Ranch House Appeals to the Postwar Generation

With all of the attention Cliff  May received after the war, it is important to ask why the ranch house appealed so much to the postwar generation. Certainly, magazines played a major role with their admiring articles on the ranch house. Movie stars like Olivia de Havilland and Gregory Peck, who lived in ranch homes, also added to its attraction. But more importantly, the ranch house with its rambling, open plan and walls of windows became associated with “the California way of life” of living casually, comfortably, and out-of-doors. After living in cramped accommodations, often with relatives, the ranch house seemed to fulfill the postwar buyer dream of enjoying wide, open spaces indoors and out all year round without the formalities associated with other house styles. And one did not need to live in California to enjoy ranch house living. As long as a family lived in a ranch house built with the latest technological advances in heating and cooling, they could enjoy ranch house living anywhere in the United States.

And Cliff May designed what the public wanted. By the 1940s, he had largely abandoned the formal Spanish colonial revival style. Instead, he expanded on the vernacular architecture of the nineteenth-century West on the exterior of his houses with International Modern ideas for the interior. Hence, during this period, May’s houses are typically one-story dwellings with low-pitched, wood-shingle roofs and board-and-batten walls. On the interior, his houses are designed with free-flowing open plans, walls of windows (the larger size as well as quantity), and indoor spaces connected to the outdoors by the use of the same paving materials inside and out, extension of indoors planters to the outdoors, and arrangement of sliding glass doors leading into the backyard garden.

To learn more about the history and design of houses by Cliff May, visit the About Cliff May page.

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