Architectural Styles



Also known as California Ranch, California Rambler, Western Ranch or American Ranch

This poor, abused and maligned housing type is the source of much derision in discussions of architecture and housing stock. It is however, the most common housing stock in the United States. Chicago and its suburbs have quite a substantial supply of these homes, and it follows that they are predominant in neighborhoods and suburbs whose population growth followed World War II. The Ranch style boomed in the post-war era thanks in large part to simple, repeatable construction and new GI bills that made it possible for scores of returning soldiers and their families to buy their first home.

The wholesale popularity of the form was partially born of Chicago origin, in that it is heavily influenced and follows sequentially with Prairie architecture. It is also closely aligned with Usonian architecture, another Frank Lloyd Wright style following the Prairie style he helped pioneer in the earlier part of the century. Along with Spanish Colonial and Craftsman cues, Ranch homes first appeared in California in 1932, credited to architect Cliff May, considered the father of the Ranch home.

Ranch homes are practical and simple. They are scorned as much for their features, which are purposefully lacking in ornamentation, as they are revered for their practicality. Ranch homes are single story with a small attic. Everything can be reached with a step-ladder, making them an ideal choice for a home that is easy to access and maintain. In most cases, they have an attached garage, though in Chicago, the alley system and 25’x125’ lot sizes often forces a separate garage. They typically feature a low-pitched roof that allows for some attic storage. Floor plans are often the big appeal of the Ranch homes. Since they have no space devoted to stairs and require lower weight loads, they can take advantage by having big rooms and flowing, open spaces. The single-floor also makes for easy living for many that look for ways to ease the process of getting around.

Variations of the ranch such as Raised Ranches and Split-Level Ranches tend to occupy more area than is practical to use in a typical Chicago lot so they are relatively rare in the borders of the city. These homes do appear in abundance in some of the collar suburbs immediately around the south and north of Chicago, again, areas heavily populated in the post-war housing boom, and with typically larger lot sizes.

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