There are times when we drive past a neighborhood of similar houses and one of them attracts us more than others. You can’t really tell what it is and you wonder whether it could be the color, landscape, window positioning, materials. You stand in front of them and compare them and still can’t put your finger on what makes it appealing to you.
I’ve taken pictures of 3 identical homes in New Jersey (not because of their architectural quality or merit but simply for the purposes of comparing them in this exercise).
Because these homes are ranch style homes lets start with what constitutes an original ranch home (as opposed to the variations that changed that style). Ranch houses began in the 1940’s and 1950’s in response to the baby boom explosion following World War II and the desperate need to create affordable houses for returning service man. It had to be easy to built, somewhat repetitive and low cost. It typically had 1300 sq. ft. and had 3 bedrooms and 2 baths.
The style developed by mixing the prairie style house (made famous by Frank Lloyd Wright) and the up-and-coming Modernist homes (like Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House or Phillip Johnson’s Glass House). Prairie style is defined by cantilevered roof eaves and bands of glass windows created to make the house look horizontal while Modernist wanted homes with a lot of glass so it can blend in with the environment, for all structural elements to be clearly shown and for the entire design to be stripped of all unnecessary decor.
Over the years the style evolved into 2-story, split and raised versions and was the style was also used for commercial buildings.
Lets look at the first Ranch-style house (we will call it House A):
This house measures approx 50 feet by 30 feet for an approx. size of 1500 sq. ft. It has one unbroken roof line in the shape of the letter A with brick and stucco wall finishes. The dark material of the facade makes it feel like one continuous uninterrupted wall. Forgetting about the general appearance of the landscaping and the building in general one can see the the property is in poor condition and has little curb appeal.
The Roof line is unbroken, looks like its crushing the lower structure and making the house flatter; too flat for such a small house.
Second House (we will call it House B):
This house also measures approx 50 feet by 30 feet for an approx. size of 1500 sq. ft. The roof-line here broken into 3 parts with identical brick and stucco wall finishes as house A. But here the roof gable is made of painted white wood and has one material below it; the remaining wall is split evenly between light brick and red brick below the rest of the roof. Landscaping and building condition are superior to House A. Windows on the left don’t have shutters.
The broken roof line makes the house feel taller than House A.
Third House (we will call it House C)
This house is identical in size and dimensions to House A and B. The roof-line here is broken into 3 parts with identical brick and stucco wall finishes as house B. Roof gable wall material and colors are identical to house B. Landscaping and building condition are superior to House B.
The only differences between House B and C are the shutters on the left windows, the solid entry door and the landscaping (even the lawn chairs that make someone feel welcome!).
When you distill the elements of style the difference comes down to shutters, a front door, good landscaping/curb appeal and lawn chairs.