Author raises the profile of ranch homes

Frank Lloyd Wright's work and Joseph Eichler's experimental X-100 steel-framed house heavily influenced this Rancher's master suite. (James Brown)

I’m always fascinated at the impressive array of architectural styles that populate the North American landscape. The combination of climate demands, indigenous building materials and imaginative solutions to housing, whether there are budget constraints or the sky’s the limit, have produced buildings that satisfy more than the need for shelter.

The different styles also tell a story of their place in time and the personalities of the homeowners, and they mirror the best (and worst) of an era. Wartime bungalows, working farmhouses, rural cottages, rambling ranchers, Colonials, Victorians and townhouses all have characteristics that set them apart and make them interesting and endearing in their own right.

For the lovers of ranch style, I’ve discovered a book, published by Gibbs Smith, and through the book a magazine that celebrates these midcentury houses in all their glory. Author of “Atomic Ranch: Midcentury Interiors,” Michelle Gringeri-Brown and photographer Jim Brown launched the quarterly magazine Atomic Ranch in 2004 to call attention to the underappreciated ranch homes built all across postwar America. Their in-depth research and admiration for the style dazzle in their new book as they showcase stylish ranchers decorated from vintage original to updated modern.

So what’s a rancher? Key elements are a long, low (often rambling) profile with minimal exterior decoration. Gringeri-Brown notes that they have limited curb appeal, but once you are inside, the story heats up. It’s simple, no-fuss architecture, open plan, small kitchens and baths, bedrooms separated from the living area. Large windows and sliding-glass doors bring the outside in.

Rooflines overhang to protect the interior from the sun.

One such ranch-style dwelling is a midcentury house built by real estate developer Joseph Eichler. Renowned for bringing modern style to subdivision or tract housing, his homes were post-and-beam construction, which allows for huge expanses of glass and a wide-open layout. The design is spartan, with clean geometric lines.

The living room is a challenge to set up, with the off-center fireplace and walls of glass. A focal wall of green Venetian plaster and a pair of red cotton rugs balance the strength of the brick fireplace wall and tile floor.

With walls of glass come big utility bills, a drawback to this modern design. Pinch-pleat curtains or metal blinds do suit the style and offer privacy, but not in this home. The bedroom floor is a slat-covered, radiant-heated slab, which helps.

Decorating solutions are described with tips from the homeowners for each of the eight ranchers in the book. Minimize colors and materials in an open-plan style. Repeat materials to build cohesion. Research midcentury colors on the Internet to find the right palette. Shop for vintage pieces that are appropriate to the style of the ranch; you often can mix in a few modern pieces. Lighting makes a big impression; the lamps shown throughout the book are fantastic!

Debbie Travis’ House to Home column is produced by Debbie Travis and Barbara Dingle. Email questions to You can follow Travis on Twitter at and visit her website at