California Ranch-Style Homes: Personalizing a Modern Rancher

Modern Ranch HGTV Team Drew Canyon Rancher LMB Interiors

Team Drew Living Room for HGTV: A playful take on the Modern Ranch with deliberate — though sparing — nods to actual ranch living, employs layers of textures, casual and inviting furnishings and fabrics, elevated with a touch of gold. Photo Credit: Jason Jackson

My firm’s recent foray into reality television, designing for the remodel and sale of a “Canyon Ranch” style home in Pinole, inspired in me a renewed appreciation for the Ranch style, and how far-reaching its influence is in modern design.

What elements determine a ranch style home? And do you have one?

If you own a mid-century modern home, you likely also own a rancher.

Whether you choose to decorate using materials that evoke a ranch aesthetic, or take the wonderfully blank canvas in a myriad of other directions, from spare to rustic to bohemian to glam, is entirely up to you. In fact, individualizing a Ranch Style home is one of my firm’s favorite design challenges.

Mod Modern Ranch: An elevated vibe using richly luxurious fabrics, geometric patterns, clean lines, fine art paintings, and personal objects, thoughtfully arranged. Photo by Eric Rorer

Before I go further into that discussion, let’s look at what comprises the history and the bones of a California Rancher:

Single-story, low-pitch roof, usually one-room deep, often configured in an L- or U-shape around a patio, with open floor plans, expanses of glass — large windows and sliding glass doors — taking deliberate advantage of views and landscaping and creating indoor-outdoor flow; and sometimes including exposed roof beams in the design. An informal, casual feel is attributed to this style as well.

Because of its architectural emphasis on indoor-outdoor entertaining spaces, the highlighting of hearth and home, the Modern Ranch is a beautiful expression of my personal mission, creating spaces that invite and nourish community.

Another aspect of this style that contributes to the feeling of tribe is the expansive single-floor layout. No one is escaping to a second floor to hide. The family is together, without being on top of each other.

The Eichler home, while thought of as a category unto itself, it is, in fact, a mid-century modern and highly successful tract-home implementation of the California Ranch movement (which, for architecture geeks, is attributed to Cliff May, who started building in this style in the mid-1930s).

Interestingly, the original influence was the Spanish Hacienda style of the late 1800s, which was explained by May as his inspiration due to the legendary hospitality of the early Mexican-Californians.

Haciendas also famously utilized local building materials, a practice which is considered traditional for the California Modern Rancher, and is now a favorite among current designers and builders, because of our 21st century desire to work within a lighter, earth-conscious ecological footprint.

So it’s no surprise, as I go back over my own portfolio, how many of my clients’ homes fit this description. Including the Eichler.

Now, back to the question: How to design — and individualize — your mid-century modern home, if it is also a Ranch Style home?

After a brief romance with the more direct quotes in current industry design magazines and such, it’s now time to avoid the cliches.

peaked wall

Historic mid-century ranch inspired-elements harmoniously blend into a 21st-century design. Photos by Eric Rorer

Barn doors, wagon wheel lighting fixtures, Edison bulbs, Mexican pottery, literal ranch-style furnishings and art, unless these are part of your personal aesthetic, this is not what we are reaching for. Edison bulbs are still holding as a viable choice, used judiciously. A barn door may be a great solution in your space, and how we implement that will be key, using the right materials and proportions — and with restraint.

For some, keeping the lines clean is the primary goal. An emphasis on neutrals creates a perfect canvas for highlighting bold, iconic furnishings, as well as directing attention to the views. Choice of textures, personal objects, and original artwork, further individualize the 21st-century interpretation of the Ranch style. To skew even more towards a warmer and possibly more casual feel, natural wood, layers of textures, and a brighter palette might be your jam.

Classic Modern Eichler: Emphasis on textures, light neutrals with pops of color, create warmth while still highlighting the view to the gardens. Photo by Suzanna Scott

To go glam, use of refined metallics, big, bold patterns, pops of color, and/or stark white and black, may take us in a more chic direction.

Mad Glam Modern Kitchen: Bold contrasts and gold accents, plus striking pendant lights bring glam to a Modern Mid-Century home in Piedmont. Photo by Eric Rorer

As a designer, I have embraced the challenge and opportunity that a modern ranch-style home offers, creating spaces that feature both clean lines and an invitation to sink into the warmth — for results that are iconic and enveloping, at once livable and beautiful.

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Laura Martin Bovard

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