Cliff May (1908-1989): Custom Ranch Houses


Cliff May, known as 'the father of the ranch house,' was an early proponent of the California style ranch house. He first built hacienda style houses in San Diego in the 1930s, then moved to Los Angeles to create some of the most widely recognized ranch-style houses in the country. His early custom ranch houses of the 1930s follow the compact designs of his hacienda-style houses, but with central courtyards and face inwards. After the WWII years and the boom in tract housing through the 1950s, the custom houses Cliff May designed became larger, more open to the outside world, and sprawled through the home site with large motor courts and swimming pools. These changes reflected the needs of a different clientele-- as land prices increased, the wealthy wanted grand homes on large, expensive lots and the later houses reflect the changing wants and needs.


Cliff May papers, Architecture and Design Collection. Art, Design & Architecture Museum; University of California, Santa Barbara.


circa 1950 - circa 1980


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Items in the Cliff May (1908-1989): Custom Ranch Houses Collection

Cliff May: Hauser house (Borrego Springs, Calif.)
The Hauser house in Borrego Springs is one of Cliff May's earlier custom ranch houses, but it has all of the elements of some of his larger designs. With a U-shaped floor plan, the house has one wing with master bedroom and smaller bedrooms, another…

Cliff May: Lear house (Los Angeles, Calif.)
In this birds-eye view of the William Lear house in Los Angeles, the sprawling multi-winged house is seen perched on a hill overlooking the city. With a large circular motor court and pool with patio enclosed on all four sides by the house, it has…

Cliff May: Philbin house (Woodside, Calif.)
With this house in Woodside, Cliff May showcases the custom style he is known for. With a central enclosed courtyard, patios extending the living spaces, and the single-story, asymmetrical house on a large lot with pool, this rendering fits the…

Cliff May: Trenchard house (La Jolla, Calif.)
In this early hacienda style version of the ranch house, Cliff May creates privacy with a patio that is surrounded by the house and garage on three sides, with a walled-off fourth side, as well as a gated motor court. Each room in the house opens…

Cliff May: Smith house (La Habra, Calif.)
As one of Cliff May's first large-scale custom ranch houses for his benefactor and business partner John Arnholt Smith, this rendering and floor plan show how grand May's early work could be. The U shaped house was accentuated by the diagonal living…

Cliff May: Evans house (Solvang, Calif.)
The Evans house and property in the Rancho Alisal golf community just outside of Solvang, Calif., in the Santa Ynez valley, is a good example of the Cliff May custom ranch style. A large lot, motor court with covered garage/carport, indoor/outdoor…