Humble ranch style is Atlanta hot property

While Atlanta neighborhoods have often fixated on the Craftsman bungalow and Victorian as vintage homes ripe for renovation, the ranch style has been gaining traction across the region. From Sandy Springs to Alpharetta, homeowners have embraced this humble, utilitarian home design of the postwar era, retooling it for a modern age.

Realtor Eric Benjamin, who lives in a 1958 Decatur ranch home, has seen ranch sales flourish in the Atlanta area. “Dunwoody has a lot of ranches and remains very desirable,” he said. “Sandy Springs has neighborhoods developed in the ‘60s and ‘70s with a lot of ranches. Roswell has Saddle Creek and Brookfield Country Club subdivisions, both with a lot of ranches.”

The ranch style dates to the postwar era when government underwritten home mortgage incentives and a baby boom lured Americans to the suburbs. The population of Georgia saw unprecedented growth and 175,000 ranch homes were built to accommodate that surge between 1940 and 1960, according to a 2008 study published by Richard Cloues, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources historian.

By 1946 the suburban ranch’s casual, sprawling layout -- inspired by 19th-century California and Southwestern working ranches -- made it America’s favorite home style. Soon entire Atlanta neighborhoods were filled with ranches, including the Golfview subdivision in Peachtree City, Ansley Park’s Sherwood Forest, the African-American neighborhood of Collier Heights in west Atlanta and super subdivisions like Northwoods in Doraville, the first large-scale planned suburban community in Georgia.

The design of the classic ranch, with large open rooms, bountiful storage space, hardwood floors and solid construction, makes it well-suited to contemporary tastes. Ranches also tend to be more affordable than new homes, averaging from $150,000-$250,000 in Chamblee, $150,000-$280,000 in Tucker, $225,000-$400,000 in Dunwoody and $375,000-$650,000 in the Druid Hills area.

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Domestic architecture’s chameleon, the ranch easily adapts to a variety of styles, whether homeowners retain the lines and character of the ranch or mask its mid-century origins with a second story or drastically altered facade.

Graphic designer Brian Robboy took the former approach, retaining the original look of his 1959 split-level ranch in the sprawling 500-home Northcrest subdivision (where ranches run from $230,000-$260,000) at the outer crux of I-85 and I-285.

Working with architect Mo Heidari, Robboy undertook extensive renovations, which included a 1,100-square-foot, three-story structure that includes a two-car garage, a master suite and a third-floor loft. Robboy, who purchased his home for $110,000, anticipates his ranch’s market value, if he were to sell, at $329,000.

“I think any kind of contemporary mid-century home is a good investment,” Robboy said. “The style is timeless.”

Alpharetta and the Pleasant Hill Road area around Gwinnett Place Mall have been especially fertile for ranch conversions lately in the $100,000-$250,000 range, Randy Glazer of Brookhaven’s Glazer Design and Construction said. What the ranch offers is solidity. “A lot of these old ranches are brick and they’re built very strong,” Glazer said. “Usually the foundations are big enough to go up with a second-story addition on them.”

Mary Sweeney looked at homes from $900,000 to $1 million, but was happy to find her family’s ‘50s-era Chastain ranch (where homes are typically priced from $300,000 to $1 million) in the $500,000 range. “We loved the fact that it was an older established neighborhood,” Sweeney said.

Over the course of their eight-month, $400,000 renovation using Home ReBuilders, the Sweeneys upped the home’s original three bedrooms to five bedrooms and six baths, dramatically increased the size of the kitchen, and added a family room and a two-car garage. Another distinct advantage of Sweeney’s “forever” home: the ranch’s one-level living space can accommodate residents as they grow older.

“I like single-floor living. I like having the big open flow public spaces. In a bungalow it’s harder to do that,” said Lynne Elander, who lives in a 1952 ranch in Moores Mill that had been priced for tear-down. Elander increased its 2,100 square feet to 2,400 by enclosing a car port to create a sun room and gave the home a facelift via a “contemporary Craftsman” covered porch.

HammerSmith owner Warner McConaughey’s ranch renovations can range anywhere from $50,000 to more than $1 million. For a ranch conversion in Buckhead, McConaughey left the original red brick ranch intact, but added a stylish, contemporary wooden pergola and Asian influences to the facade.

Despite its solid construction and spacious floor plan, the ranch is not without its drawbacks: eight-foot ceilings, family rooms with outdated, dark wood paneling and small bathrooms. However, converts have learned to forgive such deficits and embrace the ranch’s unique features.

“In some ways the economy and people spending less money can drive people thinking, ‘Well this house isn’t so bad,’” McConaughey said.

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