Ranch floor plans have been an essential American style of suburban home for the past century. Ranch homes are well known in residential neighborhoods, particularly suburban housing developments. The ranch home tries to bring the outdoors into the living space of the home, while providing essential needs of function, comfort, and aesthetics. The ranch style is derived from California's Spanish colonial architecture of the 1820's, typified by horizontal, adobe-brick buildings which were low to the ground. Later on sawmills led to the board-and-batten techniques which characterize the Craftsman and Prairie home styles. Ranch homes became popular in California in the 1930's, pioneered by architect Cliff May, who designed them to emphasize a casual way of living based upon ideas of simplicity, the practicality of space and materials, and efficiency. After the Second World War many developers throughout the country began mass-producing ranch homes in suburban areas. The National Association of Realtors states that the affordability and single-story design make ranch style homes the most prolific American residential design. Although long the butt of trendy jokes about design, ranch-style homes are now coming back into their own.
Ranch style typically understood of a single story arranged in an asymmetrical L- or U-shape, but by the 1950's two-story and split-level (to accommodate build on hillsides) styles became popular. These homes are linear in shape and they invoke a horizontal line placed in the sites on which they are built. Exteriors usually have brick accents and featured large windows. A low, flat roof – slightly pitched, but still trying to emphasize the horizontal orientation of the architecture – is also associated with this style; as well as attached house garage plans. Interiors are designed to capture an open and informal feel, with specific living zones – kitchen and dining room being a buffer zone between living and sleeping areas. The rear of the home features floor-to-ceiling picture windows and sliding glass doors to allow entrance to the outside. Building materials include wood paneled interiors; brick and wood cladding; and other natural materials like stone. Some ranch homes feature visible wooden rafters, terrazzo flooring (to promote radiant heating), built-in shelving and closets, and exterior details such as false shutters on the small, horizontal windows facing the street.
Because ranch home plans were built quickly and spread broadly all across America, they are sometimes considered as possessing little individual style. However, this building style became a key component in how Americans connected to and lived a comfortable, casual way of life which integrated the family car with the TV technologies which came into being during that time. Spaces were quite open, and built to serve multiple uses by the use of small, movable partitions or curtains. Kitchens were usually adjacant to the living areas, and there was a flow from garage to kitchen to dining area to living area to bedrooms. Living areas often had picture windows and sliding glass doors opening onto backyard patios. Nowadays ranch style homes are often custom-built, and feature large, floor-to-ceiling windows which slide on tracks to open the house up and extend the sense of home into the outdoors.