Cliff May was born in 1909 in San Diego and grew up on a ranch that would later inspire the houses he built, the well-known Cliff May Ranchos, which became the standard in the suburbs of midcentury America.
May attended San Diego State for two years, studying business and accounting, but dropped out near the time of the stock market crash in 1929. During his time as a student, May built furniture that he sold out of a model home. He became more interested in the architecture after this experience and after quitting school, he designed and built his first home in San Diego during 1931. Even with the Great Depression in full swing, the house sold quickly to eager buyers. May’s house was different in style but also demonstrated a deep understanding of the importance of function and livability:
“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.”
May’s career took off after the first build and he subsequently built 50 other houses in San Diego. Only four years after the first home sold, Cliff May moved to Los Angeles in 1935, where he designed over a thousand custom homes throughout the world, sold plans for 18,000 ranch houses and designed, and in some cases developed, ranch-house tracts.
The style of the Cliff May Ranchos was soon imitated throughout the country, mostly during the 1950s, when people were leaving urban areas for a more secluded suburban life. “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,” he once said.
In the 1960s, ranch homes inspired by May designs were updated to look more modernized, but kept the fundamental long, single-story structure of the originals.
May passed away during 1989 in his home in the Santa Monica Mountains but his ranch homes are still celebrated today, evident even in this magazine’s title.