The Wright Style

Published: May 24, 2019

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright is known for founding several building styles, but the prairie style was his first claim to fame. Built mainly in the Midwest, these homes were generally two-story structures that used elements like gently sloping roofs, heavy-set chimneys, overhangs and natural materials.

This type of construction inspired many other architects, such as Russell Barr Williamson, who was an associate of Wright’s. After leaving Wright’s firm and beginning his own, Williamson designed and built prairie-style homes in Milwaukee. Christine Chambliss of locally-based Deep River Partners took on the challenge of outfitting one of these houses for the modern cook while still honoring its architectural legacy.

Problematic Geometry
Typical of mid-century homes, the original kitchen was separated from the dining room and the rest of the house. The space itself was also undersized and compartmentalized, and the adjacent dining area was cramped and awkward.

“Our goal was to create an open and inviting kitchen that could act as the center of activity in the home,” said Chambliss, adding that the homeowners are gourmet cooks who wanted to invite their guests into their kitchen.

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One of the characteristics – and challenges – of renovating this type of home is the number of wall angles and atypical structures in the space. The ceiling was low and varied in height by about a foot throughout, which was how the architect delineated different areas of use. To maintain the home’s original exterior, the design team could not alter the flat roof to raise and even the ceilings. Instead they opened the entire area up by removing the divisive walls but kept the ceiling height and the geometric shape of the floor plan.

The low ceiling was mitigated by a dimmable LED light panel above the island, which lies close to the ceiling and does not add any shadows to the kitchen. LED lighting installed in the dropped coves makes the different ceiling heights appear intentional and polished.

Dividing & Connecting the Space
Of the many walls and partitions in the original, only two partitions were kept in the new design. 

“These partitions acted to define the dining, sitting and cooking areas while still allowing connections among the spaces, as well as incorporating the geometric elements of the home,” said Chambliss, adding that they used ArchiCAD to design this project.

The prairie style was often built with a fireplace at the heart of the home where the family could gather. In keeping with this, the designer used a fireplace as one of the two partitions between the kitchen and sitting room.

“The fireplace added a wonderful focal point to the house,” she said. “The hearth both separates the spaces of the kitchen wing and brings them together.”

The other partition in the space – a decorative wall between the main kitchen and dining area – boasts an unusual modern touch: steel mesh panels with interior color-changing LEDs. Grazing the mesh to highlight its texture, the color of these lights can be easily changed, though the clients prefer the turquoise because it blends with the exterior of the home.

Organic Touches
Since the prairie style is characterized by natural and simple elements, Chambliss contrasted the modern lit panels with materials like rustic stone, cypress wood and quartz. Quartz is used in the kitchen on the countertops and backsplash, where they contrast the dark colors of the cabinetry. Done in walnut with flat panels and simple hardware, the cabinets allude to the organic feel and horizontal lines of the style.

The quartz is also repeated on a lower part of the island that features a sink and serves as a prep area. An additional raised stone countertop overlaps the quartz for bar dining. Done in a curvy shape that contrasts the lowered countertop’s angles, this section provides for entertaining and brings another natural element to the space.

“The shape of the island relates to the geometry of the house, maximizes work space and allows people working at it to interact with people sitting at the bar,” said Chambliss.

Source List

Designer/Architect: Christine Chambliss, Deep River Partners Builder: Timber Innovations Photographer: Ryan Hainey

Countertop: Terrazzo & Marble Supply Co. Dishwasher: Bosch Faucet & Sink: Kohler Floor Tile: ABK Hardware: Top Knobs Hood, Range Top, Steam Oven & Wall Oven: Wolf Refrigeration: Sub-Zero

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