Architecture Minnesota
The Magazine of AIA Minnesota

May - June 2007
Vol. 33 No. 3
Editor's Note



Close your eyes and imagine a house. Not so much your dream house as a building that captures your wistful idea of home. Fill in as many details as you can. What style is the house? One story or two? Maybe three? Is it located in the country or the city?

Those of you born and raised here in the Upper Midwest might be picturing a farmhouse, an American foursquare, or perhaps a Craftsman bungalow. Others of you are visualizing a Saltbox or a Cape Cod. A smaller number of you, I’m guessing, conjured a midcentury rambler. Despite its current renaissance (cover and page 46), the modest rambler doesn’t seem to loom as large in our imagination as do revered house styles of the late 19th and early 20th century.

Which is why my ears perked up during a recent conversation with residential architect Thomas Whitcomb, AIA. I knew Tom had purchased his 1954 Golden Valley rambler more than a decade ago, long before it was fashionable to do so, and I was curious to learn what drew him to his choice of home. It turns out that Tom’s ideal house—the one firmly planted in his mind—is a modern home that his uncle built in Palatine, Illinois, in the 1950s. Designed by a California architect, the house was redwood inside and out (walls, ceilings, exterior), had cork floors, and all of the rooms were open to the volume of the roof. His uncle furnished the home with Eames furniture.

Tom traces his interest in architecture back to that house. In fact, after visits to Palatine, the precocious teenager grew less enamored with his family’s home in Marshall, Minnesota. “I was always trying to turn our Cape Cod into a modern house, but my parents wanted nothing to do with it,” Tom laughs. “I actually spent a lot of time critiquing it and pointing to my dad’s brother’s home and saying, ‘Now that’s a house!’ It showed me what a house could be.” (Of course, Tom has since regained a healthy appreciation for the Cape Cod.)

Fast forward to 1995. Ready to purchase his first home, but without the financial means to swing a midcentury-modern masterpiece, Tom settled on the next best thing: a classic 1950s rambler. “The great thing about a rambler is that it gives you a lot of great modern features at a more moderate price,” he says. “An open floor plan and lots of daylight were key issues for me. I personally love the lines of a low, hipped roof with broad overhangs, where the house is kind of hunkered down to the ground. It signifies shelter to me in a really simple way.” And it didn’t hurt that the home was a perfect match for his 1950s and 60s furniture, all with clean, simple lines.

When I ask Tom what he makes of renewed interest in the ranch house, he smiles. “Things have changed,” he offers. “There’s been so much publicity lately on midcentury design and the rambler, and many homeowners really appreciate what they have. I talked to a fellow architect recently who was working with clients who loved their rambler and were keen on preserving its aesthetic. Ten years ago, when I was doing rambler renovations, that wasn’t always the case.”

It seems the rambler is becoming more venerable by the day, and for good reason. It’s probably time, then, for me to rethink my premise that fewer people think rambler when they think of a house. Millions of Americans grew up in ranch houses, after all, and today these flexible, casual homes are adapting well to 21st-century life.

Christopher Hudson
Architecture Minnesota