Ranch-style houses, sometimes referred to as ramblers or ranchers, are considered a native architectural genre.
Originally constructed in the 1920s, they gained more fans in the post-war years as suburbs burgeoned and the format could be affordably constructed. They were easy to live in, furnish and maintain with fairly open, modern yet modest layouts.
But like many other housing styles, they fell out of favor when homeowners sought traditional, two-story homes and, later, McMansions. Now, they're the comeback kid for multiple reasons.
Many baby boomers now ask for a ranch because they want to remain in a single-family house and find it easier not to climb stairs, says Atlanta-based broker Rhonda Duffy. Others want to bring aging parents to live with them, who also can't navigate stairs. "They'll often ask for two master bedrooms on the main floor," she says.
The ranch is an appealing, affordable choice for young families not in need of much space, adds Paige Rien, a designer with HGTV's "Hidden Potential" who lives in a 1950s 1,500-square-foot ranch in New Jersey.
Many ranch-buyers view them as an easier living option than traditional designs since the living spaces can be opened to an almost loft-like plan. Chad DeWitt, an architect based in Oakland, Calif., has found this to be the case. "They're so easy to make contemporary. By the time many were built in the 1940s and '50s, open-plan living had become popular, and people ... entertained and barbecued with an emphasis on indoor/outdoor living," he says.
Because of some ranches having a smaller footprint and their overall lack of appeal for years, the cost of buying and operating them has been less. "They don't require heating a second floor," says Duffy.
Mark Brock, a public relations executive in Charlotte, N.C., purchased an affordable 1,500-square-foot ranch on a half-acre 15 minutes from downtown. Although he bought it when he was in his late 40s, now that he's 60 he views it as a good place to stay put. Literary publicist Antoinette Kuritz found her 1950s San Diego ranch a less costly housing choice since it was small, having been built for General Dynamics workers. It was also in "derelict" shape, she says.
Though some of the earliest designs were built on postage-size lots, later ones often were built on bigger sites that allowed designs to sprawl, says Barb St. Amant, a real-estate agent with Harry Norman Realtors in Atlanta.
At a time when many houses were constructed with attention to detail, the nicer ranches featured indoor barbecues in kitchens or stacked stone hearths and fireplaces, says DeWitt.
Many also came with 9-foot-high ceilings, says St. Amant. And they were an easy design to improve. Cody Baker, with Ebby Halliday Realtors in Dallas, considers the ranch the equivalent of "the little black dress" that can be adorned, and she's done so with her home "Over 70 percent of our house is entertainment space,"she says. Tammy Maddrey, an agent with Roger Fazendin Realtors in Wayzata, Minn., opened narrow hallways to adjoining rooms and finished a lower level.