California House Styles: Living with Flair, Casual Chic and Comfort
There’s nothing boring about California style homes.
From the Arts and Crafts bungalows of the 1900s, to beachfront properties, classic ranch homes, Mediterranean and Spanish Mission designs, and modern contemporary plans, California style house plans are casual, chic, comfortable and individually trendy.
On a recent visit to Southern California, I basked in the sun, strolling around tree-lined neighborhoods and gazed at houses. Extremely captivated by their different styles and sizes, I made mental notes of homes that really caught my eye and planned return trips to take a second and third look.
Concentrated in one three square mile area were bungalows, ranch homes, contemporary styles, as well as Mediterranean/Spanish Mission-inspired houses with their terra cotta roofs and beautifully landscaped courtyards. There were gardens, trees (small and large), plants, flowers lining the entranceways and in the back. Just from the exterior facades, one had a feel that the homes were breezy, spacious, and comfortable inside. Even the largest and fanciest homes seemed to be filled with sunshine and color.
Two one-story homes in a Southern California residential area that illustrate beautifully landscaped front yards and the colorful hues of the California ranch house plan. (Photo credit: Rexy L. for The Plan Collection)
A similar design pattern was evident even with apartment housing – rock gardens and shrubbery to greet residents as they enter the building, courtyards with simple but attractive landscapes, balconies, verandas, covered front porches, and barbecue grills. The open courtyards provide play space for kids; and the grills allow residents to enjoy outdoor living without going too far from their homes.
My tour of that residential community was a microcosm of California living – casual chic, fashionable trends, comfort, sunshine and ocean breezes.
Features of the California House Style
California house designs are influenced by Mediterranean and Spanish Mission styles. Their open floor layout is ideal for Arts and Crafts bungalows, classic ranches, coastal/beachfront homes with climates similar to California, and modern contemporary residences.
Some common features are:
1. Covered entryways and porches.
2. Large windows to allow natural light and the breeze into the home.
3. Courtyards and lanai entries, balconies.
4. Patios, sundecks – and often a swimming pool.
5. Landscaped lawns and gardens.
6. Open floor plans.
7. Warm colors for both the exterior and interior.
Above is a one-story, three-bedroom home plan (126-1033) with a well-manicured courtyard. A master suite, second bathroom, half-bath, open floor plan with kitchen/living/dining areas, laundry space and double garage complete the plan.
Diverse Architectural Styles
In California, home designs are as diverse as the regions and climates of the state. Travel up and down along the major metropolitan areas - Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Riverside-San Bernardino, and Sacramento, the beach cities and mountain locales… and you’ll find a variety of architectural styles.
Here are the house plans that define California living:
The Spanish/Mediterranean Style
Greatly influenced by Spanish architecture – especially the Spanish Mission design – the Mediterranean house plan is one of the most enduring styles in California. Julia Morgan’s design for Hearst Castle after World War I set the gold standard in California for luxury and Spanish Revival style. From San Diego to San Francisco and in between, the fascination for the Spanish/Mediterranean home continues to this day. To learn more about Spanish style house plans, click here. To explore Mediterranean style home designs, click here.
A two-story, five-bedroom Spanish/Mediterranean home plan (above) with the signature terra cotta roof and stucco facade (134-1382) has the master suite on the first level – with the living/dining areas, study and family room.
Above is a similar Spanish/Mediterranean style home as House Plan #134-1382 in a Southern California residential neighborhood. (Photo credit: Rexy L. for The Plan Collection)
Spanish/Mediterranean style homes are usually finished with stucco (usually white or pastel in color) on the exterior and often feature architectural accents such as arched openings in the stucco or wood beams. Their patios, porches, terraces, gardens and courtyards that link with the outdoors – are perfectly suited to the climate and open, rolling California landscapes.
Characteristic of its trend-setting style, California was among the first in the country to embrace the bungalow house plan. These charming one-to one-and-a-half-story homes, which originated in India – were adapted in the United States in the late 1800s to the early 1900s. Across the country, the style had a variety of “interpretations.”
The California bungalow – created and inspired by Ohio-born architects Charles and Henry Greene and the Arts and Crafts movement - were constructed low to the ground, made with wood and other natural materials. The cozy homes featured wide covered porches, verandas, patios, gardens, handcrafted furniture, built-in cabinets and shelves, open floor plans, and plenty of doors that open to the outdoors.
The three-bedroom bungalow plan (#158-1003) has a brick exterior, covered porch and a lovely lawn. An open floor plan provides easy access to kitchen/dining/living areas.
The Greene brothers and other architects built and designed numerous bungalows in Southern California – particularly, in Los Angeles and Pasadena. Today, there’s a historic district in Pasadena called “Bungalow Heaven” that has preserved and renovated these beautiful homes. To view more bungalow homes and floor plans, click here.
Called the California Rambler in the state, the rectangular-shaped one-story ranch house plan has been around for a while – inspired by the historic California “haciendas.” The first modern-day version was designed and built by Southern California architect Cliff May in the early 1930s. It was also greatly influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie house plans with their low roofs and open floors. More about ranch home plans can be found here.
A typical ranch house plan features large windows that allow lots of natural light, an open floor plan, patios, porches and gardens. Americans love ranch homes because they are practical, comfortable, and easy to access.
A ranch house plan (#141-1020) with three bedrooms and two baths features an attractively landscaped front lawn and a covered porch. Inside is a Great Room with vaulted ceiling and a fireplace. Below is an image of the open kitchen layout with plenty of counter space for the family.
Within the beach cities – Malibu, Santa Barbara, San Clemente, La Jolla, Coronado, San Diego, Carmel, Monterey, and more – Californians take advantage of the gorgeous locations for their beachfront homes. From the simple cottage to ultra-modern vacation retreats, beach house plans seem to merge into the waterfront landscape of the California coast. (More beachfront home designs can be found here.)
A look at two beachfront house plans: A covered front porch with white pillars welcomes guests as they climb up the short steps to the two-story, four-bedroom beachfront home. (# 130-1108) It comes with a large deck, Great Room with vaulted ceiling, and fireplace, breakfast nook, and a loft.
A covered entryway and stacked decks are the exterior features of this three story, six bedroom beachfront house plan (#130-1093). There are double master suites, family room/den, and a kitchen/dining area that opens into a covered deck.
Designed for beachfront life, these homes with their open floor space come with plenty of large windows for an unobscured view of the ocean and nature. Decks, porches, and terraces that provide relaxation and entertaining spots add to the appeal of beachfront homes.
Modern Contemporary Styles
As the ranch house plan was taking the country by storm in the early 1900s, a number of pioneering architects in California – particularly Joseph Eichler and William Wurster, the architect who established the College of Environmental Design at the University of California–Berkeley - were building variations of ranch homes, and creating their own unique styles.
Perhaps Eichler is better known for his “modernist” touch than Wurster. But when you look at modern contemporary homes today, Wurster’s trademarks are unmistakable in houses with decks, patios and terraces. Designers and builders also agree that his “use of summer shade and winter sun for natural heating and cooling predated most environmentalists.”
A very attractive one-story modern plan (#149-1837) features two bedrooms, two baths, large windows that surround the home for perfect views of the outdoors. The two bedrooms flank the great room with living, kitchen and dining areas (below).
Built in 1931 by William Wurster for Henry and Ruth Colby, the three-story home in the Claremont district of Berkeley, CA was restored from 2002-2007 by two architects from UC-Berkeley who admired Wurster’s work. Situated on a .36 acre of land on a slope, Wurster “built up” to take advantage of the wonderful views of San Francisco Bay. The original home had five bedrooms, four-and-a-half baths, an elevator and stairs that connected the floors. Decks, patios, gardens and a large terrace on the top level enhance the indoor-outdoor feel (left). On the right - the original windows that look into the garden.
Also designed in 1931 by William Wurster is the Voss House located in Big Sur, CA and overlooking the ocean. Consistent with Wurster's architectural philosphy, the home is unosentatious in style and is oriented and designed to maximize the views of the ocean. The sloping lot allows for the construction of a multi-level home without being imposing. It also creates for some dramatic views.
This video shows the exterior and interior of William Wurster's Voss House in Big Sur, CA.
Taking a cue from these renowned architects, modern homes – in California and elsewhere - emphasize clean lines, streamlined designs, and simple exteriors of concrete, glass or vinyl. Common features include open floor plans, spaces that serve a variety of purposes, courtyards that “invite the outside in,” floor-to-ceiling - or artfully placed – windows –to get the best looks of the scenery.
A two-story contemporary home plan (# 126-1236) with two bedrooms and one-and-a-half baths, great landscaping around the covered entry. The first floor has a powder room/laundry, kitchen/dinette, dining room, living room, and hot tub area. The bedrooms are on the second floor and a basement with the family room, and storage area. There’s a private balcony on second floor, and lots of windows. More modern house plans can be found here.
A two-story house plan (# 187-1005) with four bedrooms, and three-and-a-half baths. The interior has high ceilings, open space for a Great Room (living/dining/kitchen/kitchen island), family room, and a fireplace.
So whether the California “flavor” you choose is a modern design, ranch, bungalow, beachfront or a classic Mediterranean/Spanish Mission-inspired home, go for casual chic, informal and comfortable.