Prairie style colors, Craftsman interior colors

Prairie style colors, Craftsman interior colors

Creating a Prairie Style Interior

General overview of Prairie Interior Colors

Coming soon these topics:

Finally, we get to decorating…

Let’s first start with the overall color schemes. Having started in the Midwest, the Prairie School of design dealt with four seasons of weather. Green leaves and grass in the spring and summer. Pops of red, yellow, whites and blue colors in flowers spring through fall. Browns and grays of tree trunks and soil, with oranges and beige tints to the clay. Deep plums, burgundy, fire reds, oranges, ochre, amber, and golds of the leaves and plants in the fall. An earthen palette to calm the psyche and delight the eyes.

Floors, Walls, and Trim

In bringing in the earth tones, many of the floor coverings were initially the colors found on the ground. Browns, grays, wheat-tones, as the fields, (backgrounds of rugs) and the pop of the different greens, rusts, reds, oranges as though leaves and flowers lay or grow from the ground. Wood tones of medium to dark brown. Tiles of deep rusts and terra cotta from the clay. These colors form the base and lower portions of a Prairie interior.

Walls and ceilings were well banded with wood trim. The architects were not fans of hanging pictures on the walls. Some designed special print tables for viewing artwork. They also would specify a rough skim coat on the plaster walls. The surface felt like it contained “sand” which gave the walls a textured look and feel. More importantly, it did not allow for the hanging of wallpaper! (More on wallpaper later) Often the final coat of plaster had a color tint specified. Ochres, golden browns, cream tones, and other various shades of greens were often used.

Today, you can choose the same earthy shades on your walls. Using glazes to add depth to the wall color simulates the shading of the textured original walls. You can also use the “suede” paints available today to give the walls the texture look and feel. Please be aware that suede paint easily burnishes and marks when something rubs against the wall. In other words, it may not be suitable with children running around the house.

Architects Walter Burley Griffin and George Grant Elmslie occasionally specified white trim for the home. The same amount and style of trim was used, but it was painted white to offset the colors on the wall and wood floor. It also allowed for a less expensive wood to be used since the trim would be painted. Besides Oak trim, Birch and Maple would also be used. Local species would often be used in Prairie interiors. Contrary to popular belief, wood trim would not always be stained dark. Early shellac, stains and varnishes often grew darker with age. So trim that was light brown in the early 1900’s often grew to a dark, almost black, color by the 1950’s and 1960’s. Keep it light if you like in your own home.

Many rooms in a Prairie style floorplan have varying ceiling heights from room-to-room. Since the floor plans were open, wood trim would run at the same height from the floor regardless of the ceiling height. You may have a nine foot ceiling in a loggia that opened to a dining area that had a fifteen foot tent ceiling. If there was wood trim at the seven foot level in the loggia, it would continue at the seven foot level in the dining room, visually tying the space together. Yet the ceiling height and shape would define the space as a separate room.

As in the picture on the right of an original Tallmadge & Watson prairie house design, there is wood trim on the wall that follows the height of the top of the windows. This trim would also be used to hang pictures. Wire hangers would hook onto the rail and extend down several inches so the picture would hang at eye-level. There are built in seats under the windows on the side. The tent ceiling also has trim.

How many wall colors?

With all the trim on walls and ceilings, there is an opportunity to use several colors on the walls in a room. I recently was in a client’s original Walter Burley Griffin designed home. Being an original Prairie School interior, they had paint experts come in and determine the original colors on the walls. The living room had six different colors used! Several of the colors were slightly different shades of the same colors (greens and cremes). The darker shades used on the bottom portions and lighter shades used on the upper portions and ceilings.

So show me some colors already.

Here are some color palettes for a Prairie style room. The first are your basic earthen hue colors. The colors are not bright nor jewel tones. They have a «muted» look, yet a rich tone can be achieved in the color.

From this basic palette we can move into a little more modern color scheme for a Prairie style interior. It should be noted that blues were used in the original interiors back in the early 1900’s, but today blue seems to be «out» among Prairie, Craftsman, Arts & Crafts homeowners. For those who want to add a few more colors, the rule of thumb is to keep it muted like the colors below:

Prairie style colors, Craftsman interior colors

Prairie vs Craftsman a difference.

My personal experience in designing rugs for Prairie homeowners and Craftsman Bungalow homeowners has shown me a few basic differences in color choices. Prairie owners are more apt to choose a blue tone for some elements, but Craftsman owners tend to be adamant that no blue should ever be used. (Of course this is not a rule, just an observation of my business) Craftsman interior colors when using a red tone favor a burgundy (wine) red, while Prairie interiors move towards a rust or russet color. Below is a difference in the tones to help illustrate the point.

Stencils & Wallpaper

There are a handful of stencil designs today that have Prairie style motifs. The original architect who designed and used stencils extensively in both his residential and commercial buildings was George Elmslie. Below is an example of his designs. The colors were all complementary to the other colors used in the room.

Stencils often were used to fill a 2-3 feet wide space between the top of the windows and ceiling. It is a good idea to balance the use of stencils and ceiling trim/banding. You don’t want to end up with a «busy» looking upper portion of the room, drawing your guests view to the ceiling all the time.

Wallpaper. So far in my research, I have yet to find any original prairie architect or designer who created prairie style wallpaper — for an original house. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t used by the homeowners. I have seen several old pictures (sorry, none to display here) of prairie interiors with wallpaper. Generally, a striped pattern was used.

The most famous Prairie architect was known to have disliked wallpaper. He often specified for walls to have a rough coat of finish plaster or sand added to deter the homeowner from ever putting up wallpaper. However, in the 1950’s he did license wallpaper designs with the F. Schumacher company for the mass market. Long out of production, there are a few stores that have original unused rolls available for a hefty price. Note too that F. Schumacher is still a licensee of the architect’s Foundation. They may bring back wallpaper designs at some point in the future.

Many people find my website by searching for «Prairie wallpaper» as their text search, so I know folks are looking for it. There used to be some wallpaper based on the Coonley Playhouse window designs that was available in the 1980’s. (Just watch re-runs of the TV show «Full House». The daughter’s bedroom had Schumacher Coonley Playhouse window style wallpaper.) There are some specialty shops that are creating Prairie style wallpaper borders.

Leave a Reply