Redefining a Ranch

An Architect flexes her creative muscles and turns a ho-hum ranch into a dream home that clearly reflects its Craftsman- and Prairie-style roots.

December 2005 issue of Better Homes and Gardens Remodeling Ideas            Photography by Ed Gohlich

BackyardIone Stiegler has a rare talent – the ability to see into the past and the future simultaneously. For proof, look no further than the San Diego home she shares with her husband, Tony, and their two children. The house, built in the 1940s, began life as a garden-variety brick ranch, and so it remained until the Stieglers bought it. Despite a great location, the house had languished on the market for more than a year. No one, it seems, got excited when they saw it.

KitchenBut Ione, an architect, saw what other would-be buyers did not. She saw past the humble ranch “dressing” to the historically rich architectural styles that preceded it. She saw a reinvented house that didn’t yet exist. She saw what savvy and seasoned home buyers learn to see: potential.

“As soon as I walked through the door, I knew that it had pretty good bones and that it was situated very well on the lot,” Ione says. She wasn’t blind to the flaws, but she knew they could be fixed – starting with the poor circulation. “When you entered the house, you Living Roomimmediately faced a wall,” Ione says. The tight entry took a severe turn to the right, then dumped visitors into a combined living room and dining room. “You had to walk around the dining room table to find your way into the kitchen.” From here, traffic traipsed straight through the kitchen’s work area to reach the family room.

Room-to-room relationships felt awkward, too. “I’ve never liked a living room and dining room in one big space,” Ione says. “I prefer it when the rooms are open to one another but still separate and very distinct.” The kitchen, on the other hand, felt too separate. “The opening to the family room was narrow, and it blocked views,” she says. Today those problems exist only in memory. All were swept away by a wave of remodeling that gently touched every room and surface, and left a stylish Craftsman-Prairie home in its wake.

Up front, a new attached garage faces the street, balanced by a gracious front porch with tapered columns. Hallway and Dining RoomBeyond the mahogany entry door, a grand colonnade stretches nearly 46 feet through the house, culminating in a tall window that showcases a fountain in the garden. Midway down the path, a skylight – one of 11 overall – imparts a soft glow to the colonnade’s slate floor.

“This is my favorite part of the house now,” Ione says. “You’re led by pools of light toward the kitchen, and the fountain is lighted at night. I love how the house presents a demure face to the world, but once we invite you inside, you Breakfast Nooksee the full extent of its personality.” A quick study of the before and after plans shows a collection of small but significant changes to the layout – a nudge here, a bump-out there. They add up to just 390 square feet of expansion, but the house feels much larger than before, thanks to a sophisticated use of space and light.

The dining room kept its original location, but now it’s a world apart, separated from the living room by the colonnade. A change in ceiling height further delineates the spaces. The dining room ceiling is 8 feet at the perimeter, with a taller recessed center borrowing space from the attic. In contrast, the living room’s beamed ceiling soars to 12 feet, thanks to a new raised roof.

The new kitchen measures only a few feet larger than its predecessor, but it’s far more effective at managing traffic flow. By bumping out the house toward the new pool, Ione created a passage next to the kitchen and a new breakfast nook off to one side, leaving the cook’s zone concentrated – Master Bedroom, poolsideand sheltered – in the center. Sight lines have improved as well. The old opening from the kitchen had “tunnel vision,” focusing on a narrow hall across the family room. A new, wider connection now frames a view of the family room fireplace, which Ione relocated.

“Before, the only way to arrange furniture that faced the fireplace was to have your back to the yard. Now you can enjoy the fire and views of the pool at the same time,” she says. Virtually every turn reveals a lesson in efficient space-planning. The revamped master suite hasn’t grown an inch, but it’s more luxurious. Stealing a sliver of the bedroom and a bite from the closet, Ione turned the once-ordinary bath into a spa-like retreat with a two-person steam shower, a jetted tub, and a private toilet compartment. Thanks to new proportions that allow a U-shape arrangement for closet rods and shelves, the reconfigured walk-in closet actually holds more clothing than the previous one.

Master BathroomClearly, the makeover was as much about beauty as function. With an emphasis on natural wood and stone, well-tailored built-ins, and millwork with clean lines and strong geometry, the home exudes Craftsman and Prairie styles. Repetition of materials and motifs strengthens the overall design and creates visual harmony. For example, gray-green slate tiles dress up the front porch. Inside, the same 16-inch-square tiles line the colonnade floor and continue into the kitchen, where the slate spreads out like a sea. Cobblestones used on the exterior make another appearance in the living room fireplace surround. Furthermore, all of the built-ins in the home are natural cherry, and all of the hardware – from doorknobs to cabinet pulls – is oiled bronze.

Family Room and Study AreaKey design elements are repeated throughout the house as well. The simple block-shape corbel atop the porch columns – a Craftsman detail – is echoed in the front door and in the living room mantel. Similar blocks punctuate wainscoting in the entry and dining room, running just below the painted wood cap.

With part of the roof lifted and half the exterior walls rebuilt, this remodeling hardly qualifies as minor, but the house remains in harmony with its heritage and its setting. Single-story neighbors appreciate that the living room’s boost in ceiling height is virtually invisible from the street, so the house doesn’t loom aggressively. “We layered back the rooflines,” Ione says. “They’re subtle,like hills receding on the horizon.”

Not every home can wear historic elements so easily, but with its deep eaves and long, low lines, this one already has the pedigree. “Ranch house like this evolved from Prairie and Craftsman traditions,” Ione says. “So we reversed the clock and took the house back to its roots.”

Project Manager: Joseph M. Reid