The black vinyl chair, a 1950s Kroehler, was purchased at a garage sale, while the side and coffee tables are original Thonet, rescued when the local USO closed. On the table are Italian glasswork, an ebonized wood compote, and a Steuben Glass bowl. The shades are from a 1949 cantilevered Arteluce floor lamp by Gino Sarfatti.

Ranch Style curves

The victory in World War II took a strong nationalism to an even stronger new level, naturally spilling over into the home. As wartime technologies transferred to producing furniture in new ways (by machine, using molds) and in new forms of materials (fiberglass, plastics, molded plywood), the look of furniture changed, evincing bold, imaginative shapes. Curves, suggesting movement, were most influential: modeling science, curves showed up in amoeba and atomic shapes; space was reflected in parabolas and their derivative boomerang shapes, and in direct images of rockets and planes.

Ranch Style bedrooms

To make their daughter's room seem taller, and to raise the stature of a basic bed, the Morgans tracked sets of simple white linen curtains on the ceiling all the way around the bed, pulling the back curtains closed to form a soft headboard. The bedspread is also linen. The same clean-lined drapery approach is applied at the glass doors and windows in all the bedrooms, including at these sliders that lead to the new palm court.

Ranch Style lighting

Light fixtures reflect mid-century enthusiasm. One of the hallmarks of that period is the joyful Sputnik fixture, inspired by the 1957 Russian satellite launch that irritated the Cold War Pentagon but lit up lighting designers who, like the public, were celebrating America's young affair with space. "The fixture was never formally called Sputnik," says Rick Gallagher, owner of 280 Modern in New York City, of a design also referred to as the starburst or fireworks. "But the name captured the public imagination and had a life of its own."

Meet the Author

KATHERINE ANN SAMON’s features have appeared in the New York Times, Vogue, GQ, Marie Claire, and Travel & Leisure, among many other publications, and her design writing in such magazines as American Homestyle, Harper’s Bazaar, and Glamor. She is also the author of Dates from Hell and More Dates from Hell, but she put those sorts of things behind her when she got married and moved to the suburbs of Westchester County, New York, where she lives in (no surprise) a well-appointed ranch house.

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Ranch House Style 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is rare that a 'coffee table book' is anything more than a designer collection of pretty pictures. The author of Ranch House Style does far more. This book is well-researched and well-written. It presents helpful ideas with humor, grace, and, yes, style. It's informative and fun. Katharine Ann Samon will change your thinking about 'ranch burgers'. Don't just look at the pictures, read it. You won't regret it.