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.