Everything to Know about Rambler or Ranch-Style Homes

C.E. Larusso
Written by C.E. Larusso
Updated February 2, 2022
Gray siding rambler house exterior
Photo: irina88w / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Highlights

  • The rambler, or ranch, house was once the most popular style of home in the U.S., before two-story homes rose in popularity in the 1980s

  • Its main defining characteristics include a low, single-story floor plan and large picture windows.

  • Newer designs might include multiple stories or walk-out basements.

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Depending on where you grew up, you have likely seen a rambler home, and maybe even lived in one. One of the most popular styles of single-family homes ever built in the United States, it rose in popularity after World War II following its initial debut in 1930s California. Read on to learn more about this iconic house’s history, its defining characteristics, and the variations that have cropped up around the country over the years.

The History of The Rambler or Ranch House

Rambler, also called ranch-style, homes originate in the United States and date back to the early 20th century. Some of the first examples were found in California and the southwest in the 1930s, with the original most likely designed by architect Cliff May in 1932. The idea was function before form: the rancher style home, as the name implies, was built to house ranchers who needed simple, low, one-story structures meant to romanticize quiet and solitude and withstand the weather of the plains and mountains—a big move away from the decorated, Victorian houses and Colonial homes of the east coast.

After World War II, rambler homes were mass-produced by several building companies, which, alongside a nationwide fascination with the west, led to this style of home being the dominant one from 1945 through the 1970s. In fact, by 1950, nine out of 10 new homes were built in the ranch house style.

What Are the Interior Features of a Ranch Home?

There are several notable characteristics of a ranch house that make it stand out from the crowd.

Single-Story

Rambler homes are always low, one-story homes. Larger two-story homes gained popularity in the 1980s. A rambler home is an excellent choice for a family with someone who has accessibility issues and might have trouble with stairs. In addition, the layout is typically rectangular or L-shaped.

Open Floor Plan

These homes nearly always have an open floor plan, which allows buyers to designate rooms and spaces as they see fit.

Picture Windows

Modern dining room with black table and large window
Photo: Iriana Shiyan / Adobe Stock

To allow lots of natural light and a connection with nature outside the home, rambler homes have huge, extravagant picture windows. These windows are the most extravagant detail of these homes; the rest of the design is usually quite minimal. In addition to offering an excellent view of the outside, they serve as an excellent way to showcase a brightly lit and well-decorated Christmas tree or highlight other rustic farmhouse decor in line with the home’s design.

Seamless Transition to Backyard

Similar to the reasoning behind the grand picture windows, the ranch house usually will have a large, sliding glass door leading to the backyard area; the idea is, of course, to blend the indoor and outdoor spaces. 

Vaulted Ceilings

The homes may look small from the exterior, but inside they feel much more spacious thanks to their post-and-beam vaulted ceilings.

The Different Styles of Ranch Homes

Since the original ranch home, several variations have emerged.

California Ranch

The California ranch is the classic rambler home, originating with Cliff May’s iconic first design. Larger than some other ramblers, the California Ranch has a U- or L-shaped floorplan and might even have a courtyard in the center.

Suburban Ranch

After the war ended and families fled the brownstones of the city, the suburbs were born as was the suburban ranch home. These ramblers are usually built on concrete slabs and are smaller than traditional California Ranch homes to accommodate denser neighborhoods. 

Split-Level Ranch

A split-level ranch breaks away from the classic style by allowing for two, three, or even four levels, usually accessible via a small flight of stairs. These homes became more popular in the 1960s and ‘70s, and often feature dens or basements partially below grade.

Raised Ranch

Sometimes called a split entry home, this style of rambler also has multiple floors, but only two unlike the several offered by a split level. Walking into a raised ranch, you will typically be greeted by stairs leading up or down to find the rest of the home, the basement will have a full walk-out, compared to the partially below-grade one of the split-level.

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