Life On One Level

By Wendy Gooditis

I never really thought about it, because my husband and I bought our property for its view and equine-ability, but we live in a ranch house. Technically, it’s called a “raised rancher,” and I must say it has worked beautifully for us. Wet dogs and muddy boots enter downstairs and not on the main living level. The extra sweater I remember as I run out the front door is right down the hall—no stairs to race up and down.

I have been thinking about ranch-style houses a lot this year as my real estate team keeps coming up with clients who want one. I went searching for the history and found that the design’s origins lie in the Spanish adobe houses built in the western states from the 17th through 19th centuries. One-level houses were easiest to construct and were sturdy, and, at a time when life was lived more outdoors than in, provided fluid access to the outside, even to the point of often being built in a U-shape around a courtyard.

The modern ranch style began with a 23-year-old Californian named Cliff May, who designed and built a one-level house with lots of huge windows and a fairly open floor plan, in defiance of traditional building precepts. May said, “The early Californians had the right idea. They built for the seclusion and comfort of their families, for the enjoyment of relaxation in their homes. We want to perpetuate these ideas of home building.”

He went on to become the father of the California ranch house, which morphed into the popular tract-home style following World War II all across the United States. The famous first-ever huge housing development was built in the 1950’s by the Levitt brothers in Levittown, Pennsylvania: guess what style the houses were? Yup; the soldiers returning from war had families, bought cars, and moved away from the cities into ranch houses with lawns. The trend spread, and so many were built that it became “prototypical of suburban development in the 1960s and ’70s,” according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, until “it later fell out of favor, as buyers eschewed its association with mass-produced tract housing and higher land costs made it uneconomical for developers.”

Somewhere along the line, the term “rambler” came into use to describe one-level houses as well. I started to look up origins and definitions, but found so many mixed messages that I gave up. It may be mostly regional, with “ranch” apparently being more in use by real estate professionals. The terms “raised rancher” and “raised rambler” refer to a house where the main entrance is on the main living level with kitchen, living areas, and bedrooms, while also having a downstairs level with walk-out access to the outside, often used for a family room and extra bedroom and bathroom. Traditionally, a ranch (or rambler, I guess) house includes most of the following distinguishing features, says

One story

Low-pitched roof, commonly hipped

Moderate or wide-eave overhang

Asymmetrical, U- or L-shaped floor plan

L- or U-shaped floor plan surrounding a patio

Sliding glass patio doors

Large picture windows

Built of local materials

Attached carports or garages

Visible children’s play areas

In recent years, many of us associate the ranch house with the single-level living which makes moving about the house easier for aging people. And that is the beauty of the ranch style: it is nothing if not versatile. Many of our clients are indeed looking for the house where they will age in place. My own parents moved from their 3-level house and settled in Clarke County in a sweet 2-bedroom ranch house, which suits them very well.

After reading some history and looking at representative examples from various decades, I realize we have quite a varied sampling right here in Clarke County! And here are a few of them, all currently on the market:

A traditional, 3 bedroom, 1 ½ bathroom brick ranch house in town on North Church Street in Berryville with a wonderful deck and fenced yard – representative of the post-WWII building trends.

A lovely 1996 ranch house in town in Battlefield Estates on Stuart Court in Berryville, with 1840-square feet main level plus an unfinished basement, fantastic screened porch, and shady backyard – a product of traditional influences  affecting the ranch house style in the 1980’s and 1990’s.

A brand-shiny-new raised rancher on Clifton Road, out in the country, with gas fireplace, huge screened porch, and pastoral views – an example of the spacious raised ranch-style.

The little ranch house on the big land – 77 beautiful, clear acres in White Post on Nation’s Spring Road – perhaps a throwback to those first ranch houses which were, after all, on ranches!

An expansive 6 bedroom, 4 ½ bathroom, partly stone ranch house with full finished basement, including an apartment, in the woods on Harry Byrd Highway in Bluemont – representative of the roomy liveability of a true raised ranch house.

A fascinating stone ranch house on 20 acres which include a 7-acre stocked pond on Lime Marl Lane – an example of the U-shaped ranch house built around a courtyard, but with a modern profile.

And a French-country style house on a bluff above the Shenandoah on ten acres with river frontage, with mountain views and a pool – though not labelled as such, it is a raised rancher with the classic courtyard, this one with an in-ground pool as its centerpiece.

Even here, in our bucolic backwater of a county, we have examples of the evolving ranch house style of the last nearly 60 years. Obviously, one-level living is a good way to live.

Wendy Gooditis is a real estate agent on the Chip Schutte Real Estate Team with ReMax Roots at 101 East Main St., Berryville, VA 22611, phone (540)955-0911. Wendy would be happy to answer any questions you may have about real estate, and can be reached at or at (540)533-0840.