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!

  1. Christine kadner says:

    We have a granny ranch, built by the original owner in 1959, who just sold it to us. Your definition perfectly describes our new granny ranch! Mostly all original, including light fixtures and flooring (some of which has been destroyed by water and will need nearly identical replacement). I LOVE going home to take care of my home and restore the little that needs it (mostly due to damage from time). This house was definitely their pride and joy and now it’s my pride and joy! Thanks for the great article!

  2. 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.

    1. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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:)

    1. pam kueber says:

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

  5. 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!

  6. 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! 😉

  7. 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!

  8. 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. 🙂

  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.

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