At the beginning of the 20th century, Frank Lloyd Wright introduced a distinct new architectural style that expressed the flat, sweeping prairie of his native Midwest. Simplicity was the name of the game, combining comfort, utility and beauty in a modern look that was a huge departure from the ornamental Victorian house of the previous century.
Appearing to rise from the earth, these homes blended with the landscape. They were earthy and unique, with a façade that hugged the ground. From 1900 to 1930, the prairie-style home was the fashion trend of the home design world.
“Prairie-style homes are bold and modern,” said Rick McAlexander, CEO of Associated Designs Inc. “They are rich and warm with natural colors that are not only inviting but comforting. It’s hard not to feel welcome in a prairie-style house.”
And while Wright broke with tradition in creating his new design, his classic lines thrive today – with just a few changes, of course.
“Because prairie-style homes don’t dominate the lot, its lower profile appeals to homeowners,” McAlexander said. “It’s also an easier home to build and an easier home to maintain, and with that in mind, homeowners take the general concept of the prairie style and add a few 21st century twists to it.”
Prairie-style homes are predominantly known for their use of natural elements and motifs. Stone, brick, stucco or finished wood is layered horizontally, giving the home linear shadow lines and a rich contrast with bold design elements. A variety of geometric shapes and forms inspired by nature are highlighted through window arrangements, columns, low walls and planters. The prairie design works with the landscape rather than against it, both in the interior and exterior.
The most prominent exterior design element is the roof, which utilizes wider overhangs to help emphasize those horizontal lines. In Associated Designs’ Arrowwood home plan, the hip roof profile draws the eye to the horizontal overhangs while the natural, earthy tones of the materials give it a subtle, simplistic feel. It does indeed blend in with the surrounding landscape. And as with all prairie-style homes, the Arrowwood also features a covered porch and a recessed entry.
“Those same natural materials and simple lines are also seen inside the home,” said McAlexander. “This helps complement that warm exterior.”
Quite often, the living space of prairie-style homes is centered on a living room off of the entry. This open space would be separated from the kitchen and dining areas that include exterior windows and doors that open up to outside living spaces, such as the Arrowwood’s back porch. But that is where the Arrowwood’s similarities end.
“Clients these days are looking to keep the traditional low angles and horizontal lines, but combine those ideas with more modern elements such as glass, transom windows and shed roofs,” said McAlexander. “Inside, the popular great room dominates these modern prairie-style homes.”
The classic, prairie-style home interior had more formal, separated spaces, which gave it a more confined and darker feel despite the warmth of the simple, natural tones. By opening up the interior spaces, the modern prairie home has a more connected floor plan. The Arrowwood’s great room flows into the dining and kitchen areas.
Other updates are more subtle, said McAlexander. For instance, the raised entry roof is not a traditional motif in the prairie style, but it adds interest and character to the front elevation while still retaining those classic horizontal lines. The Arrowwood also incorporates some ranch-style exterior elements such as the wider gables, but the natural stone and wood link back to Wright’s original prairie design.
The interior also has gotten a few modern updates. Fewer people are concerned with matching the interior detail with the exterior, so there’s often more color, more depth and more space, such as vaulted ceilings.
“Prairie-style homes are a popular trend today, but as with all trends, people make adjustments to fit their lifestyle or their interests,” said McAlexander. “This doesn’t mean that Wright’s classic prairie-style home is disappearing. It’s more that even the most traditional of lines can go off on a few tangents with often amazing results.”
And that’s always been the case with home design. Victorian homes gave way to prairie-style simplicity, which in turn was replaced by ranch-style living and so on and so forth. Home trends are constantly changing, and that’s what makes the modern prairie-style home design something that can’t be ignored.