Homage to midcentury last: the ranch home

An entire month has passed since I last was brought to this computer screen, to compile some sort of thought, rant or other revelation on life for you to read. It has not been because there has been nothing to say. I often find that when I am writing many things on a weekly and daily basis, for work, grad school courses, or personal projects, I am much more likely to also write a blog. Sometimes (OK, oftentimes), it is because I am thinking about something else that is not related to the topic of my paper or the project at hand, and I am overcome with the need to write down my thoughts on something. I can easily pump out a big essay during this larger weekly routine of writing, and it somehow feels much easier than it does now, in my current state, where I have been asked to write very little (and read even less) for my summer coursework and in my duties at work.

What I have been doing is writing a few papers about Cuba and Caribbean tourism, museums on an international perspective, and a few other strains of similar topics, and learning more than I ever cared to know about the kinds and styles of chairs in American and European interior design. The History of Interior Design class was my first foray into the other half of my graduate program--the half that I am not in--historic preservation. With the basis of this class being on preservation, we studied much of the architectural styles that impart themselves on the interior fashions and furnishings we have used throughout history--and we also covered exciting things like wall plaster (hint the sarcasm).

For a lot of people in my field (many of those being fellow members of this class), that actually is exciting stuff. Me, I'm always more interested in the people. The material culture aspects of interior design fascinate me, because I care most what people were doing with their things and why they used what they did. My professor did a fantastic job bringing this element of the field into our class, too. But there was a whole heck of a lot of architecture involved along the way, and a lot of design terms I did not know (and many which still elude me).

For six weeks, I trudged through Classical, Greek, Federal, Victorian, Rococo, Queen Anne, all the various Revivals, and plenty others that I have forgotten, and then Craftsman, cottage, and various other late nineteenth century styles to arrive at the twentieth. Ah, the twentieth century. I love many aspects of early twentieth century design, and more of midcentury design. And it all comes together in my love--my adoration--of that which I once loathed: the midcentury ranch home. 

 Ranch homes evoke in me visions of my childhood, visiting friends' houses, ranch-styles, that sat on streets with dozens of other ranch homes, and inside, layers of brown, and thick carpeting, and wall-size windows that take over rooms. In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, there was an added element of water outside, the windows offering a view of the lake that was nearby, or just in the backyard. I remember thinking about those homes, in my young mind, about how frumpy they seemed, very unpleasing and cottage-y.

I imagine this is because the few that I do recall specifically--most are fuzzy in my memory, with me left searching my brain for who even lived in the house I picture in my mind's eye--are poor examples of ranch home style, with the innards of the structure not at all reflecting the midcentury flooring, furniture pieces, lighting, window decor, and built-in bookcases that appear in photos of the ranch homes that now make it into modern design books and are featured in large, glossy spreads of home decorating magazines. And rightly so; I can't imagine those friends' homes had much worth plastering in a magazine or book in the states they were in--after all, those published materials are to serve as "what-to-do" guides more than "what-not-to-do."

For the final project in my class, we each have to concoct a furnishings concept plan for one room of one house that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in Georgia. I have selected the first ranch home to make it on the Register in the state, since the Ranch style has recently turned 50 (the minimum age to qualify), and because I have an absolute and total crush on the Ranch. It is shocking how much I have enjoyed staring at photographs of hundreds of ranch homes over the past few weeks, coming up with an aesthetic and a concept, and choosing furniture pieces appropriate for the era. Oh yeah, and deciding that I  must actually have a properly conceived, open floor plan, windows-for-walls ranch home, someday, hopefully when I am much, much older. (I am thinking my 20s and 30s need to be spent living in some sort of warehouse, a concrete and wood and ancient tile adventure, something crazy that I could never do once I have children.)

I know that when I present my project this week, many people will meet my passion with crinkled noses; the ranch home, they will think, that hangover from the post-war era when we first became addicted to consumption. Yes, I will also think, but before we had to build McMansions with dozens of closets to store it all. This was the era when function and clean lines, minimal clutter, a few strong furniture pieces, and built-ins everywhere, was the height of home fashion. Maybe not for everyone, there will always be those who want their homes filled with Rococo Revival--some of those people are in my class--and to each, his own. I was self conscious about classmates thinking my ranch home project is unsightly for about half a second, until I remembered how many Victorian and Federal-style homes I spent the summer looking at for hours in each class, and how I crinkled my nose numerous times at those.

The Ranch: ugly, to some, yes, and in my childhood, I vividly recall thinking I would never want to live in a ranch home, just as I was positive I would never wear loafers or high-waisted pants or voluntarily tuck in my shirt. Wouldn't you know it, taste grows up, and things you once thought so grandmotherly and out of fashion rise again into the aesthetic, and you realize just how fashionable your grandmother really was.