Monday, October 29, 2007

I LOVE CALIFORNIA RANCH HOUSES!


I live in LA, specifically in the San Fernando Valley. California ranch houses (above) are everywhere here. Maybe that's because until recent times the Valley was full of real horse ranches and orange groves. People here are so used to the ranch style that it's invisible. They feel that they don't have an architectural style of their own (apart from bungalows) , but they certainly do, and I like it a lot.


I don't really know how to define the style except to say that it's low and horizontal with sprawling "V"- shaped shingle roofs with wide eaves. A lot of houses in this style look like they've been customized with add-ons, but that's part of the look and a lot of the homes looked like that when they were new.



Here's (above) an example of the customized look. The three structures don't look like they fit together, but they do and I for one find the combination cozy rather than jarring. The pool is interesting because it's a 50s modern shape. The California ranch style is an interesting amalgam of old and new. It's very horizontal and simple the way 50s modern tended to be, but it also incorporates old ranch and barn ideas, and numbers of old European ideas like French doors.


But that's not the end of the story! According to a book called "Ranch House" where I got these pictures from, the style was also influenced by the movies!

The biggest influence was the ranch houses seen in singing cowboy films, but designers were also influenced by the Swiss architecture in Disney films. Ghepetto's workshop in Pinnochio and the fairy tale cottage in Snow White made a big impression! That's where the scalloped fascia boards come from and the ultra-low roof tips. How do you like the curly doll-house struts? They're kitchy but in some strange way they seem to fit!

My guess is that film aesthetics still have a big influence on LA architecture. When I added an enclosed back porch to my house a few years ago I asked for a combination of Morbius's house from "Forbidden Planet" with thick, natural wood beams like those in Ghepetto's workshop. The contractor just shrugged. He was used to requests like that. He had both films in his collection at home.


Here's (above) an example of the French doors that often front the back yards, even of small houses. They let in plenty of light but they're not as sterile as the large sheets of plain glass that modern purists were using at the time.

I also like the lived-in look that characterizes these houses. These were houses for the working masses and they assumed the residents had kids.


Inside (above) it wasn't uncommon to find sheltering white, beamed ceilings. I love the simplicity of these rooms. The builders used simple, unpretentious materials to keep the price down. And look how cheery it is! These houses had good vibes!



Here's (above) the barn doors and diamond-shaped windows that you see so often. I love the colors: brown, muted yellow and white. On the yellow wall you can see the board-and-batten struts which look great and were cheap and easy to put up. The shake roofs are probably a fire hazard but they look terrific!



California ranch homes frequently open into a modest perpendicular corridor like the one above. That's the front door on the left side of the middle of the corridor. I think I can guess why the builders felt so strongly about these. You could argue that the long corridor is wasted space but when you're actually standing in one they seem delightful and absolutely indispensable.
Maybe every good house needs to have an area of seldom-used space. It makes the owner feel like a king and provides a contrast that sets off the rest of the house.



Unfortunately these nice, old 50s ranch houses are gradually being replaced by post-modern monstrosities like the one above. Ugh!






21 comments:

RedDiabla said...

Even though I'm still a bigger fan of the Mediteranean-style houses/bungalows that are in LA proper, the ranch houses in the Valley can be quite cool. They're so homey compared to the new McMansions that are taking over the landscape in just about every US metropolitan area.

Jorge Garrido said...

Wow! Eddie I'm surprised you like these! They're so sterile!

There's a street near my house (which is a yellow townhouse cookie cutter ugly montrosity) that has a row of half a dozen modernist ranch houses like this one. They stick out like a sore tumb, but they're assymetrical and they look betetr than whats around them. But to me, these ranch homes don't look lived in enough and they're too bright and yellow. I prefer darker earth tones, and brick for a home.

I wish I knew more about architecture so I knew how to articulate what I like. I don't even know what to search for on google! Oh, well...

I think that homes and public buildings should be done in contrasting styles. Homes shouldn't look innovative and edgy, they should look classic and inviting. The city, meanwhile, should blow your mind and appreciate human progress and technology. I refer you to the giant robots.

Joe said...

Wow-wee! I wish we had homes like this in Australia.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jorge: I don't like the example you posted any more than you do. That's a bad adaption of the ranch style.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Jorge: BTW, I like what you said about homes not conforming to business styles. That should be on a billboard facing architectural schools.

Red: I like Mediiteranean styles too.

Micah said...

Ah! You know, Uncle Eddie, I never gave much thought to the Ranch house as apealing before this. I remmeber one that I liked in Sabatour. Remember Charles Tobin's place? Oh Otto Kruger! You devilish vilain!

I myself Am partial to the Addams Family meets Forbidden Planet with a dash of Charles Foster Kane's Xanadu (remember to say "Xanadu" like the Jackson Beck take-off in Citizen Kane)

I should try some sketches out , see what it would mean to combine the details. I think it would be a singularly odd combination of two seemingly opposed things.

Anonymous said...

Once again really interesting observations...I always thought the ranch style was all about "casualness and fun"..something unique to the Southern California lifestyle...that sense of fun, of fanciful role playing, if you will. Mood! There is something inherently *optimistic* about ranch houses.

I don't care for the Pinnochio trim on the houses..the German look. You see alot of that down in Anaheim, which was founded as a German town, maybe that is why you see alot of that gingerbread trim. I don't know why but I think it's really ugly!

Also you can see "happy" homes in Florida..reminded me of So. Cal housing tracts...I really think WEATHER plays alot in architectural moods.

I was in the UK last month and you really come to miss the happy tropical foliage we also decorate our optimistic yards with...palm trees...birds of paradise..cheery colorful plants that like warm weather. In the UK you've got lots of oppressive urban brick buildings..built for stormy cold weather..bearing a grim facade. (Of course the little country farmhouses are totally adorable, but those are "cozy"...maybe that is happiness in it's own way, eh?)

New homes today, like most new cars, are completely lacking in style..hope..any sort of emotional message. It's all stamped out repetition..actually the message is PROFIT. I think we've lost our optimism too..the 50's can never be beat for the perfect meld of homes, cars, appliances..clothing..everything sang in confidence and harmony. Today what we build and make reflects our current outlook and values...so..what does that say about the ugly new homes and boring cars that all look the same??

Cynthia
tangoland.com

PCUnfunny said...

These Ranch houses look very nice are a hell of alot better then the ones near my neighborhood. They are simular to the example Jorge gave. I am not a architecture connoisseur but I do like Normandy Houses. Only the classic ones, not the new crap.

Sean Worsham said...

It's funny you posted the postmodern house on the bottom Eddie :) Those look like a typical San Jose home X-D

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Cynthia: English architecture self-destructed in the Industrial Revolution and never recovered. I'm completely at a loss to understand why such a great country has so many ugly homes.

Jose said...

bah! take your california. i've no need for it.

though, i have to say, i'm digging that house-with-book-shelf picture. nevertheless, i was never meant for sunny LA... ecch...

no offense, anyone.

ELLERY said...

HEY, KID!
LOVE THE RANCH STYLE HOUSES! I PREFER HARD WOOD FLOORS, WITH SOME TILE IN THE KITCHEN AND BATHROOMS. I HATE LINOLEUM WITH A PASSION! ALWAYS WOOD SIDING, WITH A TIN ROOF FOR RAIN TO FALL ON. NOTHING HELPS YOU FALL ASLEEP FASTER THAN THAT SOUND. LOTS OF SPACE, SO YOU FEEL LIKE A KING, MASTER OF ALL YOU SURVEY.

pappy d said...

It's nice to have a yard, but I'm still keeping my studio apt. in the head of the giant robot.

Anonymous said...

Try to grow a bird of paradise (the flower) outside of California, Florida or Hawaii. It can't be done.

Brilliantpants said...

Hm...some of those houses have appealing features, but over here on the east coast, a lot of the ranch style houses I see look kind of dated and silly. I prefer a colonial style house, but that's probably because that's what I grew up in.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Aaargh! I regret that I didn't print a disclaimer to distance myself from all the ugly ranch knock-offs there are out there. Ranch is a great style when it's done right, but it sure sucks when it's done wrong.

Of course there are lots of ranch styles and California Ranch is just one of them. Maybe "ranch" is a generic term for a really wide-spread style. It's possible that generic ranch is one of most common styles in North America.

I'm only defending California Ranch, that low, sprawling, funny, shaggy dog of a style that you see in the best examples.

Chris L said...

I guess I can understand the appeal of original ranch design. Personally, I'm a fan of shotgun houses. Something about space conservation really hits me. My ideal home would be a two story shotgun building with some kind of balcony. Perhaps a retired corner shop or something. I like them because they seem to have endless variations depending on usage and personal style.

http://www.scapesite.com/ARTISTS/eastman-America/shotgun-house,-new-orleans.jpg
http://www.louisvillehotbytes.com/riteway.jpg
http://scribalterror.blogs.com/scribal_terror/images/2007/03/19/narrow_house_front.jpg

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Chris: Thanks for the links! I never heard of shotgun houses til you mentioned them! I love that first one!

Anonymous said...

The examples given of original California Ranch style homes are beautiful. They were cozy and inviting. A real home not just a house. If anyone has ever seen the old 60's tv show Mister Ed, they lived in a perfect example of a California ranch home. Complete with the perfect little barn in the back. Modern developers get a clue! Give people a home again not just a box with windows.

Mark

Anonymous said...

What about Robert Byrd ranch homes, do have any examples.

mamungt3 said...


I think architecture in la will likely be great.