With gabled roofs and lots of interior light, they’re representative of the California landscape they arose in.
Published Oct. 8, 2020, at 10:33 a.m.
Text by Whet Moser
Lots of ranch houses were built in the middle of the 20th century. But very few of those, at least around here, have the honor of being midcentury modern — or, if you like, Atomic Ranches. (There’s a whole magazine about them.)
Atomic ranches typically have wood and stone-combo exteriors, often with narrow horizontal masonry to exaggerate the low-slung profile. Gabled roofs on the outside make for vaulted ceilings on the inside, often with clerestory windows high up on the walls to bring more light in. And there’s plenty of interior wood — including exposed beams — and stone, usually in an open floor plan.
The feel is light, natural, and textured, representative of the California landscape it arose in, a stylized evolution of the adobe and wood Spanish colonial architecture that directly inspired it. Think of it as the Prairie Style of the Golden State. And because the Chicago suburbs grew so fast when the style was popular, you can find a decent selection at various price points.
Don’t let the bad CGI furniture distract you. This four-bed, two-bath home at 1,600 square feet is a fine example of a compact, nicely sized ranch. The mix of wood paneling and skinny brick is a great blend of textures, and nearly floor-to-ceiling windows flood the open-plan living space with light. Plus the clever asymmetrical design gives it a little master bedroom suite with a walk-in closet.
Smaller and cheaper at 1,482 square feet, with four beds and two baths, this Winfield home doesn’t have quite as many MCM touches, but it still creates the pleasant living spaces atomic ranches are known for. The gabled roof and clerestory windows bring more light in than a flatter profile would create, and they continue into the main bedroom and home office with dark wood paneling.
This ranch’s gabled roof creates a shaded terrace at the front door, the MCM equivalent of a front porch. And for inclement weather, there’s a big enclosed sunporch out back. Neo-traditional interior updates mean it’s not as minimalist as it could be — there’s a built-in aquarium in the basement bar, for example — but the flat river-rock fireplace and clerestory windows in the living area are a reminder of its era.
Under this, uh, deconstructed gabled roof is a lot more room than it appears: 1,829 square feet with five bedrooms and two baths, plus a huge lot by Mount Greenwood standards. Some wonderfully dated touches remain, like the shiny aluminum storm door and a slightly split-level home office with dark wood paneling. Four of the bedrooms are on the first floor; down below there’s a fifth with a big, modestly finished family room and an even bigger utility room.
On the high end of the market, you get more than 3,000 square feet with three beds and three baths. In other words, there’s a lot of living space, with four fireplaces — one of them a two-sider srparating the living room and dining room — plus a lighted tennis court and two two-car garages. The gabled roof and clerestory windows are put to great use here, looking out over a wooded lot, and skylights bring in even more light. Unlike a lot of ranches, there’s a ton of kitchen space, which winds around in an open plan from the living area.