Granny ranch — defined

knotty pine kitchen

(Above: A knotty pine kitchen submitted by Uncle Atom in our Knotty Pine uploader.)

I came up with the term “mid century modest” a couple of years ago and about the same time, I met Alyssa Starelli, the mid mod maven of Portland, Oregon, who had floated her own terminology: She coined the term “granny ranch.” It’s been on my list (for too long!) to ask her for a definition, so that I could assess if there is a difference. There is. –>

What is a granny ranch?

I emailed AlyStar and asked her, “What exactly is a granny ranch?”

Hi Pam!

alyssa starelliWell, I have to thank Atomic Ranch for attributing the coining of the term to me…  <blush>.

A granny ranch to me is one that has stood the test of time and received little to no remodeling. It is as if you’re stepping back into a bygone era, a home that was treated with such pride of ownership, little, if anything – right down to the decor – needs to be changed out because of the care it’s received. It’s a true time capsule, usually with some of granny’s funny little knick knacks, sitting right where they always did. Everything is in its place and there’s a place for everything, because Grampy built a cubby just for that item’s purpose. That is a Granny Ranch, to me.

A lot of people misconstrue the term “Granny Ranch” with those houses more recently remodeled by people of the earlier generations, generally … with newer “home-depot special” baths or kitchens, maybe some carpet in the kitchen, a walk-in tub, and hand rails everywhere… And while a grandmother may have very well made those changes, that’s not what I’m referring to with heartfelt sentiment when I squeal with joy over the time warp “Granny Ranch” I just walked into. No, those are just “Remuddles”, a term I did not make up. : )

All granny ranches are mid century modest houses, but not all mid century modest houses are granny ranches

Thank you, AlyStar! Okay. So now that I know AlyStar’s definition, I can split hairs:

  • A mid century modest house is a (usually relatively) small house built in postwar America. An unpretentious house built — likely by a local “merchant builder” — aimed at the mainstream, middle class. These houses do not necessarily have architect-obvious “mid century modern” cues — they are more likely to have a “minimal traditional” colonial-ranch mix exterior. However, a mid-century modest house likely was originally built to include some of the “latest” technology and features of the time — such as zazzy ovens and range tops and sinks… patterned laminate countertops… pastel colored bathrooms… lovely light fixtures. A mid century modest house may — or may not — have been remodeled over the years. The term generally refers to the original architecture, middle class roots, and design vibe of the house.
  • A granny ranch, more narrowly, is a time capsule mid century modest house — lovingly cared for by the original or early-generation owners. Grandpa likely had mad skills at woodworking and home maintenance — and he stayed on top of each and every issue that may have occurred in that house. Inside, Grandma cleaned, then cleaned again. These houses were treasured — and when you enter them 60 years later, the love radiates from all the original surfaces so carefully maintained..

Ipso facto: All granny ranches are mid century modest houses. But not all mid century modest houses are granny ranches.

Were you lucky to find and now live in a granny ranch?
Did your granny have a granny ranch? Mine sure did!

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  1. RAnderson says

    PS …forgot, best of all , our little 1955 MCModest has a 1961 bomb shelter- great for fire-vulnerable family photos & mementos!

  2. Jennifer says

    We purchased our granny ranch a little over a year ago in the North Hills of Pittsburgh. The story we heard was that the house was built and lived in by the original builder of the ranch homes in the neighborhood, who then sold it to the second owner. She lived here with her husband for 20 years, and when he passed away in 1973, she lived here alone (no kids/ no pets) until she passed away in 2010 when she was 93. We have the original moss green rugs, knotty pine (kitchen, living room with built-ins, dining room with built-ins, basement family room with built-ins, wainscoting in the hall way), slate tile in the hallway, 3 foot tall Roman brick planters/ dividers in the living room, rumpus room with gold flecked VCT, original Brunswick Celebrity pool table, and pinch pleat curtains (some with pom pom trim). The only remodeling done were new windows (they did leave the original marble window sills), toilets/ sinks/ floors in the bathrooms but the original medicine cabinets and jade green tile/ peach tile were left in tact, and in the kitchen, the floor was redone with awful fake brick linoleum and the appliances were replaced, but the original red/orange Formica counter tops with the steel edging still look great. we have the original Nutone door bells and the bathroom and kitchen fans. Pittsburgh has a lot of modest ranches and I have been able to hit many estate sales for nice vintage furniture. Since i don’t want to be featured on Hoarders, I take one step at a time, got my low floating sofa, then coffee table, lamps, next on the list is a nice long dresser for the bed room and a credenza for the dining room. Growing up in New England, I was used to colonial style and admit I was overwhelmed by all the knotty pine at first, thinking I may paint it over, but now i just love it. the wood is so warm and inviting. Probably won’t be able to live with the rug forever, especially in the dining room. the rug is so tough it almost resists the vacuum cleaner, I feel like I need physical therapy every time i finish that task! I so enjoy the camaraderie on the site, thanks Pam and Kate!

  3. Joe Felice says

    I did own & live in one of these. At the time, I neither knew what I had, nor did I appreciate it! I often dream in retro to what I could do with the house if I had it today. Back then, we covered hardwood floors with shag & plush carpet! I now consider that to be a transgression against nature! My house was built in Aurora CO, just outside Lowry AFB in Denver (at the time, Lowry was the largest AFB in the world.) The houses in this area were built after the war to house military families. There were a jillion of them. I have noted that there was a HUGE boom in building in and around Denver during that time, and am amazed at the number of neighborhoods & homes that were build in the ’50s. The building boom must have kept the economy humming, as thousands of workers would have been needed to accomplish what they did. The result was a large number of areas around town with MCM homes of every description. Denver seems to have a building boom (or boomlet) every-20 years, so the next one came in the ’70s, and then again in the ’90s. But between each boom, there is a downturn. They call it the “boom-and-bust cycle.”

    In 1952, my parents bought a ranch in University Hills, one of those sprawling neighborhoods built in the ’50s, and, as I recall, it was considered THE place to live. Back then, that was the eastern edge of Denver, though it has now sprawled many miles eastward since. I remember, we had the optional garage and gas appliances. The stove had to be lit every time mom wanted to use it, and we even had a Westinghouse “Weigh-to-Save” front-load clothes washer! We thought we had it all!

  4. says

    I’ve always referred to my ‘new’ house as ‘Mid Century Modest’ (using your terminology) and was unfamiliar with the term ‘Granny Ranch’. In our house hunting, DH and I saw a LOT of Granny Ranches, and I would think that the house we eventually bought back in late August somewhat cuts it, even though I prefer the Mid Century Modest term!

    Our house is a single-owner property built in 1959 in the sprawling suburbs outside St. Louis. All bathrooms are in original condition (the main floor bathrooms are pink & grey, and coral & green, the basement bathroom is peacock blue). The kitchen had been updated sometime in the 1980s- but the original kitchen cabinets were stored in the basement so I’m in good mind to put them back in one day!

    The basement is decked out as a total party pad. The owners evidently had a thing for Hawaii, and along one entire wall of the finished basement is one of those large wallpaper photos of Hawaiian Flowers, and up the other end of the basement is a Waterfall that lights up (and yes it works!). All around the edges of the basement is like a built in seating area- with lights underneath it. Incorporated into the wall with the wallpaper photo is a box the length of the wall filled with light up fake flowers. Of course, the basement is also complete with a Coral & Green tiled bar area! The basement sounds SO tacky and my husband and I laughed so much when we saw it, but we’ve decided not to change it. We actually really like it! We’re just hoping that the city’s occupancy inspector doesn’t ding us, because we’re not sure how up to code all of the colored lights and water feature are!

    The owners evidently loved the house- and we intend to love and respect it as much as they did.

    Since all of my furniture is from the same era, it will fit right in! :)

    Keep up the lovely work with your site as always, Pam!


  5. Scott says

    Although I wish it were more a bit more atomic, at least I finally have the appropriate terminology to describe the exterior of my compact 1954 ranch, a mid-century modest! I’ve been grasping for the right words for years.

    Although a mid-century modest can be a bit sleepy on the outside, they are often just neutral enough inside so the way-back dial can be convincingly set at just about any year your heart desires without being in total conflict with the exterior.

    And who knows, maybe during 2013 I can do a few small things to help coax this modest exterior out of its shell a little. :-)

  6. Tina says

    My dream house. What I’m looking for to retire to. And then I can add my own Granny (“YiaYia”) love and touches.

  7. Elaine says

    OK, I have a granny ranch. It even came with the furniture! Nice to know the term. The kitchen appliances are newer, but at 40 or so years of age, they might have needed replacing. The newer oven (age maybe 25 years) is a little iffy, but the neighbor still has her 50s Flair.

  8. Sarah says

    Oh, you are SO describing the 1957 MA home I bought 10 years ago from the original owners! Original everything down to the small kitchen oven, heating system (scary), 110 electrical, pineapple wallpaper and pink & “mint” bathrooms. We had to replace some things for safety reasons and do a lot of electrical work (did people in the 1950s sit in the dark, or what?), but we are careful to preserve the style of the home because it is a classic!

  9. D'Lynne Garner says

    My first in laws had a “granny ranch” and my ex still lives there. His parents adopted him when they were 40 yrs. old, and my FIL had a painting and wallpaper hanging business. I remember the wild flocked and foiled wallpapers he used to hang in the homes of some wonderful brand new mid 1970s homes in Fort Worth (which your recent article reminded me of). But their home still looked like 1950s, when they bought it new. It was furnished with some very nice 1930s-40s family heirlooms in the formal areas, with more modern traditional pieces in the den and kitchen. My MIL never rearranged the furniture or remodeled, but she was meticulous about cleaning. I didn’t see her buy many “new” things for the house, but when she did she only bought quality and took care of it. No garage sale or rummage sale items for her, she only brought in new items. She never got rid of anything sentimental or cherished though, so she had a collection of treasures given to her by family, and my FIL made sure she had a place to display everything. She was definitely “a place for everything and everything in it’s place” sort of person. I remember she used her wedding gift silver-plated flatware for everyday serving, and had for many years, but she envied the shine and ease of the newer stainless steel sets. She bought me a very nice set of stainless that I still use sometimes. I grew up poor in a large family moving from one rental to another because my mother was never happy, so I really loved my in-laws modest and steady home.

  10. LauraLee says

    My husband and I purchased a 1962 granny ranch back in 2000. Unfortunately, the house had been neglected while vacant for over a year so we removed some of those original touches like orange wool carpet in the living room and a ruined wall mural. We finally realized the kitchen needed a re-do, which is really just an update of what was there. We painted everything in 21st century colors at first and are now repainting back to mid-century colors. I think you all have inspired me. :)

  11. Mary T. says

    We moved into a “granny ranch” 2 years ago and are still in love with it! So many amazing original features in beautiful condition since 1957. Original boomerang counter tops, Coppes of Napannee solid maple cabinets, built in aluminum foil/ wax paper dispenser and pop up shelf to hold your mixmaster, and that’s just the kitchen. Now the pressure’s on us to preserve these treasures. But it’s all good!

  12. Geronimom says

    I think you’ve described the 1960 home we bought last summer pretty well. The original owners, “Irene & Frank”, lived there until they both entered nursing homes about 5 years ago. The home is definitely what you’d call “modest” – but loving touches left behind by Frank & Irene abound everywhere – starting with all the homemade, re-purposed materials Frank used to build his workshop in the garage (throw out a perfectly good bathroom vanity mirror just because they upgraded to a larger, newer model? No way! Frank just attached the original old one near the workbench where it’s shelves soon became home to various jars of nuts, bolts, etc.! The shelves in the garage are old cabinet doors turned upside down…That generation definitely didn’t believe in constantly replacing things & wasn’t a “throwaway society” like ours today. Everything got re-used in someway, it seems. Modest though it is, Frank & Irene maintained the home regularly and the tile in both bathrooms is in immaculate condition. There is a built in china hutch in the kitchen. A built-in brick planter in the entryway. A “sewing/craft room” Frank converted from the former utility room for Irene’s sewing hobby. It’s not a fancy home, but when you enter it, you definitely feel the love that lived in this place. I love that we will be a part of continuing on with that! Our story is not typical. This is our second home. We bought it as an investment. We needed someplace to park some inherited money from my late mom’s estate – and the stocks were not doing so well. We ultimately made the decision that investing in a small 1 story home in a neighborhood that we loved, wouldn’t be a bad idea. Our other home is lovely but not the type of place one would really want to live in as a older person – too much maintenance & too many stairs! Just like Frank & Irene – we, too, plan to eventually retire in our “granny ranch” and spend our own golden years puttering around the workshop & garden, etc. Until then, I am having a blast decorating it with my late mother’s furniture (all era-appropriate – lucky me!) and fun thrift store finds. Yeah, I know – we’re not “normal”. Who cares! Everyone asks if we are going to rent it out. No. We aren’t. At least not at this point – unless we end up needing the $. We like having a second place to go hang out – and to put up our relatives when they come to town – this little “granny ranch” is perfect for our needs! 😉

  13. Morgan says

    When we walked I to the house we are in the process of buying, I turned to my mother and said, “This is Grandma Harriet’s house.” Maybe that’s why I love it so much. It is larger than Mid Century Modest (2.5k SF), but very little has been updated. The original stove is even in the basement. Be still my heart!

  14. Elisha says

    Pam I believe my neighbors house would be
    A granny ranch. We live in a 1964 mid modest
    ranch. When we moved in 16 yrs ago our neighbors
    were a wonderful sweet elderly couple…great typical
    southern cook and the mr. Was always cutting
    Grass and working in his work shed. They both
    Were retired and liked to keep busy. Some years
    Ago the mrs passed away and the mr just had
    To move in with his son…is 95 and just could no
    Longer stay by himself…their house is up for sale now
    And we sure do miss them. She would bake cookies
    For my little girl and he would sit under the Japanese
    Maple with my hubby and talk about golf, the Atl Braves
    And fishing. They were wonderful neighbors for 15 yrs:)
    But the mrs kitchen has the white gold speck laminate
    Counter top, knotty pine walls in den, believe one bathroom
    Is yellow and black trim tile and other is blue or green.
    Oh and the house was a real comforting loving
    Home for her children, grandchildren, and greatgrandkids
    To come home to. I will always have wonderful memories
    Of our “older neighbors” who lived in the house next
    Door to our little brick (first home) and is still our home:)

    • pam kueber says

      Oh my goodness, what sweet memories. My grandmother had a house like this, too. Thanks for sharing!

  15. krissy sandvigen says

    We have recently purchased a 1953 cabin on a creek in Mammoth Lakes CA Reading this article about Granny Ranches has helped us define our new project of restoring our 1000 square foot cabin thank you fro the definition and to this great website for all of your ideas in our restoration project.

  16. Laura says

    I know I’m late commenting, but we live in a neighborhood of “granny ranches”, including our own house. I think part of what contributes to the “granny” feeling so many people describe is that the homes were built new by a generation of people who bought/built a house to raise a family in and stay in for the rest of their lives. The houses absorb all that history and have “souls” as a result. You can just tell when a house has been a much-loved family home rather than a “starter” home or “investment” to be lived in before the occupants move up to the next rung on the property ladder.

    • Joe Felice says

      I do believe what you say is true. Houses DO take on the personalities of those who have lived there. It’s an energy thing–can be positive or negative, depending on the people & what happened there. And we know that some souls have difficulty leaving their residences. I feel a definite connection to some of the places I’ve lived. Whenever I move, I look upon it as closing one book and picking up another.

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