By Bill Primavera
Many years ago, I wrote a column with the long title, “The Raised Ranch, Love It, Leave It or Change It.”
I described how since its explosive development in tract housing, starting in the early 1960s, home seekers have either loved or hated the design. For those who hated it, the article suggested how the design might be changed, eliciting many responses from readers asking for architects who might do the job – to this day.
Since the inception of its design, never has the style of a house spawned more opposing opinions than that of the raised ranch. Some prospective home buyers are drawn to it – perhaps they grew up in one – while others say, “show me anything but.”
“I don’t know who exactly invented the design of the raised ranch, but whoever it was should be shot!” said Michael Piccirillo, a Yorktown architect told me years ago. Actually, some architectural historians say that the design was created by none other than Frank Lloyd Wright.
The history of the raised ranch and its place in the American housing scene, rising from a clever idea to ubiquitous popularity then to disfavor as a style, is a strictly American phenomenon. While you see many ranch-style homes in the New York area, they originated on the West Coast in the 1920s. Once their influence reached the East Coast, the foundation had risen half a story and the one-level ranch was “raised” to create two levels.
The main complaints that Piccirillo has about the elevated ranch are the same that we hear most frequently from other detractors, that the entrance platform between the main and lower levels is typically shortened so that it’s difficult to close the door behind you without stepping up or down a step. Furthermore, there is no room for an entry hall closet. As Piccirillo pointed out, the lower level is cut off from the main flow of the house.
“When modernizing a raised ranch, it’s not easy to modify the space,” he said.
“It can become a more sizable project that’s more complicated than re-doing a ranch, cape or colonial.”
Yet it’s this very cut-off feeling that some people find desirable for converting a raised ranch into a mother-daughter layout or an accessory apartment.
Basically, the raised ranch is a one-story ranch propped atop a high foundation, creating a lower living space without raising the construction cost appreciably. Normally that lower space is divided into one or two rooms, along with a half or full bath and a laundry room. The rest of the level is for the utility room and a two-car garage.
But detractors say that while the inside may offer more space at less money, the exteriors are devoid of any distinguishing features, so that large tracts of the design tend to look alike.
Another issue in the raised ranch debate is that its design has fallen into disfavor more quickly than any other style of house. Homeowners today are more sophisticated at all price levels and they want to distinguish themselves from their neighbors. On the longest block in my town with the most raised ranches, the transformation from alikeness started to take place in the late 1980s, first with the selection of new siding and windows. Then there were additions, which many times included revamping the two-car garage into living space and extending a wing with a new garage and a “bonus” room overhead.
A while back, I met a husband-and-wife team of architects who first made me aware of clever ways to disguise the top-heavy look of the raised ranch with a front bump-out. They designed what I call an “entrance tower” for the center that remedies at least two of the design problems associated with the house. The tower is basically a one-and-a-half to two-story extension in the middle of the house, which solves the problem of the small entry platform. The entrance then becomes expansive depending on the dimensions of the tower and provides more room for a coat closet.
Also, the addition of the tower tends to make the raised ranch look more like a colonial. The tower can soar two stories to impress visitors or to create a second floor for a large elevated walk-in closet or another bathroom.
For anyone who’s living in a raised ranch and wants to update or upgrade the design to a contemporary colonial look, I’ve researched and worked with a couple of architects who can help. For contact information, just call my number below.
Bill Primavera, while a publicist and journalist, is also a Realtor® associated with William Raveis Real Estate and Founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc. (www.PrimaveraPR.com). To engage the services of The Home Guru to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.