Log In / Register


Continue with…

Meet the Pioneer of the California Ranch House, Cliff May

Written by Kelly Weimert on Thursday, August 29th, 2019 at 11:05am.

Source: East Side Costa Mesa Cliff May home, represented by Todd Bousman

Cliff May is an American architect who famously pioneered the California Ranch House. May was born and raised in San Diego, where he began designing and building Monterey-style furniture. Without a formal architecture education, May began designing homes, completing his first home in 1931 at the age of 23, which was a one-story tile-roofed house with a courtyard inspired by his family's adobe ranch house. 

Despite the Great Depression, May quickly sold his first design and continued to develop his groundbreaking style. May’s designs emphasized livability over facade. He sought to create homes in perfect harmony with the way that people wanted to live, maximizing the experiences that bring pleasure to families, like outdoor entertaining, through expansive floor plans that blur the line between the indoors and the outdoors. 

In a 1936 interview, May said, "The early Californians had the right idea. They built for the seclusion and comfort of their families, for the enjoyment of relaxation in their homes. We want to perpetuate these ideas of home building.” A big fan of expansive spaces, largely due to his upbringing on a California ranch, May combined Spanish Colonial Revival, California Adobe Ranchos, and Modernist elements to create his homes. He focused on building homes out, rather than up, integrating new innovations as they arose, like adding sliding glass doors to his homes as soon as they became available to further maximize the indoor-outdoor feel of his designs. 

On the impetus behind his designs, May told The New York Times in 1986, “I rebelled against the boxy houses being built then. The ranch house was everything a California house should be; it had cross-ventilation, the floor was level with the ground, and with its courtyard and the exterior corridor, it was about sunshine and informal outdoor living."

Check out a few of our favorite May-designed homes to get a feel for the architect’s unique flair for creating fluid, highly functional houses.


Cliff May Ranch House Design
Source: realtor.com

With its open-beamed ceilings, indoor-outdoor pool, and sliding glass doors, this house exemplifies May’s penchant for merging the indoors with the outdoors. 


Cliff May Home Designs
Source: la.curbed.com

The open living and dining area of this home gives it a bright and airy feel, which is one of the defining characteristics of May’s designs. 


Cliff May Open Floor Plan Designs
Source: la.curbed.com

May was a big fan of using painted beamed ceilings to add texture and visual intrigue to his breezy open floor plans. 


Cliff May Indoor Outdoor Living Spaces
Source: dwell.com

The great room of this prefabricated home opens up to the beautiful back patio, demonstrating May’s strong focus on creating inviting, outdoor spaces for entertaining. 


Rancho Style Cliff May Home
Source: ranchostyle.com

By now it should be clear that May was deeply committed to several primary design elements: sliding glass doors, beamed ceilings, outdoor entertainment, and fluid open floor plans that enhance the daily lives of inhabitants.


Love the California Ranch style inspired by renowned architect Cliff May? View all Cliff May and May-inspired homes currently on the market, or use our Search With Style app to search all ranch-style homes for sale near you.

Famous Architect Quote by Cliff May

Leave a Comment