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converting a ranch to a craftsman

mrholty's picture

Howdy!  I am a newbie here so I appologize if this has been covered.  My wife and I just bought a house in Madison, Wi and due to price, location, etc we bought a 1970's style ranch house. 

Two blocks over, 1950's homes were selling for $400k in a "name" neighborhood, where our neighborhood is all 1960's and 1970's single floor ranch homes.

We would like to keep our house in matching with the neighborhood, however we both like I guess what you would call Frank Lloyd Wrong (I mean Wright), Craftsman or Prarie style homes.  Additionally, in Madison it seems that Prarie homes are all the range along with alleys, and narrow streets, and green homes. 

It seems that many people on here are quite accomplished DIYers or professional builders so I seek your advice.  To convert our boring 1 story white ranch into a more styled craftsman styled home, what do you think are the key points on the exterior and interior. 

Additionally, we are hoping to make the home a green certified home, not a big deal but it makes us feel better, the guidelines don't seem to bad, it makes sense and a local new home builder only makes green homes, Veridian, and supposedly gets a 10-20% premium in Madison just because its green.  We are all a bunch of vegan commies I guess!  Just kidding, I love steak.

Green guidelines are here.

We are closing in four weeks so our brain is going wild.  This winter we hope to work on the interior and plan to do most of the basic carpentry ourselves.  Plumbing seems and electrical seem to be in good shape and we don't have any desire to move anything.  Here is our tenative plans:

Finish basement, currently cement floor.  Approximately 800 square ft.  Plan was one large room for me, has fireplace in basement and I want to put down a wood floor but I know they are not recommended in a basement so I need to figure what I want to put down.  I really don't want carpet.  This area will be about 1/2 of the basement, the other half will have 4 small rooms.  1 electrical, heating, etc, with a 1/2 bath. One room will be laundry, and the other two rooms will be an office and probably a workshop/crafts.

To give it a craftsman feel, we plan to use wainscoting throughout and some small details in the door and window frames.  Ultimately, we have a good idea of what we want to do to the house but we have some time to do it over a long stage (few years)

However, the outside is where we are strugling, right now is a basic 1970's yellow ranch, with a little bit of exposed cement on one side of the house as yard slopes away.  Additionally, we plan to add a deck on the back in the future (we're not made of money) but we want to do something to the cement porch (one step) in front.  Any ideas? 

We may keep a website so people can learn what not to do.  :)

(post #73515, reply #1 of 25)

I am a newbie here so I appologize if this has been covered.

thats one thing about this forum. This is one of the few places on the web that doesnt care if you ask a question twice. most place will say "Use the search button newby" well our search button doesnt work. so ask as many times as you want.

(post #73515, reply #21 of 25)

"our search button doesnt work. so ask as many times as you want."

You sir are a true gentleman!

"...never charged nothing for his preaching, and it was worth it, too" - Mark Twain

(post #73515, reply #2 of 25)

Craftsman style homes, especially in the style of FLW, and especially in the Midwest, are characterized by, among other things, horizontal lines.  So larger overhanging eaves would contribute, along with the exterior, being brick, stone, fiber cement, or whatever to have a very horizontal, elongated style.  And natural materials -- no vinyl, and earth tone colors.

Don't use colonial light fixtures.

Peruse books on the style and see what characteristics you notice that indicate to you they are of the style you wish, and incorporate those elements.

(post #73515, reply #3 of 25)

You can do wood floor below grade.

But it has to be "engineered" wood floor. That is a fancy way of saying plywood.

But for the floor the wear layer is 1/8 to 1/4".

But it is real wood, not a laminate like Pergo.

. William the Geezer, the sequel to Billy the Kid - Shoe

(post #73515, reply #4 of 25)

There is a lot to look at by going here:

Tell me what you think.


"A stripe is just as real as a dadgummed flower."

Gene Davis        1920-1985

(post #73515, reply #5 of 25)

You don't seem to be getting many responses - probably because there are few simple answers. Without any pics of your house the designers here can't help too much. I'd recommend finding all you can re Greene and Greene and FLW in books and mags...websites too...then picking the most salient features. Have 8x11 photos of your house and lay drafting paper over the top to sketch different features on. Or find cheap software that you can play around with to get the same result.

Finish basement, currently cement floor. Prairie style is about concrete floors, stained. Paint with acrylic sealer, and use rugs, if you know the slab is dry.  This will keep it 'green'. If not there's a product that one puts down to keep the finishe dfloor off the slab (check at HD), and this could be painted, etc., but it contains nasty glues. So, seeings as most of the b/ment is utility, I'd opt for painted concrete...or cover it with 'green' plywood that you can paint as tiles. Whoops, even forgot to mention tiles themselves.... As to a wood floor - unless you've some way to keep all the pieces together w/out glue of nails, that'll be out, I guess.

Don't forget, this'll be one big compromise. . .try and get the feel rather than get bogged down on details. You'll need to compromise with all the green aspect unless you stick to solid woods, etc, and that'll cost you dear.

I really hope it works for you.

BTW - Don't make your place too good for the street it's on.

All the best...

To those who know - this may be obvious. To those who don't - I hope I've helped.



(post #73515, reply #6 of 25)

Yeah - post pix - we can think better with visual aids!

Sounds like a great project - there can be lots of good things about 60s-70s ranches - well built, big lots, established trees, and better floor plans than some of the old houses we've fallen for.

I'd love to keep just the bones of my folks 1965 ranch and craftsman-ize it, but they think it's fine; been there since 1966.

I second the votes for lots of library and web searching for pictures.

Also, MOST IMPORTANTLY as a newbie - spend "way too much time" in the planning and design phase.  It's heartbreaking to jump in, do stuff, and then realize it doesn't fit in with the final evolved concept, and has to be changed, or sit there looking like a tumor, a testament to rash impulsivity - ask me how I know!


Edited 8/25/2006 9:04 am by McDesign

(post #73515, reply #7 of 25)

Get Sarah Susanka's book "Homes by Design" I think you will find ideas there that will obtain the feel you want.

If you have a problem, don't just talk do something to set it right.

  Jim Andersen

(post #73515, reply #8 of 25)

If you haven't already, you might want to get a radon check for your basement. 

If your basement floor is in good shape, you just stain & seal it.  Here are some folks that have done that with a new concrete floor:


Here is a website of a FLW fanatic.  He has more FLW pics than I've seen in any other website or book.  If you scroll down the page, he even has it broken out by state.




"Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success."  --Albert Schweitzer


Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.
-- Carl Sandburg

(post #73515, reply #9 of 25)

Wainscotting is a great idea, and certainly in keeping with the style you want. But doing lots of it could send you to the poorhouse.

Pick a couple of important rooms -- the family room, and the dining room for example -- and do those. Spend the rest of your interior budget on ALL new trim in the rest of the rooms. Base, casings, stools, stops, aprons, and doors.

Look at the books that others have suggested for trim designs. Craftsman, in some cases, can be done without expensive moldings, but you need to pick the right design/plan. Also note that the 1917 Craftsman that I owned, had painted trim in it from the day it was origianlly built. Others have stained trim.

And if there's savings left over, go for those deep overhangs outside.



Unless you're the lead dog, the view just never changes.

. . . I can't live proud enough to die when I'm gone, So I guess I'll have to do it while I'm here. (Phil Ochs)

(post #73515, reply #10 of 25)

Wonderful plan!  I'm doing the same with ours.

Just replacing all of your trimwork with nice wide casings, baseboards, etc. in a Craftsman style that you like makes a world of difference, believe me.  It identifies your work with the 'Craftsman look' right away.

I believe the right colours are essential in the conversion also.  FWW used earth tones.  Mine are a moss green, terracotta & wheat-tone.

Look at Craftsman/Arts & Crafts -type furniture too, for inspiration.  Leaded & stained glass have their place.

Concrete basement floors work very well for installing radiant electric heating cables/meshes on & covering over with tiles, if additional/alternative heating is required.

Above all else, have fun with it all ! 

-Do share your good hints, websites found with the rest of us.

Good luck,


(post #73515, reply #12 of 25)

I don't know much about FLW, but I've reworked a few 60's and 70's ranches.  The most recent of which is our own house.  It's not really craftsman, but may at least spawn some ideas for you.

These pictures are from our own home around last October.  We've since finished the landscaping and gutted/remodeled the existing first floor.  I really need to take some more recent pics of it all finished up.

After_xfront.jpg39.83 KB
Before.jpg38.09 KB
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during.jpg58.69 KB

(post #73515, reply #13 of 25)

THats some mighty fine work.  Hard to believe the after pictures.  Seeing how it started out and all. 

I'm only half as dumb as I look.    


Matt- Woods favorite carpenter. 

(post #73515, reply #16 of 25)

Thanks Stilletto.... we're really happy with our house.  But I don't want to hi-jack this dude's thread any more than I already have, so I'll cut it short.  :)

(post #73515, reply #14 of 25)

That looks really great. Bet you added a lot of room with that cantilever back.

Is that back rim an LVL hanging on the floor joist? Were they I's?

If you have a problem, don't just talk do something to set it right.

  Jim Andersen

(post #73515, reply #15 of 25)

The rim is just regular BCI rim joist stock capping off the ends of the 16" BCI 600's.  They clear span the entire house (24' plus the 2' cantilever) and eliminate the need for any first floor bearing walls.  That let us gain a very open first floor plan when we remodeled it.  The cantilever helped us reclaim the sq footage 'lost' with the roof line in the front.


(post #73515, reply #22 of 25)


Nice the detail on the columns..

Here are a couple of pics of our ranch redo...

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Day_8_004.jpg81.55 KB
House-front.jpg85.45 KB

(post #73515, reply #23 of 25)

Shrink those pics and someone will op-en them.



need roof over stoop of 70's ranch (post #73515, reply #24 of 25)

This is one of the most polite forums I have ever seen ( along with Dave's Garden)

Your "before" pictureon this old post,  looks similar to my "new" home : ( I hope this link works)


After taking the 14 yo, blind doggy in and out the front to "go", I have decided that in a Maine winter, I need a porch over the stoop.  I cannot afford any extensive remodeling.  Do you or anyone know of an inexpensive ,( but not tacky!)  way to cover this so I don't track in so much sand and salt.?


BTW, I have restored most of the inside already : all original hardwood florrs!, added hardwood to my tiny kitchen and foyer, axed the wallpaper and painted ( my bathroom as now periwinkle!), swapped ot the dated mirror look over fireplace, etc.


Thanks for any ideas.

duplic post (post #73515, reply #25 of 25)


(post #73515, reply #17 of 25)

A few things that do a lot to make a house look craftsman to me:

A sort of cascade of roofs- bungalows were made to blend into treed streets, and they often have multiple roof faces that start low, with deep overhangs, and continue up with gables facing the front and dormers breaking up the bigger faces.

A front porch- this kind of fits with the previous one, in that it usually has a seperate roof, and the porch adds detail to the front of the house.  It's good to break up long, large walls with detail and features. 

A lot of the craftsmans that I'm familiar with have 2 or three different siding materials, so that no wall looks too big and imposing.

I would say not to go crazy with the wainscotting.  It's good in a few rooms, bathrooms especially.  Use big, simple trim in most places- 1x8 base, 1x4 and 5/4x5 casing.  Built in furniture is good.  Breaking up the expanse of ceiling is good too- often times rooms were seperated by a sort of archway- wall coming down from the ceiling a foot or so, out from the walls a foot or so, and half-walls or bookcases coming out a couple feet at the bottom.  All trimmed out, of course.

Researching craftsman design is a fun and addictive thing to do, there are many resources out there.  Look up Jane Powell's books, she has quite a few.  They're funny, and the photos are invaluable.  I especially like the overview of the style they give- a lot of books and magazines only show the FLW and G+G type work (which I am in awe of, by the way).  In many ways, the more casual, lighter style of the common bungalow (painted trim, not too many dark paneled walls) is more livable.



"so it goes"


"When we build, let us think that we build forever.  Let it not be for present delight nor for present use alone." --John Ruskin

"so it goes"


(post #73515, reply #18 of 25)

I have and am building some houses with some craftsman style elements.  Since I'm in the south east, I think what we are used to looking at is a bit different than "prarrie style".  Anyway, here is a list of some basic design elements that I put together some time age.  Also, the houses were/are not really "customs" so the list had to be kept afordable.  Anyway... here it is:

Craftsman Style Design Elements


                        Brackets at eaves (requires slightly wider eaves)

                        Shingles in gables or on upper half of 2 story house

                        Horizontal trim board (belt) separates shingle area from siding area.

                        Taper ½ half height square columns or tapered full height square.

                        Front door – not 6 panel – high windows

                        Transom over door or top and sides but never side lites only

                        Front porch

                        Usually no arches, ovals, round, or palladium windows, etc.

                        Less steep roof pitches

                        Wide overhangs

                        No cornice returns – sloped soffits or open soffits

                        Small square windows are sometimes banked together in dormers, etc.

                        Window and door exterior trim is 1x4 with protruding sills.

                        Window muttons are:

6 over 1,  3 over 1,  2 over 2, 2 over 1

4 around perimeter of sash. 

Never 6 over 6.


                        Non-intricate but not narrow moldings

                        Stair balusters – square

                        Cabinets – plain – Shaker style

                        Doors – not 6 panel

I'd say go take a ride and take a bunch of pics of houses you like.  Bring 'em home and spend some time analyzing the fasades to find what you like and what might work for your situation.


(post #73515, reply #19 of 25)

"Taper ½ half height square columns or tapered full height square.'

Another style is 3 smaller square post grouped together.

. William the Geezer, the sequel to Billy the Kid - Shoe

(post #73515, reply #20 of 25)

Everyone I want to say thank for the responses.  We had talked about staining the cement and from our home inspection the basement does not seem to have moisture problems.  But I have never seen it and I hope to spend alot of time down there and didn't know how cold it would be.  We are planning on turning about 1/2 basement into my room with my sports memorabilia, couch, big tv, pool table and foosball table so I want it be comfortable for friends and family as well.  Additonally, I haven't looked but is installing radiant heat expensive, I figured it was?

I would post some pictures of our house but I don't have a digital camera so I went online and found some pictures of similar homes in our neighborhood.

Thanks for the ideas and mentions of the wainscoting.  The upstairs family room already has one in wall bookshelf and we want to put in wooden bookshevling built into the wall as we go along.  Right now we have a wishlist a mile long and haven't fully figured out our budget or what things really cost or our timeline.

I'm off to the library tomorrow and I promise to keep everyone involved on my progress.  Any ideas are appreciated.

We close on the 31st.  Hope it all goes well.