Modern prairie home.

Prairie Style Architecture: A Complete Guide

Sidney Richardson4-Minute Read
February 01, 2022

Whether you’re looking to buy a house or you’re just a fan of architecture, it probably goes without saying that there are many different styles of homes out there. Colonial, contemporary, ranch, cottage and Craftsman are just a few you may have heard of. One style that you may not be so familiar with is the prairie style home.

Homes with prairie-style architecture are very unique and highly sought after, thanks to their origin with legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Read on to learn more about this style of architecture and how it has inspired many homes today.

History Of Prairie-Style Architecture

Though the name of this style of home might lead you to believe it originated in an expansive grassy field somewhere, prairie homes actually originated in the city of Chicago in the early 20th century. Prairie-style architecture was born in Oak Park, a Chicago-area village where Frank Lloyd Wright worked from his original studio. Wright became famous for the unique organic architecture style that he brought to all of his designs and projects. He believed in creating harmony between human creations and nature with his work, which is a key element of his prairie style.

Wright’s prairie style was created with the help of architects he worked alongside in Chicago in the early 1900s such as George Elmslie, George Washington Maher, Dwight Perkins and many more. This group of architects was inspired by Wright’s organic architecture and the arts and crafts movement, which was a rejection of the building styles of the industrial revolution and the excessiveness of Victorian style homes. The group’s style became known as “The Prairie School” of architecture.

Unlike the other homes of the time, prairie-style homes were very flat to the ground and open concept, focused mainly around a central living area. Inspired by the Midwestern prairie, they incorporated a flowing space and were made with natural materials like brick, stucco and wood. They also typically contained massive walls made entirely of windows that filled these homes with natural light.

Famous Prairie Houses

Of all the prairie-style homes that Wright and his associates would create over the 7 decades of his career, here are a few of the most well-known.

Frank Lloyd Wright's home outside Madison Wisconsin.
  • Taliesin Home: The Taliesin home (pictured above) is best known as the home of Frank Lloyd Wright. Set on an expansive estate in southwestern Wisconsin, Wright would test new architectural ideas in valley surrounding his home. Interested architecture enthusiasts can tour the home, estate and even some of the highlights on the property.
  • Frank W. Thomas House: This was the first prairie-style home that Wright designed in Oak Park. His inspiration for the home was a blooming flower, which he expressed throughout the home with floral motifs.
  • Frederick C. Robie House: The Frederick C. Robie house is one of Wright’s most famous designs and is considered the best example of the prairie style. It’s located on the campus of the University of Chicago and is now a National Historic Landmark.
  • Arthur Heurtley House: This is another home built in Oak Park. It is one of the first prairie-style homes built in Chicago following the Frank W. Thomas House.

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Characteristics Of Prairie-Style Homes

All prairie-style homes share a few key characteristics that differentiate them from other styles of homes.

  • Typically built between 1900 and 1910: Though prairie-style and prairie-style-inspired homes were built after this initial time period, most of Wright’s authentic prairie-style homes that he designed himself were built during this decade before they fell off in popularity.
  • Hipped roofs: All prairie-style homes share long, hipped roofs that typically overhang beyond the structure, sometimes for multiple feet.
  • Wide and central chimneys: Since there was a large focus on the central living area being the heart of the space, prairie homes almost always contain a large central chimney and fireplace.
  • Use of organic materials: Prairie-style homes were built using natural materials and incorporated plenty of natural motifs in their individual designs as well. The homes themselves were often earth-toned and themed around a single natural object such as a flower, leaf or a branch.
  • Open floor plan: Most homes in the early 20th century were boxy and had many small rooms. Prairie-style homes broke this pattern and tended to have one big open-concept room on the first floor.
  • Connected indoor/outdoor spaces: A key focus of prairie-style architecture was that it flowed naturally from indoors to outdoors. The interior and outdoor spaces were connected seamlessly and designed to blend into each other, unlike other homes of the time which were designed from the outside in.
  • Built-in furniture and restricted use of ornamentation: Wright disliked the decor of Victorian era homes and shied away from using art unrelated to the theme of the home. The decor in prairie-style homes was simple, understated and built into the house, intended to complement the natural theme of the home. Furniture and even lights were often custom designed by Wright himself and laid out in a precise and planned design. Rather than anything extravagant, Wright leaned on horizontal lines and simple motifs to express his architectural ideas.

 

Prairie-Style House Vs. Craftsman-Style House: What’s The Difference?

At the beginning of the 1900s, Craftsman style homes took influence from a lot of the same places as prairie houses, leading to a lot of overlap between the two architectural styles. These two types of houses have their fair share of differences as well, however.

Craftsman-style homes were born around the same time as prairie homes at the turn of the 20th century. Like prairie homes, they were handcrafted, took inspiration from nature, and used a lot of muted earth tones in their designs. These homes also often featured an open floor plan and large fireplace in the main living area, like their counterpart prairie homes. Roofs with overhanging eaves are also a shared feature between these two homes, though prairie-style roofs tend to extend outward farther than the eaves of a Craftsman home.

Craftsman houses are still very popular today, and prairie homes are actually now considered by some to be a subcategory of the Craftsman style. Craftsman houses are more accessible than the few coveted prairie-style homes that wind up changing owners year after year and don’t abide by as many design restrictions. There are several different types of Craftsman-style homes, including prairie style, mission revival, four square and bungalowYour typical Craftsman home is made of wood, stone or brick and features multipane windows, tapered columns, a screened-in or covered porch and typically some form of built-in furniture like a window seat. You can find them across the country.

Modern Prairie-Style Homes And House Hunting

If you’re in love with the prairie house style, the bad news is that it can be nearly impossible to find genuine prairie-style homes for sale. Since there were a limited number of them constructed by Frank Lloyd Wright (and his associates and apprentices), they sell very quickly and often for ridiculously high prices thanks to their history and relative rarity. When these homes are listed for sale, they’re often shared on social media or by news sites – but usually never with first-time home buyer-friendly price tags.

Another problem with purchasing these homes today is that they are very old and often require significant upgrades or renovations. If you’re not willing to pay over a million dollars for one of these on top of funding potential renovations, you still have options, however. There are plenty of Craftsman-style homes that you can find similar to the prairie style with much friendlier asking prices. If you really want a home that’s faithful to the prairie style, you could also build one yourself – which may be cheaper than buying a home, depending on where you’re building and buying.

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The Bottom Line

Prairie-style homes are a form of Craftsman home pioneered by Frank Lloyd Wright at the beginning of the 20th century. Though these homes are rare and difficult to get your hands on as a home-buyer, you can find homes inspired by this iconic style across the country.

Ready to kickstart your search for the perfect home? Talk to an expert at Rocket HomesSM today to get started.

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Sidney Richardson

Sidney Richardson is an intern writer covering homeownership, mortgage and lifestyle topics. She is a senior at Oakland University pursuing a degree in journalism and advertising.