Case Study: How to Fix a Bad Ranch Floor plan

7 min read This 1958 ranch had good bones, a great location, and … a terrible layout that turned its back on the amazing yard. Today, how to fix a bad ranch floor plan!

floorplan of a mid-century ranch remodel

In most cases, the basic layout of ranch is a pretty good fit for a modern family. However, sometimes you find a mid-century ranch that just isn’t working at all. When that happens, you need some out-of-the-box thinking to transform a bad ranch floor plan into one that fits your life.

In my last post, I was vloging about why I love mid-century ranches. Part of the reason I love them so much is that they generally have good layouts. The floor plan of a ranch is much closer to the modern ideal than the homes that came before it. As a designer, I can usually approach a mid-century ranch looking only for tweaks, adjustments and areas of improvement.

Sometimes, though we need to make bigger changes!

Wanted: Emergency Fix for a bad Ranch Floor plan!

This Monona, Wisconsin, ranch, built in 1958, limped along for its first 60 years with an exceptionally unfortunate layout. Then it was spotted by a young couple looking to settle into their first home. They saw its potential. They knew that a cosy, little ranch in this great location – close to schools, the library, and BACKING UP TO A PARK – could be their dream home. 

They knew the house needed work … but they weren’t sure how to get started. Maybe expand it by adding a second story, throw an addition on the back? Whatever they did, it needed to happen fast because they found it in December, and they wanted to rehab and move in by July.

Design to the rescue!

Fortunately, they mentioned their dilemma to a friend, who told her sister (me).

I immediately volunteered to come look the place over with them before closing to see what could be done. 

Driving up to the house, I could see the main problem. The living room – the main gathering space in the house – faced the street. It totally ignored the crazy good park views at the back of the property.

I suggested that we set up a lighting-round design process.

We could workshop a bunch of possible solutions for the house, narrow our focus down to one, and have a basic plan in place before they even finished closing on the house. That way they could jump in with their contractor and get the remodel underway ASAP!

The House “Before”

Here’s the “before” plan. At first glance there isn’t anything shocking …

But, lets place it in context.

Wow! You can see that the original builder totally missed his moment to focus on great back yard living – one of the best features of ANY well done ranch floor plan!

There’s an empty lot next to the house – owned by the city! But, you can only appreciate it from a sagging deck. The amazing public park – with a lake – just off the back yard is viewed from two just two back bedrooms.

In fact, I noted a host of problems:

  • a (street-facing) living room across the whole house front was too shallow. It felt both cavernous and crowded.
  • a cramped kitchen, burdened by four doors and an open arch way that severely limited workable space
  • basement stairs chopping the floor plan apart – back to front
  • three small bedrooms with little grace or privacy
  • a small and narrow bath serving all bedrooms and the public spaces
  • poor access to the house’s best feature, its amazing back and side yard open space 
  • and, finally, the classic, totally frustrating, attached-but-you-have-to-go-outside-to-get-into-the-house garage

So … there was a lot of work to do here.

So … How to Fix a bad Ranch Floor plan

The typical ranch floor plan has bright, open public rooms, bedrooms grouped around functional baths and good access to the outside. As a designer, my work on the layout requires more tweaking than transformation.

But when you need to go in and fix a bad ranch floor plan like this one, its time to dig a lot deeper.

In this case, they were willing to totally retrofit the interior in order make a home they could love on this gorgeous site. We explored several options for adding on, WHILE also refocusing the whole layout to connect with and feature back-yard views.

Option One: Push out to the side

Option One wrapped an addition around the back of the house. Reaching out to the open side yard and park views to the back totally changes its character.

floorplan of a mid-century ranch remodel

We shifted nearly every element of the house, rotating them around the kitchen location. 

A new entry deck opens into a cosy sitting area (replacing the old awkward living room). 

The kitchen now has access to the garage and mud room down a short flight of stairs. It also opens diagonally to a dining nook and living area which overlooks the back yard. 

The master suite now gets a view out the back by projecting slightly more than the adjacent living area.  Kids bedrooms sit in a line along the south edge of the house.

Option Two: Make it a split level!

This scheme kept the existing footprint intact but added a side Den. It is set half a floor down, between the main floor and walkout basement.

floorplan of a mid-century ranch remodel

Shifting an addition few steps down from the main floor allows it to connect to the garage and uses a shorter stair (lined with windows) to access the backyard play spaces from every part of the house.

The kitchen area opens from the entry hall out over the den, with a small built in dining nook tucked into the transition wall between main floor and sunken living room.

Two kids bedrooms (with a jack-and-jill shared bath) get the front corner of the house. A master suite takes over the rest of the south wall with a nice view out to the back park. 

Here’s some inspirational images related to spiffy split level layouts and living areas set off from the rest of the house by a few steps. For more check out my favorite Mid-Century Living Room Ideas Pinterest board!

image collage of modern split level living rooms

Option Three: (The One We Chose)

In the end we went with the most simple addition: extending the floor plan back by about 20 feet. Here’s the original sketch showing the concept:

This floor plan flips the bedrooms to the front of the house. A compact but comfortable master suite takes the place of the old awkward living room.

The kitchen stays put in the center. But now it connects to the garage through a discrete mudroom, out to the porch for easy summer indoor-outdoor living and through to the living room which has views out to the back on two sides.

A bad Ranch Floor plan: Fixed!

So here are the final drawings. This is how we worked together to turn a bad ranch floor plan into a great one.

Time was a priority, and they already had a contractor on board. So, I collaborated with him to provide just the building information he’d need to move forward:

Here it is against in context.

This is how you fix a bad ranch floor plan: you reorient it so that the shared spaces have great access to to the yard

Final Photos: They Live here Now!

Take a spin around the final result:

On the inside, the house flows from a welcoming entry right into the heart of the home – a kitchen where dinner was simmering on the stove even as I was snapping photographs!

Note: This isn’t the typical interior I usually showcase here on Mid Mod Midwest. This aesthetic is more Farmhouse modern than Mid-Century Modern.

However, the house has all the benefits of a great mid-century home layout: comfortable private bedroom area, generous public spaces that share light, views and access to the outside, and a compact footprint that focuses more on comfort inside than grandeur outside.

I couldn’t be happier with the result of this fast fix for a bad ranch floor plan! What do you think? Does the ranch in your life need tweaking or a total overhaul? Let me know in the comments!