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All About the Prairie-style Home

March 31 2010

All About the Prairie-style Home

The Prairie style for home design is one of the few truly American designs in architecture.  Considered “modern” in style, it is the creation of an organic style by legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. 

The name derived from the publication in 1901, “A Home in a Prairie Town” which Wright designed for the Ladies’ Home Journal.

The sleek horizontal lines and unornamented structural design was ideal for the Midwest as it blended well into the surrounding flat prairie landscape.

Unlike its predecessor, the elaborate and urban Victorian, Prairie homes were deliberately unadorned salt-of-the-earth homes created with natural stones, earth-toned brick, and neutral stucco and masonry. Wood was shown in its natural tones rather than painted. 

The roofs were long and low to the walls of the home, with extended lines to accommodate wider eaves. They were generally made of clay. The hipped roof had four sloping surfaces that meet the frame of the house, rather like a pyramid. 

Gabled roofs were also used, offered two sloping planes, supported at each end by triangular extensions of two walls, note Virginia and Lee McAlester, authors of A Field Guide to American Houses.

The overhanging eaves kept the homes cool in summer, and groups of the distinctive, geometric casement windows brought the outdoors in.

These two-story homes usually featured a one-story wing or porch supported by massive square brick or paneled columns and piers.  Another signature would be the belt course that surrounded the exterior, a horizontal accent that emphasized the long, low lines of the home between the stories. See examples.

The Prairie also featured large open rooms, built-in planters and a central chimney used to divide rooms from one another. Wright was also known to carry his designs into creating furniture for his commissioned homes.  The result was a warm and informal space that was inviting. 

Outstanding examples of Prairie Homes can be found throughout the style’s birthplace of Chicago and parts of Illinois and throughout the Midwest. The Frederic C. Robie House in Chicago, built in 1909 is widely considered to be the finest Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie design. Many wonderful examples still exist and are still being occupied nearly a century later.

Even though the heyday of the Prairie Style home occurred between 1900-1920, the simplicity and practicality of the designs, coupled with the high-quality materials used in construction, makes the Prairie-style home ideal for contemporary homeowners and buyers. 

To help make your Prairie-style home more authentic, keep the following elements in mind:

• Strong, horizontal lines

• Open floor plans

• Fewer, but larger-scale rooms

• Minimal ornamentation

• Large front porches

• Massive central chimney

• Colors of the prairie – dark green, maize, umber, stone

Just as the Prairie style was a backlash against the excesses of the Victorian era, the Prairie style home continues to make a statement – quality over quantity.