Building out, not up Ranchers: The one-story housing style is becoming popular again, as older buyers seek homes without stairs.

June 07, 1998|By Joanne E. Morvay | Joanne E. Morvay,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Two years ago, when Sheila and Lance Brown were looking for their first home, they wanted an open and airy design that was within their price range, but also offered family potential for the children they hope to eventually have.

The couple, both in their early 30s, settled on a home built in style that's been around since before they were born: a rancher.

Though it is still commonly built out West, where it originated more than a half-century ago, and in the South, where it is a stalwart of retirement living, the popularity of the one-story house has declined in other regions of the country, including the East.

One of the most expensive houses to build, per square foot, because of its extended foundation and the builders' goal of including all of the rooms on one floor, ranchers were seen as outdated and old-fashioned by many buyers who preferred the amenities and overall look of two-story Colonials, Victorians and even Georgian Revival-style homes.

Here in Maryland, however, the rancher -- and rancher hybrids with modified second floors not visible from the outside -- appears to be making a comeback. A number of builders are prominently advertising the rancher-style home plan, offering buyers the option of purchasing a tract-built rancher instead of being forced to buy a much older home or to pay even more money to have a new rancher custom-built.

The recent rancher success is due, in part, to the fact that the new homes typically are not built according to the traditionally boxy, confining floor plan that once was the accepted norm for ranchers.

The one-story homes are proving popular with Baby Boomers and older generations who, as they age, want to remain on their own, in their own home, for as long as possible. Removing the obstacle often posed by stairs certainly helps. In many cases, buyers who opt for an upstairs use the rooms only occasionally as a guest or grandchildren suite.

Sheila Brown said many of their friends were incredulous when she and Lance announced that they were buying a rancher. "But now that they've seen it, the house is much more appealing to them," Brown said.

The Browns worked with their builder, Talles Homes, to eliminate specific walls and add additional windows to bring more sunlight into their home at Talles' Cobblestone community in Pikesville.

But Talles' original floor plan, which can be customized for individual buyers, often is airy and appealing enough, said Paul Lambe, project manager.

The 2,200-square-foot model offers floor-to-ceiling windows and multiple sets of arched French and sliding glass doors. The ceilings, which measure 10-feet in most rooms, are coffered, adding visual interest and the feel of additional height. The dining room and living room are open and the living room has an oversized fireplace with a tall mantle.

The master suite offers a private bath with the luxury amenities today's buyer demands, including a whirlpool tub, separate shower and double-sink vanity. There is a large walk-in closet and additional storage space -- unheard of in most ranchers built 30 years ago. Talles' Waldorf floor plan also offers a full, unfinished basement, which is not always an option included with ranchers.

Easy to care for

Lambe said the open, contemporary style of the house has proved popular with a variety of buyers, including people with physical handicaps who prefer to live in a one-story home and empty-nesters thinking about their future health.

Sharon Kaufman of Pikesville said she stopped to see the Talles model one rainy afternoon because, after 20 years in a rancher, she and husband, Felix, can't imagine living in any other style of home.

"I've loved living in a rancher because it's convenient and it's easy to take care of," Kaufman said. "I've probably walked just as many miles as if I had steps, but it doesn't seem the same."

Miriam and Willard Parsons moved to a rancher-hybrid built by Masonry Macks Homes at Meadow Ridge outside Westminster because they wanted to have a hand in their own destiny.

The couple spent 30 years in a two-story Colonial with five bedrooms and a finished basement in Catonsville. But at 66 and 71, Miriam and Willard knew changes in their life were coming.

"Our kids were so thankful that we made this decision ourselves," Miriam Parsons said, walking through her new home.

The Parsons opted for a rancher with a second-floor suite with one full bath. One room serves as guest quarters, while the other has been decorated for their 13-year-old granddaughter, Crystal. The couple's grandsons, Brooks, 7, and Brady, 4, stay regularly in their own room on the first floor.

The Parsons said they were surprised at how spacious their home was even after they extended walls and moved ceilings to better accommodate large pieces of furniture that have been in their family for years. Their previous home measured 2,700 square feet. Their new house is about 2,300 finished square feet.

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