Split-levels can be found in many regions, especially in neighborhoods developed after World War II.
The homes borrow a bit of the horizontal profile of a ranch – if the ranch was sliced down the middle, with the bedroom wing bumped skyward half a story to create space underneath for a garage and family room.
It’s not clear when they were invented, though a version of a split-level can be found in Sears, Roebuck & Co. home plan books from the 1930s, according to Minnesota architects Robert Gerloff and Jeremiah Battles, who wrote an online guide to renovating splits called “Split Visions.”
“Splits offered a unique separation of social space, with bedrooms perched a half-story above the formal living space and the informal living space found a half-story below,” the authors say. They shake up “the traditional American pattern of formal rooms on the main level with bedrooms upstairs and a full basement below.”
My interpretation: they are a pragmatic American solution in housing that might just rank up there with the ranch house and the McMansion. Such homes take a basic design and develop multiple living levels as well as spaces that can be connected to various degrees (depending on whether walls are fully intact between spaces or levels). They are relatively cheap to build. They are not necessarily aesthetically pleasing; they tend not to evoke traditional architectural styles (making them easy to plop down anywhere) though are usually not ostentatious.
Side note: I spent most of my years growing up in a split-level. I can attest to their advantages, particularly the multiple social spaces. At the same time, I’m not sure I would buy one myself in the future except for the fact that they seem to be cheaper than homes of a similar size.