Prairie Style Architecture

 Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House, built in 1909 in Chicago, is considered a masterpiece of Prairie School architecture. Photo:  https://flwright.org/visit/robiehouse

Frank Lloyd Wright's Robie House, built in 1909 in Chicago, is considered a masterpiece of Prairie School architecture. Photo: https://flwright.org/visit/robiehouse

Prairie School architecture developed as a consciously and authentically American design style in the late 19th and early 20th century, with roots in Chicago and the Midwest. Pioneered by young designers including Louis H. Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, the style was concerned with solid, sincere craftsmanship and a harmonious integration with nature, created by echoing the landscape with horizontal and organic lines.

The mother art is architecture. Without an architecture of our own we have no soul of our own civilization.
— Frank Lloyd Wright

Although singularly American, Prairie style does share many of the design philosophies and ideals of the Arts & Crafts movement, including a focus on simplicity and handcrafting as a reaction against mass production and assembly lines. Prairie homes are intentionally wide and low to reflect the American landscape, which was viewed as more open and undeveloped compared to the crowded European cities. Wright and his contemporaries wanted it to feel as though the home grew from its environment naturally.

 Prairie style features:   - Strong horizontal emphasis, goal of integrating the home with nature in an organic manner    - Prominent central chimney    - Clerestory windows for natural light, and casement windows arranged in bands    - Stylized, built-in cabinetry    - Leaded or nature themed stained glass windows    - Open floor plans with airy flow    - Widespread use of natural stone and local wood    - Ranch style is common, as are two-story homes with single story wings

Prairie style features:

- Strong horizontal emphasis, goal of integrating the home with nature in an organic manner

- Prominent central chimney

- Clerestory windows for natural light, and casement windows arranged in bands

- Stylized, built-in cabinetry

- Leaded or nature themed stained glass windows

- Open floor plans with airy flow

- Widespread use of natural stone and local wood

- Ranch style is common, as are two-story homes with single story wings

No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other.
— Frank Lloyd Wright

This style features flat or hipped roofs with broad, overhanging eaves and windows assembled in horizontal bands. Interiors reflect the same principles, with earthy color palettes, along with fixtures and furniture that are often custom crafted. Prairie homes evoke a sense of peace and tranquility, with open floor plans and plenty of natural light. Ornamentation is minimal and thoughtful, with leaded windows and stained glass featuring geometric nature motifs of, for example, stalks of wheat, wildflowers, or trees. In taking its cues from nature, the Prairie home is effortlessly timeless and balanced, and this style translates beautifully to any era.

Which Architectural Home Style is Best for You?

There’s plenty to think about when designing your home—location, how many levels, square footage, materials—but one of the most fun can be choosing an architectural style (or combination of styles) that speaks to you.

Architectural Style Rocky Mountain Plan Company

You’ve probably had a vision of what your dream home would look like since you were a child. Did it have soaring ceilings with timber trusses? A wraparound porch with rocking chairs? Expansive windows and clean lines? Turrets and balconies? Architecture can and should affect us on an emotional level, and it’s worth it to take your time and find out what design elements bring you joy and fit your lifestyle and priorities. 

In the past, residential architecture followed regional and historical trends for the most part, but homeowners today can more freely blend and combine styles for a custom fit. When planning your own home, Pinterest and Houzz can be great resources to start gathering images and ideas you like in order to find a style or a blend that is uniquely you.

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be taking a deeper look at the history of some of the most popular residential styles in America, including the details and hallmarks that gave each it’s signature charm and appeal. We hope you’ll join us!

Also, keep in mind that the talented team of home designers and drafters at Rocky Mountain Plan Company can take any of our floor plans and come up with a re-designed exterior to suit your preferred architectural style. Get in touch if you would like to discuss changes to any plan.

Want more architectural style ideas? Follow Rocky Mountain Plan Company on Pinterest and Houzz.

Building with Wildfire Resilience in Mind

This guest blog appears courtesy of LGA Studios

There’s so much to think about when building your home, but structural stability is one of the most critical considerations. Fortunately, this is also an area of continuous advancement in the building industry, the result of lessons sometimes learned the hard way through natural disasters, whether they be fires, flooding, wind, or earthquakes. In our Rocky Mountain region, the most common trial has been wildfires. 

Given the hot, dry summers and occasional gusty high winds—capable of carrying embers for miles in the right conditions—many states including Colorado and California remain in constant danger of home-threatening wildfires. 

Because the annual threat of wildfires isn’t going away anytime soon, it’s worth it to look at ways to mitigate risks and to rebuild smarter, making use of hard-fought knowledge and new technology.

In this blog, we take a look at how our local Colorado Springs community has been learning and improving our city’s code following a series of devastating wildfires.

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In 2002, the Hayman Fire destroyed 133 homes outside of Colorado Springs, rapidly covering 19 miles in just one day out of a three week burn period. After that fire, the city banned wood-shake roofs for all new homes and re-roofs, a major step forward in making home construction more resilient. But dense vegetation can be a major concern as well, particularly underbrush and trees with low limbs that aren’t pruned back, and with the amount of flying embers a fire can produce, limiting or regularly clearing dense, dry vegetation can provide critical defensible space and prevent fires from spreading to engulf blocks of homes.

The Waldo Canyon fire in 2012 ravaged 346 Colorado Springs homes in mere hours, completely destroying entire neighborhoods in the Mountain Shadows area. Only a year later, in 2013, Colorado Springs was hit by yet another wildfire—the Black Forest fire—which burned 500 structures.

Immediately after the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire was contained, Colorado Springs Fire Marshal Brett Lacey assembled a task force of builders and homeowners to amend the city’s fire code, resulting in “Appendix K,” an amendment specifically aimed at keeping communities and first responders safer. This included requiring “Firewise” vegetation management techniques in the burn area, as well as increasing the number of fire-resistant construction details in rebuilt homes.

Concrete decks, stucco and stone finishes, and minimal, well-maintained vegetation all contribute to wildfire resilience.

In terms of style and curb appeal, fire-resistant finishes have long been favored in Colorado, with many clients already opting for the low-maintenance appeal of stucco and stone. Colorado also has notoriously awful hailstorms, meaning fiberglass shingles and concrete tile have been used over less durable wood shakes for many years now. 

When designing your home, think about ways to make it more resilient, more eco-friendly and lower-maintenance. More often than not, these traits will go hand in hand and will complement each other, giving you a home you can enjoy for many years to come.

APPENDIX K SPECIFICATIONS FOR IGNITION-RESISTANT BUILDINGS

These specifications come from Colorado Springs’s Appendix K, summarized expertly in Ted Cushman’s article “Living with Wildfire” in the September 2017 issue of The Journal of Light Construction. LGA Studios worked extensively with many homeowners who lost their homes in Mountain Shadows and Black Forest, designing homes that are up to the new code. One of the home building contractors LGA Studios works with is Andy Stauffer, who was interviewed in the article.

ROOFS: Appendix K requires Class A roof systems. The Class A rating is based on laboratory testing of roof assemblies, in which a large criss-cross lattice of burning wood is placed on the roof covering and allowed to burn out. The material passes if the sheathing is not ignited. Clay tile, concrete tile, slate, and metal roofing typically comply, as do most fiberglass asphalt shingles.

ATTIC VENTS: Roof vents have to be screened with wire mesh or hardware cloth, with openings no larger than 1/8 inch. The 1/8-inch opening size is typical of all the well-known wildland-urban interface codes. According to wildfire expert Steven Quarles, who helped craft California’s wildfire code before joining the Insurance Institute for Building and Home Safety (IBHS), an insurance industry think tank, 1/8 inch is a compromise. While the mesh may let small sparks through, it will hold out the bigger embers that carry the most heat. At the same time, the holes are big enough that they’re less likely than finer mesh to become plugged with paint or dirt over many years in service.

EAVES AND SOFFITS: Soffits and fascia should be built with ignition-resistant material such as fiber cement or metal. Decorative features like false rafter tails are allowed to be made of wood or other combustible materials, but the fire service strongly urges builders to choose ignition-resistant options whenever possible.

GUTTERS: The big risk posed by gutters isn’t the gutters themselves, but the flammable materials, such as leaves and pine needles, that accumulate in them and that can readily catch fire when windblown embers land there. When that happens, vinyl gutters typically melt and fall off, posing a risk of ignition at the base of the house. Metal gutters stay in place, which allows burning debris to ignite the exposed edges of roof sheathing.

Appendix K doesn’t require debris screens over gutters, but the fire service cautions homeowners that gutters should be kept clear of combustible materials. Appendix K does require roof sheathing and framing to be protected against ignition by metal flashing at the roof’s edge that extends down into the gutter. In the case of vinyl gutters, the rule requires noncombustible ground covering, such as stone, at the base of the wall where flaming gutters might fall.

CLADDING AND SIDING: Exterior cladding in the wildfire-prone area must be ignition-resistant. Approved materials include fiber cement, stucco, masonry, and manufactured stone. Natural wood, hardboard, and vinyl are prohibited.

OVERHANGS AND PROJECTIONS: The exposed undersides of building projections such as bay windows are vulnerable to ignition from burning vegetation or accumulating embers. Appendix K requires these surfaces to be protected with the same type of material that is approved for wall cladding.

EXTERIOR DOORS: Appendix K requires doors to be noncombustible or, if wood, to have solid cores at least 1 3/4 inches thick. Any glass in the door must be either tempered safety glass or multilayered glazing, with one exception: Front entry doors are allowed to incorporate decorative single-pane glass.

WINDOWS: Windows must be dual-pane. Research has shown that dual-glazed windows can survive intense radiant heat in a wildfire (typically, outer panes crack and break while inner panes survive). Tempered glass has proven to be the best performer in practice, as well as in laboratory testing. Wildfire expert Steven Quarles points out that even before wildfire codes began to take effect, code has required tempered glass for certain windows, such as windows close to the floor or next to stairs. So most window companies have had no difficulty making dual-glazed tempered options available where needed to make a home ignition-resistant.

DECKS: Brush and trees near a deck can readily set it on fire, as can combustible material such as firewood stored under a deck. Windblown embers can also ignite a deck, but in the Waldo Canyon fire and other fires, composite decking proved less likely to ignite than wood decking, which tends to split and crack and catch hot embers. Appendix K requires ignition-resistant or noncombustible material for decking, but allows wood framing for the deck structure.

BASE OF WALLS: Embers piling up against a house can set the exposed bottom edge of wall sheathing on fire, even if the cladding is noncombustible. Appendix K requires wall bases to be protected with fire caulking (or 1/8-inch wire hardware cloth, if weep holes are needed). Full-scale laboratory research at IBHS has shown that a 6-inch separation between combustible siding and the ground is enough clearance to sharply reduce the risk of fire from embers at the base of the wall.

For more on wildfire resilience, see Living With Wildfire, from The Journal of Light Construction.

For further inspiration, you can also learn about the specific materials chosen and steps taken at the Getty Center in Los Angeles that ensured the priceless art held there remained perfectly safe as the recent Skirball Fire raged less than a mile away: Why the Getty Center's Art Stayed Put as Fires Raged Nearby, from The New York Times.

Photo by Michael Held on Unsplash

Featured Plan of the Month - Luna Lake

Luna Lake
5.00

LUNA LAKE MINI STUDY SET

  • 5260 Square Feet
  • Ranch Plan
  • Foot Print: 137’ x 90’ 
  • Main Level: 5260 Square Feet
  • 4 bedrooms · 4.5 bathrooms

LUNA LAKE WAS DESIGNED BY DEL DOTY DESIGNS

Please note that the square footage for a ranch plan reflects the main level only. Square footage for a two story plan reflects the main and upper levels only. Lower level square footage is considered optional.

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We've been writing this month about the health and happiness benefits that come from choosing a home with some degree of outdoor living space, so we've selected Luna Lake as September's Featured Plan of the Month! Please enjoy this Mini Study Set, yours free to download for this month only.

Luna Lake is a true high-roller estate, enveloping your family in comfort and luxury, and entertaining your guests with flash and substance. Luna Lake would be right at home in the Sun Belt, with its beautiful Spanish architectural style and glamorous outdoor living space, including a large covered patio for entertaining with evening cocktails, and a crystal clear pool for cooling off from the desert heat.

Don't miss out on future deals and Featured Plans from Rocky Mountain Plan Company! Join our monthly newsletter to have great homes like this one delivered right to your inbox: http://eepurl.com/GCtfv

The Enduring Appeal of Courtyards

A courtyard, simply stated, is a fully or partially enclosed area that is open to the sky. Courtyards have a long architectural history, with examples found as far back as 6400 BCE in the Jordan Valley, and the reasons for their enduring appeal are obvious. Courtyard homes satisfy the human needs for security and retreat while bringing the restorative power of nature to your daily life in a soothing, intimate manner.

 Dating back many thousands of years, the original purpose for courtyards seems to be as a cooking area, allowing for both privacy through containment behind walls and for smoke to escape from cooking over open flame. As is still true today with modern kitchens, this made the cooking area a gathering space for friends and family from the very beginning. 

By the time of the ancient Romans, courtyards were often used to entertain, still through shared meals, but now with hosted parties and traveling musicians. This ultimately led to the notion of what we think of as a royal “court” a term that takes its most basic meaning from the trusted friends and allies who would gather in a royal courtyard.

 The Courtyard of the Maidens at the Alcázar of Seville  By Cat from Sevilla, Spain - Patio de las Doncellas, CC BY 2.0

The Courtyard of the Maidens at the Alcázar of Seville

By Cat from Sevilla, Spain - Patio de las Doncellas, CC BY 2.0

The sprawling, sumptuous courtyards of royalty and the elite are bound to impress any visitor, but courtyards can provide just as much peace and calm on a much smaller, more personal scale when designed as a central feature of your home.

 The Courtyard of Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is the heart and soul of the museum, showing off everything Isabella loved most and conveying her aesthetic in a harmonious, light-filled space. It is at the center of the museum, visible from nearly every gallery space, and features an ancient Roman sculpture garden, a medieval European cloister, and a Renaissance Venetian canal-scape along with a stunning garden filled with flowers that change to reflect the season.

The Courtyard of Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is the heart and soul of the museum, showing off everything Isabella loved most and conveying her aesthetic in a harmonious, light-filled space. It is at the center of the museum, visible from nearly every gallery space, and features an ancient Roman sculpture garden, a medieval European cloister, and a Renaissance Venetian canal-scape along with a stunning garden filled with flowers that change to reflect the season.

Courtyards are a lovely way to bring a shared sense of serenity to your home, particularly because the walls and windows of many rooms form its enclosure. That means, for example, that you will be able to enjoy your sun filled sanctuary as a view from your office, your bedroom, and your family room, allowing you to enjoy nature and the changing seasons in your daily life.

Courtyards are a particularly common feature in Italian, Spanish, French, and Moroccan style homes, given the fact that outdoor living spaces have always been prevalent in temperate climates like the Mediterranean region, but they are just as lovely in more wintry environments as well. There are few things in life more serene than snow falling gently on an enclosed Zen garden.

Truly, the beautiful thing about courtyards and all outdoor living spaces is how they can be customized to your preferred style and scale. To see what this looks like on a floor plan, check out our petite Douglas Fir, or take a look at Cottonwood Lake’s contemporary ease. You may connect with the Tuscan warmth of Yampa River, Castle Lake’s French Country charm, or prefer the larger scale of Flint Lake with its dual courtyards.

We’re in the process of updating our website right now and adding our full collection of plans, but you can still see our extensive offerings here or browse through the pages of The Complete Home Collection, available on Amazon