Ranch style houses are so simple, it may seem they have no particular style at all. This quintessentially American design grew out of the desire for homes that allowed for more informal family living in the suburbs which sprang up in the mid- to late-20th century.

How to identify ranch style houses

The distinguishing features of ranch style homes and ranch style house plans include the following:

  • One story
  • Low-pitched roof, commonly hipped
  • Moderate or wide-eave overhang
  • Asymmetrical, U- or L-shaped floor plan
  • L- or U-shaped floor plan surrounding a patio
  • Sliding glass patio doors
  • Large picture windows
  • Built of local materials
  • Attached carports or garages
  • Visible children’s play areas

Origins of the ranch style house

The ranch style home is rooted in the West, although its development is linked to the rise of car culture starting in the 1930s rather than cattle ranching.

Automobiles made it possible for families to buy large lots of land outside traditional population centers, building spread-out ranch houses and giving birth to the suburbs.

The ranch house style borrows from a number of diverse house forms, including Spanish Colonial and Prairie Modern. It dominated the American suburbs through the 1950 and 1960s.

Ranch style house plans: open and airy

Basic ranch style houses have an open plan on a single level with an attached garage or carport—and picture windows and sliding glass doors to make the transition from indoors to outdoors almost seamless.

Ranch style house plans are well suited for casual entertaining and living. Rooms are large and flow freely into each other, eliminating barriers between the formal and family parts of the home that were common in earlier styles.

These plans reflect the three key principles of the ranch house style: livability, flexibility and unpretentiousness.

The ranch house was also the first widely-accepted style to include the outdoors as a part of the home itself. The houses were designed to give the occupants a direct visual connection to the outdoors through picture windows and glass sliding doors.

Access to the outside is quick and simple, with no need to step down from a formal porch: in fact, ranch houses rarely have street-front porches.

Later ranch house variations

As the ranch house style spread from the West to the rest of the country, it was adapted in a variety of ways.

The split-level ranch style house maintains the horizontal feel of the classic ranch but adds a second story—generally raising the bedroom area above the garage and separating it from the living and dining areas in a nod to older ideas of privacy.

The high ranch, or raised ranch, is another variation that, while still low-slung, puts the garage and finished family room below the living and sleeping quarters, creating a two-story ranch house.

Updated from an earlier version written by Steven Marsh.