Out of the Box: A Space-Saving Prairie Home

A Wisconsin architect uses Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired design concepts to create an open, free-flowing and space-saving prairie home.

| November/December 2009

Barb Wake’s geometric little home in eastern Wisconsin’s rolling hills is no typical farm house. With its squat stature, overlapping square form and tiered rooflines, the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired home is more reminiscent of a Japanese tea house than a Midwestern ranch.

Barb had owned the property for a couple of years before deciding to build there. She knew architect Chad Cornette because his wife, Julia, boards horses in stables on Barb’s property. "The land was so pretty, I saw myself living out here," Barb says. "I liked the philosophy of building smaller. We started talking, and Chad asked me if I was interested in using some green building methods, so we went from there and it just blossomed."

Breaking the box

An alumnus of Taliesin, the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture in Scottsdale, Arizona, Cornette has defined his career by designing small homes that, according to his website, "make better use of raw materials and use less energy to create places of beauty and increase the quality of life in the process." He brought many innovative design ideas to create a small but efficient space for Barb.

"The house was drawn from a single concept, and that was overlapping squares, one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s basic concepts," Cornette says. "His main effort in his career was to break open the box." Wright’s design concepts help make a small home seem more spacious. "The concept of overlapping squares directly relates to overlapping spaces’ functions. We’re also overlapping outdoor space with indoor spaces. That concept even came down to the smallest details, creating harmony throughout," he says.

Cornette kept the home’s design simple and open but used several techniques to increase visual interest. Varied ceiling heights define distinct areas, and high clerestory windows allow in ambient daylight. Details such as a rotating bookcase and pivoting doors create the opportunity to open or delineate rooms. "We used the ceiling height and volume to define spaces rather than walls," Cornette says. "I think the most important one is the cupola. It creates a 15-foot vertical volume in the center of the living room/kitchen/foyer area, and it’s really central to the home."

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