The Popular Split-Level Ranch House Design

Ranch home designs have been extremely popular in the United States since the 1950’s, and are as quintessentially American as jazz and cheeseburgers. A ranch home design typically is asymmetrical and low-slung, with a horizontal, spreading orientation in either a rectangular, U-, or L-shaped configuration. Roofs are gable or hipped with wide eaves. Ranch homes usually have attached garages and feature minimal ornamentation but they contain modern design elements such as large plate glass picture windows, sliding glass doors, and Formica countertops.

Another common feature was the raised ranch, or split level home, which emerged as a variant of the original ranch style during the late 20th century (although some early examples predate the Second World War and Sears’ catalogue of Honor-Bilt Homes listed several split level designs in the 1930’s). Unlike traditional ranch style homes, these were innovative in using interior space. Instead of arranging the rooms on one floor, the style reorganized space in accordance with its use. For example, in one popular split level variant the entryway, kitchen, dining and living rooms occupied the main level; the bedrooms upstairs were accessed by a half staircase leading up; and the laundry area, guest bedroom, and family rumpus room were accessed by a half staircase leading down. In some ranch house designs the garage was placed on the lower level, with easy access via half staircase to the upper level. Another possibility was a split entry home, characterized by a small entry with half staircase leading up to the living areas and bedrooms upstairs and another half staircase next to it leading down to the garage, laundry, and family room. There were many other configurations also.

The split level’s popularity derived partly from its modernity and its differentiation from traditional mid-20th century styles of housing, such as Minimalist, Cape Cod, Colonial Revival, and bungalow cottages. This architecture can be made to blend into a hillside site in a natural manner. These houses maximize their square footage and their curbside presence, and they minimized costs without needing larger lots or basements by taking advantage of the natural curvature of the land, so that earth-moving costs are minimized. The split level ranch style provided an ideal balance between the buyers’ goal of getting as much house as could be for the money, with the builders’ goal of making a good profit.

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