The brainchild of designer/developer Jean Vandruff, these fairy-tale-inspired ranch houses were an instant hit in Southern California when first introduced by him and his brother Shannon in 1955. Sometimes referred to as “storybook ranches”, these houses differed from other tract homes of the period in that they sported fanciful trim and rooflines which recalled the cottages often depicted in fairy-tales. Other common stylistic features include diamond-paned windows, gable-end dove-cotes and decorative “shutters”.
Vandruff’s creations became so popular that they were franchised to be built all along the west coast and into the center section of the country. Many imitations popped up as well in these and other areas. Sadly, the design integrity of these distinctive houses is increasingly under assault through misguided and indifferent renovations and temporarily faddish “updates”. More about Mr. Vandruff and his houses can be found at thecinderellahome.com where a book on the subject is also available. Let’s take a look at some survivors!
Happy Birthday to Mr. Vandruff! What a great post! It took me down a fascinating rabbit hole… I live in Southern California and have grown up surrounded by Cinderella homes but never knew the history. Thank you.
Great to see you back, Julia! And, yes, happy 99th birthday today to Mr. Vandruff! I’ve long admired the style as built here in the midwest; hopefully they will become more revered everywhere before being made as generic as an HGTV program. I’m very happy to have helped lead you down this colorful rabbit hole!
Very interesting! I was not aware of this style and movement. It’s quite the example of fitting the ornamentation from a very different style onto the Ranch profile.
I don’t know if it’s connected to Mr. Vandruff, or just influenced by that style and era, but there’s a house that bears some of the features very near my father-in-law’s. I haven’t stopped to get a good photo, but you can make out some of it in the streetview:
The house definitely appears to be heavily inspired by the Cinderella homes which were no doubt much-photographed and published in the late 50’s. The “look” was widely copied — though usually somewhat pared-down — and this house appears to be an example of that. Thanks for sharing the link!
I can think of some neighborhoods around were I grew up in the eastern suburbs of Sacramento which were influenced by this style. My aunt lived in a neighborhood of houses with dovecote’s on gable ends and fanciful bargeboards from about 1960. Hers was much less interesting, although it did have large scale clapboards common in that era.
A quick virtual tour of Sacramento and environs does indeed reveal a number of Cinderella-influenced houses. However, I’m not finding a lot of ornamental bargeboards; I can’t tell whether they were replaced later or simply never popular there. Here’s a fun example which is clearly loved by its owner (as evidenced by the thematic landscaping):
WOW!!!! So, you didn’t know this… Of all the mid-century blocks in the sizable city of Sacramento, you stumbled on the very block my Aunt and Uncle lived on. Their house was at the other end of Rensselaer Way. They moved in when new (I can see it is 1961 on Zillow), and lived there until the mid 1980’s. A few years after moving in, my uncle extended the front bedroom forward to create more space inside.
Funny enough, their house actually retains ornamental bargeboards (fascia?) in two small gables on the front. When my uncle extended the front bedroom, he retained the original front and reapplied it to the extension. I remember as a child that many more houses in the development had the fanciful trim, but time has not always been kind. Regardless, the neighborhood is still desirable and charming.
What are the odds??!!?! I narrowed my search by using Zillow to target houses built from ’55 to ’65 and then exploring those streets, but even so the odds must be astronomical. The presence of some decorative bargeboards in the area makes me think that there were a lot more originally. I can’t help but wonder why more of these houses seem to have survived with their exterior features intact in the LA area than in Sacramento and other places.
I have never heard of Cinderella homes, and I don’t recall ever seeing one in the Chicago area. I love these homes!
They are definitely fun — it’s hard to not be at least somewhat charmed by them! While the style never caught on in Chicagoland, I’d be willing to bet that someone in the late 50’s or early 60’s built a similar house in the area after a trip to California or seeing examples in a magazine. If you ever run across one, you will now know the inspiration!
There are so many of these in my former town, Camarillo, CA, and a few left in my current city, Escondido, CA. My friend lived in one and the inside was charming as well with plenty of knotty pine, etc.
It’s increasingly difficult to find examples of Cinderella homes which have relatively intact interiors. The interior of the house seen below retains some of the knotty pine you mention as well as another hallmark of the style — room dividers made of turned spindles (originally stained and not painted). It’s sad that these features are no longer widely appreciated:
Agreed! They’re charming and very cozy but seem to catch a lot of undeserved hate, especially spindles.
Stained woodwork and spindle wall dividers are great! Homeowners, please keep yours intact!
As a child of the 50s, I grew up seeing these homes in Gardena, CA (Los Angeles area). I can’t say I have noticed them in the other parts of the country I have lived in or visited. It’s great to learn the architectural history. I am new to your site, led here by your comments on OHD. Now I have lots more fun ahead of me exploring here.
Welcome aboard, Nona!
Grew up around storybook/cinderella homes and have always had a fondness for them. It was for one of these, at the age of 11, that I first felt heartache for the plight of old buildings in careless hands. Some fool took a perfectly fine yellow house with red brick, replaced the wood diamond windows with gaping vinyl, and painted everything (including the brick!) white. This was in 2001, one can imagine how these homes have suffered since.
Thanks for giving this overlooked style the attention it deserves! Hopefully it inspires folks to appreciate theirs.
Thank you! I do what I can, but my audience is minuscule in comparison to corporate media (HGTV, etc., etc.). I agree that the last two decades have not been preservation-friendly. Hopefully consciousness will expand some day, but I’m not holding my breath; it’s not looking very good out there…
This is the first I’ve heard that those rare, dressed-up ranch homes actually had inspiration elsewhere! I spent childhood in Maryland and never liked the plain brick ranch, though spacious, I lived in; now feeling I missed out terribly after seeing these!
Thank you for the article and interesting comments shared. There’s always something new to learn and appreciate when it comes to homes, their eras and history! (I’d like to learn more about Mr. Vandruff and his success with an idea he wasn’t afraid to see to fruition.)
It’s amazing what a bit of stylistic refinement can do to a structure! Modern construction leaves a lot to be desired and, while currently trendy, will soon look dated and boring. True style has been missing from architecture for quite a while now which is why Cinderellas and other styled houses are so appealing today. Vandruff was brilliant at marketing, and these houses have held their appeal throughout the passing years.