Hidden Volume Ranch

A single-story, 1,995-square-foot home grows a second floor - and 600 square feet - without changing its streetscape presence.

By Meghan Stromberg, Senior Editor | May 31, 2003


From the outside, the Autumnwood model in Clovis, Calif., looks like a lovely but still fairly typical ranch-style home on a small lot - which it is. From the inside, though, it lives like a spacious four-bedroom, two-story home.

Sounds like a trick, you say. It is - and a very clever one at that.

Designed by Bassenian Lagoni Architects and built by Wathen-Castanos Inc., the Autumnwood is a single-story home that comes in at just less than 2,000 square feet. What makes it so unique is an option that adds a second story - without changing the exterior appearance of the home. The space for the second floor comes from right under the roof, and the trusses are designed so that two bedrooms and a loft can be carved out of otherwise useless space.

This flexible plan was devised as a response to a unique market situation Wathen-Castanos identified during its market research. Rich Wathen and Kevin Castanos reviewed statistical analysis of their company's own best-selling plans and of the other plans in the market, looking for what works and what buyers were not being offered anywhere else.


Autumnwood Buyer Snapshot:
Age 25-35
Age 50 and older
Married with children
Have no children

What they discovered was that the first and second move-up buyers the company was targeting with its Town & Country community preferred ranch homes and wanted a lot of bedrooms. To achieve the high room counts, Wathen-Castanos and Dave Kosco, a principal with Bassenian Lagoni and the architect on the project, first developed two two-story home plans. The plans have two and three bedrooms, respectively, that can option up to a total of six bedrooms.

Once they got the room count up, Castanos and Wathen were wary of relying too heavily on a two-story product line when their research demonstrated ranch homes were the vernacular in the market.

With the Autumnwood plan, the company meets both dominant buyer demands. "It appears to be a single-story home," says Castanos. "That's more familiar and helps create a more traditional image for the neighborhood. At the same time, we are creating more room count than other two-story homes" in the market.

The second ranch plan, the Bridleridge, offers buyers an optional second floor as well, but at 472 square feet it is not quite as large, nor as flexible, as the Autumnwood. In addition to providing the extra space and home style that buyers wanted, the two expandable ranches were the right choice for the neighborhood on another level - they provide much-needed variety to the streetscape. The mix of two two-story plans with two ranch plans provides balance in the community.

Why it works

Although divided into spaces with distinct uses, the Autumnwood plan still is open and airy with pass-throughs and large openings between rooms. That helps filter light throughout the home.

"The fact that this space is captured within the existing attic is the key," says Kosco. "Through a relatively simple truss and structural modification, the builder is able to offer 600 more sellable square feet without significantly increasing his construction cost."

Because it is designed to accommodate the living space cavity, the roof truss assembly requires less lumber and saves $650, says director of construction Mike Nimon. The structural system to support the floor, however, came in at a cost of about $1,600.

The second-floor option also includes two windows, stairs and interior finishes, of course, but Nimon counts not having to build the second-story walls and roof a considerable savings. For the buyer, adding the second floor takes the $275,000 home to $310,000.

There were some limitations to the design, Nimon admits. "It's a 6/12 pitch roof, so with an 8-foot finished ceiling height, we are limited to how big that room can be." More important, perhaps, was the challenge of getting daylight to the loft area. The windows are in each of the bedrooms, which are located on the only exterior wall. While the window placement on the side of the house is ideal in preserving neighbors' privacy - there are no second-story windows peeking into the backyards of adjacent homes - it does not shed any light on the rest of the loft space, which is enclosed by the roof assembly.


The garage-forward, L-shaped Autumnwood plan carves out a perfect spot for a front courtyard - a thoughtful, yet inexpensive, way to add livable square footage.

The solution was to borrow light from the first floor. The stairs feature an open railing, but the real impact comes from an opening on the side of the loft directly across from the bedrooms, which looks down into the entryway and dining room below.

Other notable aspects of the plan are an informal kitchen and family room zone across the back, a downstairs master bedroom (also identified as a buyer preference) and a garage with an innovative tandem setup with room for three cars but a two-car facade, making it more palatable from the street.

From Wathen's point of view, the company's secret second-story formula is doing what it set out to do. The Autumnwood has a large market appeal, especially for growing families and empty-nesters who want to do most of their living downstairs but want the extra bedrooms for boomerang kids or grandchildren. "The plan has accomplished our goal of tremendous flexibility and market reach."


A unique, very flexible plan means a two-bedroom ranch home can morph into a two-story with up to six bedrooms (by converting the living room and den) without changing the home's exterior. If buyers keep the ranch style, they get a large walk-in pantry in place of the stairs.


The Outdoor Niche

Ever mindful of market demands, Wathen-Castanos had another square footage trick up their sleeve. The Autumnwood plan increases its livable space by not only building up but also by building out - or at least outside.

The company had been offering exterior courtyards in their higher-end product for at least three years, and, according to Kevin Castanos, they were one of the first builders in the region to do so.

"In this segment, there was an absence of courtyards available," says Castanos of the first and second move-up markets targeted by Wathen-Castanos' Town & Country community. "Besides, we were decreasing the size of the lot for this particular price point - this lot is 60x120, compared with lots in the 70 to 75 foot range - and we wanted to demonstrate adequate outdoor living."

Although the front courtyard is an option, it is a fairly affordable one. For $10,000 to $12,000, buyers can dress up the nook created by the L-shaped plan with a low wall, gate and inviting patio paved with a concrete and turf checkerboard pattern. The fireplace shown in the model is not offered currently by the builder but is meant to show buyers what they can do to make the space their own.

Buyers can go an even more cost-effective route, says Rich Wathen, by paring the courtyard construction down to concrete columns "connected" by a hedge or other softscape in place of a wall.

"This takes a relatively simple and typical front yard and elevates it to a level the market has not seen before," says Dave Kosco from Bassenian Lagoni Architects. "It mitigates the smaller lot size with design elements that strike an emotional chord with buyers."