Several years ago when my husband and I were looking to buy our first home in a new city after college, it didn’t take us long into our hunt to realize there was one style of home that was most common: the raised ranch and split level home.
Majority of houses in our budget and location were split level or raised ranch homes. They were a new home style to us so we had some research to do.
What is a Raised Ranch House?
A raised ranch is a ranch-style house that’s set up on a raised foundation, with a finished basement. It consists of two levels that are separated by split-entry stairs. The upper level contains the kitchen, bedrooms, living and dining room, and the lower level is a finished basement, usually that contains another living area or perhaps another bedroom.
It was born in the 1950s and 1960s when growing families needed more room to expand than a single story ranch home and became a popular choice because they saved costs when building. They offered more space and since it was “raised” up off the ground, it’s a great solution to a high water table and is more private to neighbors looking in since it’s above eye level. Oftentimes they have a walkout door to the back yard and if the property has a slope, the low side of the basement can be used for a drive-under garage, which is much cheaper to build than an attached garage. You can see why it was a popular home style back then.
What’s the Difference Between a Raised Ranch and Split Level?
Split-level, raised ranch, bi-level…the terms are often used interchangeably and can mean about the same thing.
Technically speaking, a split-level has more than 2 levels, usually with staggered half-story changes between them. While a raised ranch has two levels, the lower level sunken below grade and an entry at grade halfway between the two floor levels.
Nowadays, most people dislike raised ranches and split-levels because of their lack of character and architectural elements. Because they were built to be cost effective, they do not have a lot of interesting design features and feel very outdated with the short ceilings, not to mention all of the stairs going back and forth.
But when you’re on a budget buying your first home (myself included), they are a great starter home and there are many ways to update it so it feels fresh yet functional. Which is exactly what we did.
I will share exactly what we did to update our very first home, a raised ranch, and make it feel more modern. While, it doesn’t take away from the fact that it is still a raised ranch, we made cosmetic changes that brought it back to the 21st century and how you can do the same.
When we first bought it, I searched and searched on Google and Pinterest looking for real life inspiration and examples of others who updated their raised ranch house. But I found nothing. All I found were complete guts where the floor plan totally changed or the exterior was a complete transformation and didn’t resemble a raised ranch any longer.
I knew these extreme projects were not in our budget. We had to DIY it and make small changes that would make a big impact and do one thing at a time.
We lived in this home for 5 years and it took all 5 years to complete the projects. Our kitchen remodel was done in year 4 and it was by far the biggest undertaking in the home. When it was time to sell our home, we had a photographer take photos for our listing, but it was all staged and decorated by me.
Let’s take a tour of our first home, shall we…
Our Updated Raised Ranch
This is the exterior of our house. You can see how it is raised up and the garage enters into the lower basement level. The garage was actually added on after the house was built (the first owner added it on, not us) The front door leads straight into the living room so there are no stairs at the entry making it a split level.
As far as updating the exterior, we didn’t do anything other than paint the front door blue and remove the large shrubs in front of the house and plant new flowers. No, I did not love how the exterior looked but to us, it wasn’t worth the investment when we knew we were moving in a few years anyway. If budget or time wasn’t an issue, I would have removed the shutters, painted the house and gutters and get a new garage door.
This is the main living room that the front door leads to. Overall the house is quite small so each room is not very big as you will see. We rarely used the front door since we came in from the garage, but not having a real entryway makes it difficult when you do have guests.
The house is not considered open concept so it is not connected to the kitchen. Right behind the wall the white sofa is against in the photo above is the stairway doing downstairs. It would have been difficult and costly to knock out the wall and open it up to the kitchen which is on the other side of the stairwell.
The living room originally had carpet so we ripped it out and laid engineered wood flooring (more on that here.) We painted all the walls white and painted the original orange wood trim white which made such a difference. We waited a couple years to paint the trim because I was worried it would chip and look even worse than if we left it unpainted, but it was the best decision ever to paint! Painted trim makes the whole house feel more modern and updated and I highly recommend it.
Before you paint your trim, this is a must read if you want a professional look. It includes my #1 recommended paint tool that will give you the best look.
Related Post: 6 Best White Paint Colors for Trim & Doors
One thing the living room lacked was a focal point. This house didn’t have a fireplace. I decided to create a focal point and add storage by building built-ins using this IKEA Billy Bookcase Built-In Hack. It only cost a few hundred dollars and it made the room much more functional because now we had a focal point, so much more storage with shelving and cabinets, and we had a good spot for the TV. For the tutorial on how we made the IKEA built-ins hack, read this blog post.
As I said earlier, our kitchen was our biggest project in this house. It was a complete gut but we kept the floor plan the same to save costs. It’s a small galley kitchen so there isn’t much flexibility with layout. I did an entire blog post on our small kitchen remodel that includes before photos. You won’t believe what it looked like before!
We put in all new cabinetry, countertops, carried the same flooring from the living room into the kitchen and hallway, got all new appliances, new fixtures, everything! We only got to enjoy the kitchen for a year before we moved but I absolutely loved it. The apron front farmhouse sink was my favorite feature I think 🙂
The largest bedroom in our home was the master. It had 2 closets which was a plus so I didn’t have to share with my husband, but they were definitely not walk in closets. The bedrooms had original hardwood floors we kept, so to update our room we painted the walls, the trim, all sliding closet wood doors and hung new blinds. I wanted to swap out the ceiling fans for more modern ones but just didn’t get it done.
The second bedroom on the main floor we actually used as an office, but for the staging we put a mattress in there. It got all new paint on the walls and trim too and we kept the original hardwood floors.
I wish I would have known about these tools when I first started painting trim in our house because they would have saved HOURS of time and frustration!
My #1 recommended paint tools that save hours and give the most professional look:
abrasive pads – run these over baseboards and trim to rough it up before painting
paint edger – makes painting trim much faster
paint shield – great for painting baseboards with carpet
Purdy paint brush – The BEST paint brush for trim. If you get one thing get this!!
Our bathroom renovation was actually the first ever big project we tackled so there was a bit of a learning curve and took longer than expected! We had never installed tile before and it took a bit to figure out. This blog post goes in detail about the entire bathroom renovation and includes the before photos, but we gutted it and put in all new tile, tub, vanity, fixtures, and of course paint.
Moving into the basement, this is where the raised ranch layout comes in. In most spit levels, the front door is met with a landing and then a half flight of stairs going up or a half flight of stairs going down. In our home, it was a full flight of stairs to go up from the basement to the main level.
Right off the garage is the door to come into the basement mud room area that we created. It’s a fairly large mudroom and it was pretty useless space until we made the built-ins and created a desk area for the computer.
This mudroom area was a big makeover as well. Originally it had carpeted which was a terrible idea right off the garage for our main way in and out of the house. We ripped it up and decided to acid stain the concrete for an affordable and simple way to update the flooring. Then we built more cubbies and a desk with a butcher block top for storage. Here is the tutorial for how we made our built-in bench seat DIY.
Basement Family Room
One plus about raised ranches are the separate living areas in the basement. It’s completely shut off from the rest of the main living on the first floor so it has lots of privacy. We rarely used the space but it was nice when guests stayed over.
The last room in the house was a lower bedroom right off the family room in the basement. Before we listed the house we actually cut the small window that was in the bedroom and turned it into an egress window so it could be listed as a 3rd bedroom. The amount of light that came in by making the window bigger was huge! Makes me wish we did it sooner. It was nice to have a bedroom in the basement separate from the main floor for guests.
So that’s our updated raised ranch tour! While there are certainly pros and cons with every single home style, the biggest factor with a raised ranch or split level are the stairs. The hike all the way up to the kitchen with arm loads of groceries is not fun and something you should consider, especially if you have older family members.
While I said I never wanted a split level home again for the sole reason being the all stairs to get up to the main level, our second home we purchased was such a gem and checked all the boxes…it just happened to be a split level again haha.
Our new home is much bigger and we were able to make it open concept. The previous owner even did a large addition to expand the original split level layout! I will share more of our current split level home and how we are updating it soon.
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