Modern examples incorporate features like open-floor plans, floor-to-ceiling windows, and the latest technology into the build, but they are still centered on indoor-outdoor living.
The style flourished in places like California, where the weather allows for the outdoors to be an extension of the home most of the year. Many of these were built as suburban developments in the years immediately following World War II.
Property ID: 0593275 | Sotheby’s International Realty
“I rebelled against the boxy houses being built then,” May, who died in 1989, told the Times. “The ranch house was everything a California house should be—it had cross-ventilation, the floor was level with the ground, and with its courtyard and the exterior corridor. It was about sunshine and informal outdoor living.”
Property ID: Y7M5JS | Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty
The Rancho Santa Fe Home, Has an Open-Floor Plan
The kitchen and bathrooms of the 2,322-square-foot home have been updated, but much of the design remains the same, Yang says. “Wherever you are, there’s a door to walk outside,” she notes. “And there are windows throughout to let the light in.”
The home, built in a U shape, surrounds a courtyard with a firepit and mature landscaping. There are also two patios with fountains, a pool surrounded by a glass fence, and a pocket garden.
“It’s not like a modern house with an open-floor plan. It’s like a treasure hunt; there’s something different around every corner, ” Yang says. “It’s perfect for staying home, because each person can have their own space and everyone can meet up in the middle.”
Other May-designed properties do offer that open plan, however. A four-bedroom, five-and-a-half bathroom home in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., boasts a flowing layout, as well as abundant natural light and a central courtyard that connects seamlessly to the indoor living areas.
Landscaping is key to ranch homes, and May is known for having brought in mature trees to plant on the grounds of his projects. This property is no different, note agents Eric Iantorno and Beth Van Boxtel of Pacific Sotheby’s International Realty. The home, built in 1973, sits on almost three acres and is currently on the market for $5.8 million.
“Cliff May used adult trees and plants at the time, and these days they are giant,” Van Boxtel explains. They include olive and pepper trees, plus a small fruit tree orchard, a vegetable garden, several kinds of berries, and a variety of tropical plants.
“The olive trees make it feel so romantic,” Iantorno notes. “And the details of the space—things are small and then expand, and that play on proportions makes it feel very special.” Single-level houses have gained in popularity as the baby boomer generation looks to retire and relocate to places without stairs. But Yang says she’s seen more interest in ranch-style homes from buyers of all ages.
People are attracted by the informal ease of living there, as well as the integrated indoor-outdoor experience. Others are drawn to the deceptively simple architecture. “They’re just brilliant little designs, and people are appreciating them,” Hess says.