What Is Prairie Style Homes? Everything You Need to Know
Built from the ‘ground up’, the Prairie style was a short-lived sensation that influences architecture even today. Prairie-style architecture is a homage to the surrounding environment. The Prairie-Style homes were highly functional, open and free-flowing spaces. It emerged in America as a response to the seemingly excessive Victorian architecture. Architects were tired of archaic European styles and wanted something fresh and, well, ‘American’.
Prairie style raised questions like, ‘Why do we need excessive decoration that is not functional?’, and ‘Why are industrial products taking the upper hand over hand-crafted products?’
The architectural style focused on minimalist and efficient spaces that reflected their surrounding landscape.
What inspired the Prairie style? What are the characteristic features of a Prairie-style house? What is it like inside a Prairie-style house? How can I make my home Prairie style?
If you are wondering about any of these, you have come to the right place. To start with, let’s understand why a house is called a “Prairie”.
- What Makes a House “Prairie”? | Characteristics of the Praire Style
- Top 6 Defining Features of the Prairie Style Houses
- When Did Houses Become “Praire”? | Story of the Prairie-Style Homes
- Interesting Facts on the Prairie-Style Homes
- Inside a Prairie-Style Home
- A Prairie-Style House, Today
What Makes a House “Prairie”? | Characteristics of the Praire Style
As the name suggests, Prairie-style houses blend with the flat, open landscape of the prairie grasslands in the midwest US. They are “married to the ground”– spread out horizontally, rather than seeming to be reaching for the heavens.
Prairie houses are usually built with wood, stucco, rustic brick, and stone– materials that look and feel close to nature. They usually have a flat roof with minimal pitch, overhanging eaves, and low-profile exteriors composed of flat lines and planes.
Inside the house, there is plenty of open space adorning handmade crafts like decorative woodwork, stained glass, built-in fixtures etc. But unlike the Arts & Crafts movement, these decorations are not flaunted for their aesthetic complexity, but rather subtly incorporated into the features of the house.
It is not just the house that blends with nature– the dwellers inside make a connection with the environment as well. The house is designed from the inside out, sprawling across the surrounding landscape. Large windows flood the interiors with sunlight while offering views of the outdoors.
Top 6 Defining Features of the Prairie Style Houses
Prairie-style homes distinguish themselves from the contemporary Art Deco style through their horizontality. The Prairie-style homes spread out horizontally, with gutter spouts and other vertical elements hidden from view. Even the Cantievers were flat, long and horizontal.
2. Open Floor Plan
In Prairie-Style house plans, the living area was often in an open plan with dining. Only the kitchen was hidden from view. The open-plan living usually resided on the first floor. The ‘free-flowing’ characteristic of the Prairie homes was not limited to the threshold between inside and outside. The Interior volumes were free-flowing as well.
3. Handmade Decor
Influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, the Prairie style revived the handmade crafts from before the industrial revolution. These homes incorporated many hand-wrought woodworks and art glass incorporated into the structure.
Excessive details were avoided, with most of the furniture built-in and windows used to frame natural scenes as large canvases. These features also prevented new owners from adding excessive features to the homes.
4. Simple and Natural
The Prairie style houses used only simple, natural-looking woodwork. The smooth pattern of wood bands complemented the woodwork and accentuated the fine grains of the wood.
5. Full-Height Windows
The Prairie-style houses often featured windows that climbed up from the floor to the ceiling. They included art glass and other features that seemed like art forms.
6. Flowing inside-Out
Prairie-style houses are designed from the inside out, instead of creating floor plans based on the exterior layout. This is reflected in the flow of spaces, which was from inside to the outside.
When Did Houses Become “Praire”? | Story of the Prairie-Style Homes
1871 witnessed The Great Chicago Fire that devastated the city of Chicago. From the ashes of this tragedy emerged the opportunity for architects to define a new language of American architecture.
Shortly after, at The World’s fair in Chicago in 1893, the majority of the designs were Classic Revival. The young architects at the expo found the European styles archaic, excessive, gaudy and outdated. They wanted something simple and natural.
It was around this time that Frank Lloyd Wright, along with a group of young architects, started ‘The New School of the Mid-West’. They aimed to design an ‘American house’ by ‘marrying the building to the ground.’
In 1901, the Ladie’s Home Journal published an article on Wright’s “A Home in a Prairie Town”. The design reflected the prairie grasslands in their appearance, as an extension of the landscape. The low, wide terraces accentuated the character of harmony and calm. It was designed as a quadruple block at different angles, thus perceiving privacy with one another.
The New School of Midwest led to the first ‘truly American’ architecture movement: the Prairie Style. This new design style, inspired by the flat lands of the midwest, comprised modern and simple buildings to suit modern American living. The focus lay on functionality and openness, rather than the lavish adornments characteristic of the European era.
Interesting Facts on the Prairie-Style Homes
1. The Prairie Style Was Inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement
After the industrial revolution, the impoverishment of the decorative arts inspired the Art and Crafts movement in Europe and America. This movement inspired architects of The New School of Midwest for designing the Prairie style. The style incorporated refined craftsmanship as one of its core principles.
2. Prairie Style inspired Modern Architecture
It was in the Prairie-style homes that we first noticed modern ideas of open planning and “form follows function”. Large, flat planes, open interiors and large windows were refined as building elements in this style.
3. The Prairie Style Houses Still Exist!
The Prairie School did not survive for long; only till World War I. But It did have a lasting influence over the other styles of modern architecture. Many Prairie-style homes, most of them the works of Wright, have been turned into museums. Some of the original ones remain as private residences spread across the suburb of Oak Park in Chicago.
Inside a Prairie-Style Home
The most striking feature inside a Prairie-style home was a combined living and dining on the first floor. Interior themes were inspired by nature and raw, natural materials. These materials were automatically accentuated against the simple woodwork.
A large central fireplace was the defining feature of the Prairie style, with in-built furniture. Full-height windows for allowing huge amounts of natural light to the interiors were also common.
A Prairie-Style House, Today
Although the Prairie style of architecture lived only for a short while, it had an ever-lasting impact on American architecture. Contemporary buildings are adorned with many design elements rooted in the Prairie style– open floor plans, minimalist designs, natural materials, low-profile rooflines, seamless indoor-outdoor living, and large windows with ambient natural light.
The short-lived Prairie style of the 20th Century was meant to be innovative and uniquely American. It was a refreshing break from the mass-produced industrial aesthetic that became the characteristic of European and American architecture in the late 19th Century. The modern Prairie-style homes were new and innovative and introduced the modern ideals of open-plan living while reviving hand-made crafts that dwindled from the threat of a new industrial aesthetic.
Prairie-style homes are focused on the horizontal rather than vertical. They have a shallow roof, rows of windows, and wood or brick across the surfaces.
FL Wright published building plans called “A house in a Prairie Town”. The name caught on and emerged as the “Prairie Style”.
Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House is perhaps the most iconic example of the Prairie Style. It was designed in 1910 as a single-family home, renowned today as a prominent example of the ‘uniquely American’ architecture.
Horizontality, to harmonise with flat prairie lands.
Windows assembled in horizontal lines.
The modern prairie style replaces the industrial elements in a farmhouse with primitive ones– wood-burning stoves, rough-hewn beams, and baskets hanging on the wall.