Comfort Zone: Roquefort or Ranch

Over dinner, on our way to tour a couple of Frank Lloyd Wright homes in Pennsylvania, Linda and I began wondering about why Roquefort dressing is now called Blue Cheese dressing. Our assumption was that the goat’s milk cheese with the blue veins of mold fungus, originating in Roquefort, France, was something that was not an everyday salad sauce until the name was changed to Blue Cheese.

Was the name simplified because it was too difficult to pronounce? Was it only because the majority of the product was no longer made only in Roquefort? I tend to go for the pronunciation. I could imagine that many people ordering their dressing at a local restaurant would be hesitant to order a dressing for their salad that made them stumble over the word.

We Americans like safe, simple, comfortable and secure. That is why I believe we see the same chain restaurants at every major exit on the expressway and in almost any town with a somewhat significant population. Why? Because the food in every one of the restaurants, in every town, tastes exactly the same as the next town. A Whopper in Chester tastes exactly the same as in Evanston, Iowa? We feel secure that the food will not be an experiment.

One of the houses we toured in the Allegheny Mountains was a house Mr. Wright designed as a home for middle-income families. He called the style “Usonian.” Questioning why people from the United States are called Americans when they could be from a number of different countries such as Canada or Mexico; he called us Usonians – borrowing the term from James Duff Law, an American writer born in 1865.

Wright designed a number of these Usonian homes, which later morphed into the ubiquitous Rancher style home – unpretentious and yet comfortable. No surprise, considering that some estimates say that between 1945 and 1970 approximately 70 percent of all homes built in America were Ranchers. During the baby boom, the American landscape began to fill up with Ranchers. Some referred to them as Ramblers and split level ranch homes. It can be said that they embrace the modernist aesthetic developed in Wright’s Prairie and Usonian Houses or that they are a bastardization of what became the most ubiquitous-style home in history.

One story, usually under 2,000 square feet or so, a rancher has a low pitched roof, long roof lines and wide eaves to help shade the large windows from the sun keeping it cool in summer. And the one story home has a footprint that takes up a large amount of space on a lot. With the ever growing use of the automobile family car, the rancher became the house design to include an attached carport or garage or carport as a standard feature.

The rancher, for those who purchased homes up into the late seventies possibly did so for the same reason as we enjoy the sameness of chain restaurants and blue-cheese dressing. In addition to being the working man’s home, it was similar to his neighbor’s home. It was comfortable and it didn’t stand out as overly unique or eccentric. And just as family restaurants, diners and motels were replaced by chain restaurants and Holiday Inns, the rancher made its inhabitant secure in the sameness that anyone knows what to expect of the inhabitants of the home.

I grew up in a neighborhood without a two story home in sight. The Feldmans had the most unique rancher because it had large windows that climbed to the gable on the front of the house allowing one to see the vaulted ceiling inside. Kids in the neighborhood thought something strange must be going on in that house. They must be beatniks, we all agreed.

Kentuck, the first Usonian for Wright, was an example of a house for the middle class. Oddly enough, the 2,200 square foot house (started as 1,200) is now worth millions. British Lord Palumbo of London now owns Kentuck, but allows public access. A Pennsylvania architect said, “It’s kind of a shame that a home designed for the everyman is now a multimillionaire’s retreat, but what could be a better metaphor for our times? High-quality affordable housing is destined to become unaffordable before long.”
But despite falling out of favor in the 70s, the rancher is quickly being rediscovered by new home buyers. A refreshing alternative to Victorian or Federal homes with small rooms and corridors, ranchers will always appeal to those home buyers who are looking for a house with plenty of space and light. Of course, status as an American Icon doesn’t hurt either.

Which type of dressing do want on your salad; Blue Cheese or Ranch?

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