Ranch-Style Home Renovations
By Lou Fancher
For architect Dave Ruffin, creativity sprang from a box. “When I was in school, we had an assignment: What can you do with a box to make it exciting?” he recalls. Ruffin invented astounding un-boxlike possibilities, pursued a career in architecture, and eventually founded Walnut Creek–based Ruffin Architecture. He still likes thinking outside the box, as is demonstrated by his bold approaches to remodeling two L-shaped, nearly windowless ranch-style homes in the East Bay.
Orinda-based Lindy Small, owner of Lindy Small Architecture, similarly enjoyed the challenge of transforming two cramped ranch houses into modern and airy homes to meet the needs of her casual and outdoorsy 21st century clients and their families.
Ruffin and Small don’t focus exclusively on ranch homes, nor do they work together. But they both hired renowned architect-turned-photographer Russell Abraham to capture their renovations of the once-dark, outdated wagon wheelers. Abraham was fascinated by the four dramatic remodels, which had morphed into sophisticated, comfortable, and modern houses for a new generation of homeowners.
“These homeowners want more than simple shelter. It’s not fishbowl living; it’s open living,” says the photographer.
Throughout the next few pages, we look through Abraham’s lens at how houses from a bygone era have evolved into contemporary homes for close-knit families. If there is a three-step architectural formula for transforming a worn-out ranch home, it is this: Gut the core, raise the roof, and create seamless interplay between indoor and outdoor spaces.
1. Open Air in Danville
Before the renovation, this Danville ranch house felt as if it had been pieced together like a movie set, separating the home into sections. The compartmentalized floor plan left the kitchen in the front of the house, with no relationship to the family room or backyard. A low roofline cut off the view of the magnificent redwoods lining the property.
“There was no air, circulation, or light,” says Small.
The solution: Flip the floor plan, kick up the roof, and extend the corresponding canopy 20 feet beyond the exterior wall. Slim painted steel posts bolster the roofline’s upsloping profile without blocking the view. Floor-to-ceiling sliding glass pocket doors eliminate barriers between the home’s great room and the pool deck area. Continuous porcelain tile flooring in the interior streams uninterrupted to the outside patio.
“It’s contiguous. The house breathes now,” says Small.
Juxtapositions of texture add personality to the design, mirroring the owners’ all-embracing hospitality. Stained birch in the kitchen yields to the living room’s lively mango wood cabinetry. In the dining room, where the wood is most active, fluted glass mutes the tone.
Small says playing textured materials against smooth elements gives a room balance and proportion. Upscale audio and lighting systems, gray water recycled for irrigation, and solar panels make it a smart home, but the homeowners say that what really makes their ranch remodel smart is that the home suits their lifestyle.
“This is our third remodel, so we knew our priorities,” says one of the homeowners. “I love the butcher block island in the kitchen and the heaters outside on the deck. People just gravitate to those two places.”
Beauty in the Details
1. Unseen rooftop solar panels add a green factor.
2. Large-format tile flooring and an upslope ceiling make a continuous interior-to-exterior path.
3. The roof is positioned to reveal a perfect sightline to mature redwoods against the night sky—rather than of the neighbors.
2. Southwest Style in Danville
If a home can take flight, this newly remodeled rancher soars. Previously, the warren of rooms seemed jarring due to the beamed ceiling’s supporting posts, which interrupted every room. Eliminating the posts and dividing walls, Ruffin hoisted the roof and added a prominent gable. By creating dramatic overhead diagonals using steel and laminated beams, Ruffin directed the view to the parklike backyard.
Skylights sprinkled liberally throughout the house bring out the warm palette in the Southwest-inspired porcelain tile flooring and natural stone countertops. When the 10-by-7-foot living room accordion doors open, indoor and outdoor become one.
Clever, under-the-radar cost-saving moves include repurposing a granite countertop from the kitchen for the fireplace’s hearth and extending the gable overhang to shade the house from the hot summer sun. Ruffin also sent the homeowners shopping.
“My clients loved hunting for the finishes based on my specs. To them, it was an adventure,” says Ruffin.
Because the house originally belonged to the wife, the couple wanted the remodel to make the home feel like both of theirs. Fond of entertaining, the couple love that the rarely used traditional, formal living room is now a hub that is full of life and light.
“We can easily accommodate more than 50 people,” says one of the homeowners. The indoor-outdoor atmosphere enhances the home’s versatility, whether for a lively party or a romantic evening by the outdoor fireplace for just the homeowners.
Beauty in the Details
1. The opened-up back exterior walls and an added gable that raises the roofline provide better views of Mount Diablo.
2. Strategically placed skylights increase natural light.
3. A complete outdoor kitchen contains state-of-the-art appliances and amenities.
3. Family-Centric in Lafayette
The only sign of the original dark, wallpapered house in this luminous Lafayette home is the living room’s knotty-pine trussed ceiling. Eliminating walls and organizing the rooms around a centralizing area were just the beginning of the home’s transformation, which required minimal alterations to the outer shell.
“It was a 100 percent interior renovation. I touched every square inch [inside the home],” says Small.
The entryway pod has a bench and cubbyholes for storage, and a cozy couch for reading or snuggling. Dove-white walls and a unified, simple color palette of moss greens and gray-tinged blues replaced the heavy redwood paneling and wallpaper that gave the home a closed-in feel.
A descending roof overhang that had cut into views of the outdoors was removed, and the wood ceiling gained loft with artfully placed lighting. Natural light reflected upward by the glossy, buff-colored resin flooring adds even more lift. A sliding glass door is essentially a 16-foot-wide living room window. In the galley kitchen, new windows, painted cabinets, reflective stainless steel accents, and a bold slate countertop complement the clean look of rift-cut white oak cabinetry.
Radiant floor heating usually means sacrificing ceiling height because it requires four-inch-thick concrete slab flooring to protect the system’s water pipes. Small’s clients didn’t want to raise the roofline or reduce the already limited ceiling clearance. A solution arrived in the form of five-eighth’s-inch-thick fiber cement board flooring coated with resin. The slender system retained ceiling height, and the smooth resin floor flows through the house, unifying the floor plan.
Opening up the central core brings the family together, and being able to see the outdoors from every room is the homeowners’ favorite feature.
Beauty in the Details
1. A rift-cut white-oak pod entry leads to public rooms and a butler’s pantry.
2. The neutral resin flooring throughout the house creates a connective flow.
3. Radiant heat flooring warms the entire house.
4. Unadorned Serenity in Lafayette
Clean curves and smooth lines establish a modern, curatorial atmosphere inside this renovated home. Gone are the pinched, cookie-cutter floor plan and the kitchen’s outdated cabinetry and flooring.
Instead, a soothing, Asian-influenced entry vestibule leads to a great room in which the warm brown flooring and slate-gray painted cabinets reflect the homeowners’ preference for calm, unadorned settings. Clean stainless steel appliances and fixtures in the open kitchen are balanced by natural stone countertops and light that filters gently from above through rectangular skylights in the vaulted ceiling.
The master bath also brings the remodel into the modern age, with water-conserving amenities and a sleek design. A large glass-block window and clerestory windows placed high on a wall allow abundant light to enter without sacrificing privacy. Natural stone in the shower stall converges with granite porcelain tile flooring; glass and mirrors expand the spacious feel.
“We love the master bath. It’s so peaceful,” one of the homeowners says.
With the house’s interior opened, people naturally congregate at the central kitchen island. Private pockets of space, such as the connected dining room, create out-of-the-way areas that are essential in an open-space design, Ruffin says. “With properly facing windows, wall barriers removed, and modern approaches to structure, a ranch home renovation is a joy,” he says.
Beauty in the Details
1. A gas fireplace in the central great room radiates heat, which means the furnace can be turned off when company is in the main room.
2. The sleek kitchen contains no visible beams or columns.
3. The light-filled master bathroom gets modern touches from natural stone and glass accents.