Lighter look for Prairie Style

June 29, 2008|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES

We recently purchased an 80-year-old house that needs a lot of interior renovation. Can you give us some guidelines on how to proceed? The real estate agent described the house as an example of the Prairie Style. We're not sure what that means, but there's plenty of dark oak on the walls and floors, which we may not want to retain.

To identify one's needs and wishes - both aesthetic and functional - it's essential to be aware of a home's architectural style. Such an understanding will help in deciding what design direction to follow ... or to depart from.

An Internet search engine will quickly allow you to learn that the Prairie Style emerged from the American Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It appeared first in the Midwest - thus the reference to the prairie.

The style features heavily timbered construction while exhibiting a certain simplicity. It's achieved not by means of light and airy interiors but on the basis of large-scale furnishings and the use of handcrafted natural materials.

Frank Lloyd Wright was considered a Prairie Style architect even though his highly styled designs were influenced more by the Japanese pavilion house than by the stone-and-timber composition of traditional prairie homes.

Given today's emphasis on sustainability and organic materials, it's interesting to note that the designs of many early-20th century American homes were based on the same principles.

Walls, columns and floors made of dark-stained oak are typical of the Prairie Style and, apparently, of your own home. But that look doesn't necessarily have to be preserved in your renovations. It's just good to know the base you'll be adding to or subtracting from.

Houses in this style often have been renovated with compatible materials while still achieving a lighter look. And if you do decide to keep your home's Prairie Style interior more or less intact, I recommend that you consult with an architect or interior designer who can help you make appropriate choices.

Some useful reference points can be found in a Taunton Press book by Treena Crochet titled Bungalow Style. Crochet defines the bungalow as a modest version of the more architecturally ambitious Arts and Crafts home. And because of its simple design and small scale, the bungalow does have similarities to the prairie home.

The photo above shows how one room in a house of this sort can be renovated to suit contemporary lifestyles while remaining faithful to the original interior design. The space was refitted to work as a home office that features millwork and simplified Arts and Crafts details in the cabinetry. The wall light and chair are also in keeping with the spirit of this style.

Rita St. Clair is a Baltimore-based interior designer. Readers with interior design questions can e-mail her at rsca@ritastclair.com.

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