Ranch (Single Story) Homes


Ranch homes, sometimes referred to as ramblers, are a uniquely American design. The design has its roots in California, not the East Coast. In the Western United States, land was historically more readily available, and therefore less expensive. Most ranch homes have a larger footprint than multistory designs, and therefore require a large lot.


The popularity of ranch homes as a building style really got going in the 1950s, and in the Western US. A unique style of ranch home is called the “California Ranch’ after the specific design that became popular in California starting in the 1950s. The California ranch design became popular over much of the US in the 1960s, but was already in decline by the 70s, when Shadeland East was being developed. There are only a few examples of ranch homes in Shadeland East that carry out the California ranch design details incorporating low-slung roofs, wide overhangs, wide expanses of glass and a minimum of ornamental trim..


Photo 1 illustrates one that includes many of the design details of the California Ranch. One key design element of a California ranch is a gable or hip roof with a very low pitch, with a minimum of decorative trim or other ornamental bric brac.  Here, the overhangs are quite wide, to shade the windows. Many of the earliest ranch homes from the 50s had minimal, almost nonexistent overhangs. On a true California ranch design the roof has a significant overhang even on the gable ends.


Photo 2 illustrates a home that could have been a California ranch, but the builder decided to go in a slightly different direction. The wide roof overhangs are consistent with the California ranch, but the roof pitch is far too steep and that, along with the full-length shutters flanking the set-in front door are more nearly consistent with country designs originating in France, not California. And the very traditional dark red brick is a colonial touch that would not normally be used on a California ranch which would likely use lighter and more contemporary colors. Interestingly, the same builder built this house in Shadeland East four years earlier, in 1973. In that version, the hip roof is considerably less steep, and the brick is very light, not dark red. As the decade progressed, the features associated with the California ranch—somewhat contemporary design--declined in popularity as more traditional colonial and Greek elements once again gained in popularity.  Roofs became more steeply pitched near the end of the decade, and more exterior trim was used.

This photo is of a house built on the same floorplan as in Photo 2, but the build date was 1973 not 1977 as in photo 2. Notice that the design is much more Califoria, with a lighter colored brick, and tho the roof is also a hip, it has a much less steep slope. These California ranch elements were introduced to the rest of the US in the 60s but by the 70s they declined in favor as the decade progressed.






Another approach being used by builders was to introduce some additional interest in hip and gable roofs by adding sections that extended out short distances from the main roof. Photo 3 illustrates an example. The variation in the roofline is primarily there to add architectural interest rather that as a major feature necessary to accommodate the floorplan. In this example, the center section of the house extends forward a few feet, creating a secondary hip.




One of the most popular plans in Shadeland East was the “Two gable” plan. The key feature of this plan was two street-facing gables flanking the main living area of the house. The gable at one end contains the garage whereas the other end is the bedroom wing.  These were commonly built as four-bedroom homes, with about 2,500 square feet, although some were smaller. This was a popular design by the builder Gallager-Roberts. Some versions of this design lack a front porch, while others have a very elaborate front porch that becomes front yard outdoor living space. Photos 4, 5 and 6 illustrate variations on this plan. Yet another version exchanges a front patio flanked by a low brick “fence” for the front porch.   In Photo 6, the front porch is almost like indoor living space.


A variation on this idea brings two narrower gables forward, as illustrated in Photo 7. Note the design elements on this home, in particular the heavy Greek influence in the gables with dentil molding extending right up the front gables. Each window has an elaborate wood fan above it, and the elaborate columned front porch mimics the front-facing gables at either end of the house.





Photo 8 illustrates another variation, a colonial hip-roofed ranch with contemporary design details. This is a U-shaped plan, with the formal areas occupying one of the front wings and the bedrooms the other. The garage is pushed to the rear and entered from the side of the house. The space between the wings forms an entry court.



The 1970s was also a period of time when Spanish influenced ranch designs were very popular. In the desert Southwest, these would have been finished in stucco, but, of Course, Lexington buyers preferred brick. The illustrations in Photos 9 and 10 show the two versions of Lexington’s answer to the Spanish style home.  In Photo 9, note the following features unique to the design (1) tan, or sand-colored brick, (2) Decorative arched panels trimmed with wood and (originally black) wrought iron. (3) Three large timber ends used as decorative trim under gables, (4) round terra cotta in brick that serve as attic vents, (5) decorative arched panel on garage door, (5) landscaping with rocks that reflects a desert motif.


We see many similar design features in the Spanish ranch illustrated in Photo 10, including the timber ends used like corbels under the gable eaves. Note here the arched entry with wrought iron gate, and the arched brickwork above double-hung windows.



Photo 12 illustrates a ranch home employing a mixture of styles. The reddish-brown shingle color was very popular in the 1970s, but is seldom seen now. The gable here has a touch of English tudor design, with half-timbers over a stucco. Originally the half-timbers were painted or stained a dark brown, for a stronger tudor effect, but have since been painted to match the stucco color. The window treatment here is not consistent with traditional Lexington designs. There are no shutters, and four identical three-panel casement windows are used across the front façade.  This could be called a contemporary ranch with English tudor details.