Ranch Style Home with white brick exterior

What Is A Rambler House? 5 Types Of Ranch-Style Homes

5-minute read

November 04, 2021


Home buying can be a tricky process, from finding the right fit for your lifestyle to finding the perfect location. If you’re looking to buy a home, you’ll more than likely come across a rambler house.Also known as a ranch-style home, this type of house is unique because it’s typically only one story and has an L or U shape. Ramblers have had a recent resurgence given their boxy layout and vintage appeal. You might still be wondering, “What is a rambler house?”

There’s more to these historical homes than meets the eye. While they were first designed in the 1930s, they grew in popularity following World War II, as more families wanted to live in quiet suburban neighborhoods. Keep reading to learn more about how the rambler home came about and the modern renditions of the classic style. 

Table of Contents

History Of The Rambler Home

Why Is It Called A Rambler House?

5 Types of Ranch-Style Rambler Homes

What Is Rambler Style? 10 Characteristics

What Is The Difference Between A Ranch And A Rambler?

How To Know If A Rambler Is Right For You

History Of The Rambler Home

Rambler homes came about through the work of West Coast architect Cliff May, who designed the first one during the 1930s. His inspiration came from ranches in the Southwest, as well as Mexican adobe haciendas. May is credited with creating the California ranch style, which is regarded as the original ranch-style or rambler home.

The ranch-style home was characterized as being plain with low-pitched roofs, extended eaves and large windows. Ramblers were originally conservative in design, but World War II catalyzed the spread of ranch homes across the country in the 1950s and ‘60s. Given their low-cost production and easy construction, rambler houses were great for growing families in the suburbs.

The popularity of rambler-style houses dwindled in the early 1970s when the cost of land made the homes more expensive, along with the hefty cost of heating a home that is so spread out. However, the open floor plan and simple aesthetic have made a comeback in recent years, as some homes never go out of style.

Why Is It Called A Rambler House?

The name “rambler” comes from the way the house sprawls across a larger piece of land in a way that maximizes its width, just as the “ramblin’ man wanders across long distances.”

5 Types Of Ranch-Style Rambler Homes

There are five overarching types of ranch-style rambler homes. They include, but aren’t limited to, the California ranch, raised ranch, suburban, split-level and storybook ranch.

California Ranch

California ranch rambler house

The original rambler home was actually a California ranch designed by Cliff May in the 1930s. As the first ranch-style home, the California ranch is known for its L- or U-shaped floor plan paired with a courtyard at the very center of the house.

Raised Ranch

raised ranch rambler house

The raised ranch home style takes the rambler home and updates it with a raised walk-up or stairs, which are used to enter the home. Raised ranches are also called “split-entry,” with structures like garages or storage space underneath the kitchen, living room and bedrooms.

Suburban Ranch

suburban ranch rambler house

While it is smaller and simpler than the traditional rambler home, the suburban ranch style is known for being a modern rendition of the ranch style built on slabs of concrete. They also maintain the openness of the California ranch to blend with the outdoors while being smaller in size and, consequently, more manageable for homeowners.

Split-Level Ranch

split-level ranch rambler house

A split-level ranch is a type of rambler home with multiple levels, as opposed to the traditional one-story California ranch. On each level, there is a half-staircase that separates them. This also allows the home to display an open floor plan that goes from the entryway and connects to other areas of the home like the living room, dining room and kitchen.

Storybook Ranch

storybook ranch rambler house

Finally, the storybook ranch is a more ornate and decorative version of the rambler home. There is often a trim and different-shaped windows to give a more distinctive look to an otherwise traditional home. Instead of opting for the classic minimalist ranch style from earlier periods, the storybook ranch embodies a unique aesthetic with subtle differences from the simple rambler home.

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What Is Rambler Style? 10 Characteristics

how to spot a rambler house

Ranch-Style Home Characteristics:

  1. Low-pitched gable roofs
  2. Extended eaves
  3. Usually one story
  4. Post and beam ceilings
  5. Open floor plan
  6. Sliding glass doors
  7. Large windows
  8. L or U shape
  9. Attached garage
  10. Wide horizontal profile

The rambler style is a culmination of unique characteristics that make this type of home well-suited for Southwestern climates. Ramblers are known for their low-pitched gable roofs and extended eaves since they provide more shade in those sunny areas.

Another architectural feature of ranch-style homes is their open floor plan, which creates an L or U shape. The horizontal profile view of a rambler home showcases how even though they are usually one story, they sprawl across the plot of land to make up in width what they lack in height.

Complete with large windows or sliding glass doors, this home style emphasizes a connection to the outdoors. While some rambler homes have an attached garage, they’re all supported by post and beam ceilings for maximum support.

What Is The Difference Between A Ranch And A Rambler?

southwest rambler house

Ramblers and ranch houses are interchangeable terms. However, ramblers are known for being a single-story home style with their entry on the ground level and a square or rectangular shape. The one difference is that ranch homes can also have a basement, which may be partially or fully furnished.

How To Know If A Rambler Is Right For You

pros and cons of rambler house

Driving through a neighborhood on the West Coast or in the Southwest, you may recognize the flat and sprawled out architecture of a rambler house. As this home style makes a resurgence, some may argue that the minimalist and simple nature of the ranch home never goes out of style.

Home buyers should note that rambler homes aren’t suitable for colder climates since their low-pitched roofs allow ice dams to form. Ice dams occur when snow on top of your roof melts and then refreezes on the lower edge.

Another aspect of ranch homes to note is that you may encounter cold spots, as a one-story home doesn’t handle heat loss as well as a house with levels. In the cold winter months, it may be difficult for your heating system to warm the parts of your home that are farthest from the furnace.

As an ode to a simplistic, traditional American home, ranch-style homes take advantage of larger plots of land without the hassle of a multistory home. If you’re looking for a home style that seamlessly transitions from the indoors to outdoors with natural light and an open floor plan, a rambler house might be for you.

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