Prior to the turn of the 20th century, American architects looked to Europe for inspiration. Then came the Prairie School. Founded in 1893 and most commonly associated with Frank Lloyd Wright, Prairie design was a radical departure from anything seen before and is generally recognized as the first original and uniquely American style of architecture.
Key elements of this innovative concept focused on strong horizontal lines and geometric shapes, low-pitched or flat roofs, minimal ornamentation, overhanging eaves, window placement that capitalized on natural sunlight and ventilation, open, free-flowing floor plans and the use of organic, earthy materials that made the structure seem to blend into—or grow from—the landscape.
Prairie styling flourished until about 1920 and paved the way for subsequent genres from Craftsman to Modern. But Wright’s basic principles of “organic architecture”—simplicity, spaciousness, natural materials and integration of interior spaces with the outdoors—are as evident in today’s Contemporary Prairie home designs as they were then.
In architectural terms, “Contemporary” means “of the moment,” and modern construction techniques and materials have contributed to the resurgence of Prairie styling. For example, elevations can still be one- or two-story, but walkout lower levels now allow for additional square footage and further extension of the living space to the surrounding environment. Side-entry garages also permit attached vehicle storage without disrupting the home’s clean, horizontal planes.
The emphasis, however, remains on shallow rooflines, overhanging eaves and/or cantilevers and natural exterior materials. Wood, stone and brick are typical, but stucco and even siding can be incorporated. Interior layouts continue to be simple, open and asymmetric with tall or ribbon windows, built-in cabinetry and often a centrally located fireplace. Designed for comfort and convenience, Contemporary Prairie versions are well-suited to open island kitchens and can also include more traditional private spaces, such as a study or sunroom.
As for interior décor, the trend is still minimal with limited use of color and very little pattern or ornamentation. Nevertheless, today’s designs blend well with various styles of furnishings, from transitional to modern, particularly those in natural textiles, earth tones, stone and glass. Japanese-inspired accents, vintage art-glass windows and lighting fixtures, and geometric, botanical and Southwestern motifs are consistent with the Prairie vibe, as well.
Whether you’re in the market for a modestly-sized or luxury home, Contemporary Prairie styling offers the perfect backdrop—elegant in its simplicity and easily adaptable to a wide range of aesthetic preferences.