When the low-slung ranch-style home first appeared in the 1920s, it was a shocking departure from the norm. From the 1940s until the 1970s, though, one-story or split-level ranch homes sprang up by the millions in countless subdivisions.
In the 1950s, nine out of 10 newly built homes were ranches. Cost-cutting builders discovered untold ways to economize, but modern convenience had arrived.
Handcrafted details of earlier styles were out, and clean lines, manmade surfaces, and features for a more relaxed lifestyle were in.
The garage was now attached to the frequently L-shaped house. Sliding doors opened onto a patio, where Dad barbecued while Mom happily unloaded her new electric dishwasher. The living room had large picture windows with fixed center panels, but the windows in other rooms were often set high to admit light while offering privacy.
The den, a new invention that encouraged family togetherness around the black-and-white TV, often boasted paneling and might even have a radio/intercom wired into the wall.
Walls & Ceilings. Plaster-and-lath walls and ceilings slowly gave way to drywall, which is less expensive to install and was widely used by the end of the1950s. Window and door moldings have simple, narrow profiles, and crown moldings are non-existent. Cathedral ceilings and textured acoustic tiles were much in demand. Recessed light fixtures made their appearance, sometimes covered by translucent panels.
Floors. Wall-to-wall carpeting became the latest luxury-often installed over hardwood floors. Eventually, the hardwood was omitted, so carpeting became essential. Cut wool evolved into twisted manmade fibers, and by the 1970s, a lot of the carpeting was shag. Linoleum tiles covered the kitchen floor, but in the baths, it was ceramic tile, often in pale green or peachy pink.
Surfaces. Knotty pine paneling varnished to a golden gloss was a favorite for walls, especially in the den. In the kitchen, plastic-laminate countertops in tones of coral, aqua, gray, black, and white, possibly adorned by a boomerang or cracked-ice pattern, were edged with aluminum strips. Major appliances were gleaming white with shiny chrome handles, and a multitude of small appliances sat out on the counter, ready to facilitate cooking and prep.
Fabrics. Upholstered furniture is covered in sturdy slubbed fabrics, bark cloth, or leather-looking Naugahyde. Draperies are made from antique satin and open-weave fabrics (fiberglass fabric was popular at the time, but is not recommended today, even if you can find it).
Furniture. Low-slung to match the house, upholstered furniture often has straight lines, metal legs, and nubby fabric. Bamboo furniture was popular for the “Florida-room” den, and was covered in bark cloth or canvas with contrast piping. Blonde wood was the ultimate finish, and whole suites of furniture came in various style groups. Junior, though, might have preferred his room be decorated with wagon-wheel bunk beds and a Wild West motif. On the patio, butterfly chairs-canvas on welded-iron frames-fluttered in colorful profusion around the grill.
Accessories. Tall, glazed-ceramic table lamps with enormous shades, dramatic arrangements of tropical flowers, aquariums filled with colorful fish, and armloads of smallish throw pillows are hallmarks of ranch style. Cover the windows with accordion shutters, or hang pleated draperies from traverse rods topped with a pleated valance. Install a metal firebox with a visible vent pipe to create a gathering spot, or splurge on a brick or stacked-stone fireplace that rises to the ceiling.
Details. A dining nook with slide-in benches is typical of many ranch-home kitchens. Cover the table with a wipe-clean vinyl tablecloth with a Hawaiian floral motif or a retro geometric pattern. Set the table with Fiesta pottery, or serve that new/old favorite-TV dinners.