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

  • Basement level floorplans for Barb Wake's home.
    Illustration By Andrej Galins
  • Barb says some people are shocked she chose to build a one-bedroom home, but that's all she needed. Cornette used Frank Lloyd Wright's method of placing windows in corners to deepen the bedroom's connection with the outdoors.
    Photo By Mark Sokolowski
  • Barb was unsure where to build the house. Architect Chad Cornette spent weeks analyzing the 36-acre site and the sun's movement across it to choose a location.
    Photo By Mark Sokolowski
  • This cozy geometric home nestles into its snowy landscape.
    Photo By Mark Sokolowski
  • Placing the fireplace in the center of the great room improves efficiency because heat can radiate around it rather than being drawn to a cold wall. "People put them on outside walls because they can get in the way of the space. But that's where a good design comes in," Cornette says.
    Photo By Mark Sokolowski
  • Main level floorplans for Barb Wake's home.
    Illustration By Andrej Galins
  • Cornette says the large, square kitchen island mimics the function of a dining room without requiring a separate space. "When you sit there, you can really have conversations with everyone at the table," he says. "It's the heart of today's home."
    Photo By Mark Sokolowski
  • Homeowner Barb Wake, dog Oscar and architect Chad Cornette.
    Photo By Mark Sokolowski
  • Homeowner Barb Wake says her peaceful home feels like a vacation cottage. "This is the kind of feeling people go to their cottages to get," she says. "I feel privileged to have a home that, when I get home from work, gives me that feeling of relief."
    Photo By Mark Sokolowski
  • Barb can move the rotating bookshelves to demarcate a reading room, office space and living room or open them to create an open, flowing space.
    Photo By Mark Sokolowski
  • Large covered areas expand the usability of the outdoors, Cornette says. "It's an inexpensive way to extend a great living space."
    Photo By Mark Sokolowski
  • A serpentine wall segment and winding staircase add a touch of whimsy to the home's entryway.
    Photo By Mark Sokolowski

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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