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Creating a Prairie Style Interior

Prairie Style Furniture

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Decorating Introduction | Colors | Furniture (Draft 2) | Rugs/Textiles (Draft 1) | Lighting | Windows | Accessories | Resource & Budgets | Books to help

Furniture - How can anyone sit in those chairs?
Sketch of Barrel style chairSketch of High-back style chairWhen you think of Prairie School chairs, your first thought may be of one of two style chairs. The beautifully curved Barrel Chair (left image) or more likely the elegant but "ouch my back hurts just looking at it" High-back Dining Chair (right image).
I have heard owners of original furniture say that the straight back chairs are comfortable and I have heard others say they are not comfortable. If you think it will be uncomfortable, choose something different. It is difficult to change your thought process in terms of perceived comfort. You don't want to be stuck with expensive furniture that you cannot enjoy.

The whole idea of "organic architecture" is that the home, the furnishings, are all designed for the specific site. The furniture is meant to look like it always belonged in the specific room for which it was designed. That is why the rectilinear feel of most Prairie style furniture works so well in original Prairie rooms. The lines of the wall trim, art glass, etc. all harmonize with the warm, solid look of Prairie style furniture.

Most of the original furniture was designed using quartersawn oak. Back in the early 20th century, old growth oak was plentiful and the wood made for a solid, sturdy piece of furniture. Although the process of quarter sawing the wood did not yield the optimal amount of usable wood, it did result in a beautiful grain pattern. As with the wood wall trim of the time, the furniture was not always stained dark, the stain and shellac over the years would darken. Choose your stain to complement your floor and trim for today's furniture. Some original furniture was directed to be "fumed" to give it a dark color. The process involved exposing the wood to ammonia and today the old process of fuming is outlawed in many areas. There are newer processes to get the dark fumed look, so ask your refinisher/wood craftsman/furniture maker how you can achieve the look with your new furniture if you so desire.

Different original Prairie architects and designers had subtle differences in how they designed furniture. A famous architect was very rectilinear with little embellishment. George Grant Elmslie added more organic motifs to his designs. George Mann Niedecken would work in the style of the architect who commissioned the work. Niedecken often also worked with clients separately from the orginal architect. A couple of examples to demonstrate these subtle differences are below. This can help you decide how you want your furniture to present itself.

Elmslie Dining Set
Elmslie designed
Niedecken designed Dining Set
Niedecken designed

Placement of furniture
One architect would often visit his clients in their home after it was built. He was known to move furniture to specific locations in the rooms. With the open rooms and floor plans, furniture placement can be a difficult prospect. Built-in seating is the easiet - just leave it! For many large rooms, the seating would be placed in groups often defined by area rugs. Placement near a window bump-out or flanking the fireplace are also common. Consider adding in-floor electrical outlets for lighting/lamps.

Original Prairie homeowners didn't have to worry about television or radio placement. Placing a television in a large entertainment center that has the look of a built-in is nice. Thin LCD or Plasma screens can be hung on a wall or in a wall niche. Some original homeowners are incorporating projection televisions by hiding the projection equipment in a specially designed coffee table and having the screen descend from the room soffit behind trimwork.

So what's this going to cost me?
There were many different styles of chairs designed by the Prairie School architects. You can see the examples of the different types from Elmslie, Griffin and interior designer Niedecken. There is quite a variety to choose from should you be looking to have reproductions made. So let's talk a little budget here. The most expensive pieces are going to be your original antique furniture pieces. I have seen individual dining chairs sold for over $20,000 each. That should take care of the rich person's budget.

For the next level of budget, there are many fine craftspeople who create reproductions. Some are small one person shops, others are larger shops that produce standard lines of Prairie furniture. The dollars paid vary based on the quality of the wood, the construction techniques and the finish. I have seen Barrel chairs that range in price from well over $1,000 per piece down to $400-$500 per chair. Some prices for dining room sets from craftsman and specialty furniture shops range from $12,000 for 6 high back chairs and table (quartersawn oak) down to $3,000 for Mahogany table and four high back chairs with a smaller square table.

For the most budget concious, there are options from the large furniture companies. Your local furniture retailer will have lines of furniture described as "Mission", "Craftsman", and maybe "Prairie". They offer simple clean lines in design, a variety of wood and "wood-type" (grin) products. Many folks will buy Danish style furniture for it's simplistic style but softly curved accents. The idea is to move away from ornately carved pieces. You can achieve the clean, uncluttered look of a Prairie style room for about $1,500 - $3,000 going this route for a dining set.

Two final hints for getting a bargain. Check out Ebay regularly. You can find used furniture for great prices in these styles. Some of these smaller shops/craftsman sell on Ebay too. Also, contact the smaller shops and ask if they have something in stock that they are looking to discount. They might say "No". On the other hand, you may find a great bargain can be made that makes both parties happy.

Decorating Introduction | Colors | Furniture (Draft 2) | Rugs/Textiles (Draft 1) | Lighting | Windows | Accessories | Resource & Budgets | Books to help


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