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Design Focus: Prairie Style

The Prairie design style is uniquely American. It is one of the few that does not have its origins in Scandinavia or Europe. Architectural studies in Prairie design came out of Midwestern America known for its sprawling plains that can accommodate the lifestyle of the families living there. Making its way over to Canada, the style has continued to gain popularity for over a century.

Prairie style rose to prominence in the U.S. under famous master architect Frank Lloyd Wright, around the turn of the 20th century. Wright insisted that Japan’s art and aesthetics, and not its architecture, had most inspired him. He sought to ‘destroy the box’ with the prairie style. Horizontal wood beams and siding were typically intersected by vertical rectangular panels of stone or brick. The style became known as ”Prairie” after Wright published as set of building plans he called “A House in a Prairie Town” in 1901.

It was during this time that the Industrial Revolution was in full swing. The population grew exponentially and so did their wealth and innovation. With the abundance of space and resources, people could now afford a better quality of life. Under that expansion, the Prairie style flourished.

As the style gained acceptance in the early 1900s, the Tudor and Range style influences became evident, with their sweeping horizontal clean lines, low roof and a minimal amount of ornamentation. Although the style is adaptable to other regions, the sprawling wide open spaces effect where traditional meets modern, and its honest, natural appeal is what the style is known for.

WHAT IS PRAIRIE STYLE?

The building form is usually a square plan structure with two levels, a large porch and most times a basement. The prairie style played on its Midwest influences but also blended Japanese elements with the design, which were popular at the time.

Like its Craftsman design cousin, the Prairie style is a descendant ideology that follows a natural continuation. Natural materials are revered, as an homage to the philosophy of purity and artistry, when creating a Prairie home. Its practical, simple approach makes the transition from indoor to outdoor a seamless flow, even as it lends itself to creative interpretation.

Its wide open floor plan provides easy access to almost anywhere in the house, while lending itself to contemporary adjustments. The architecture evolved over time, from handcrafted and meticulous, to include integration into many other styles. Traditionally, overhanging eaves, rows of small windows and sweeping horizontal lines, combined with sturdy materials like wood, stone and brick.

Prairie’s overhanging eaves and hipped roofs fit the trend at that time. However, with newer interpretations of the style, gable roofs became popular. Further contemporization of the style produced hip roofs that appear to be floating, some flat roofs, and many designers began using stucco. Known mainly for its horizontal elements, which included the windows, vertical rectangular panels like stone accents were sometimes introduced by Wright to provide contrast.

TYPICAL FEATURES OF THE PRAIRIE DESIGN

Low pitched roofs: Prairie homes feature low pitched roofs that are usually hipped with wide, boxed shaped overhangs and a horizontal emphasis. They get support from the home’s massive square porch and typically feature clean lines. A general lack of ornamentation and rows of square windows penetrates the design for a clean, simple look.

Overhanging eaves: These are characteristic of the prairie style. These homes typically have shallow pitched hip roofs with large overhangs, extending beyond the side of the building. This is considered both a decorative and practical feature, as it protects the interior from direct sunlight and also gives the home a unique look.

Horizontal lines: Prairie type structures expand along the landscape as opposed to away from it. This feature is the most defining characteristic of the design. Horizontal lines are meant to integrate the structure with the Midwestern landscape. Thin bricks and cantilevers can enhance the effect along with the horizontal bands of windows that mark the style.

Central chimneys: Prairie homes traditionally had asymmetrical floor plans organized around a central stone chimney massing. The hearth was the heart of the home, and the heat transferred easily outward through large open corridors and doorways.

Clerestory windows: The clerestory window serves as the ‘lantern’ to the house and can be a large window or a series of small ones along the top of the building near the roofline. They tend to form geometric patterns and come together to create an openness that frames how the landscape is viewed. The windows allow light and heat in, and fresh air to easily pass through, and prairie houses can be very energy efficient.

PRAIRIE STYLE AESTHETICS

When accessorizing your prairie home, earth tones and organic quality materials support the style best. Adding a futon or tatami mat pays homage to its Japanese ancestry. Other furnishings in the home should be comfortable and support the horizontal lines. Oak is the traditional material used for furniture pieces.

Wright’s vision of modernity utilized built-in furnishings, like cabinets, shelves and benches, avoiding the clutter of eclecticism of the Victorian decor. Long benches, chaise lounges and long coffee tables support the style well.

Natural wood trim is frequently used along the walls and ceilings to add texture. More wood is utilized for the hardwood flooring of these homes. Terracotta tiling and slate are also popular. Add a carpet to enhance the geometric shape or to divide the space. Keep the spaces uncluttered, open and warm.

CANADIAN PRAIRIE

Prairie style became popular in Canada with the help of Canadian architects like Francis Sullivan. The open spaces and plain land that stretches for miles connects with Canadian homemakers, who are often drawn to clean, simple, rustic designs. Provinces like Ontario are well suited for these homes as their plain like landscape is similar to their Midwestern counterpart. The square cornice, flat roof and deep eaves are typical of the Ontario Prairie style home. The style has become a favourite across the country, for those who enjoy large yards or just the feel of a wide open space.

CREATING YOUR PRAIRIE HOME

If you’re thinking of building or incorporating the Prairie style into your home, it’s important to remember that it is largely defined by its horizontal lines, natural wood, overhanging eaves and low ceilings. The unembellished decor should remind you to take a moment to enjoy life’s simpler pleasures.

The stone fireplace is at the heart of the Prairie style house, with its central chimney. Wright’s own designs included a variety of stones, including field stones with wide mortar joints, to tight fit ledgestone. Consider Boral Versetta Stone®, a mortarless, manufactured stone veneer with a unique, panelized design. Ledgestone gives you the rugged texture and purposeful irregularity and exposed, well-worn look that suggests years in the elements. It’s easy to install and very affordable.

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