Prairie Style Roofing: A Modern Twist On Traditional Design


Prairie style homes are a reflection of the Midwest landscape where they sprung up in the early 20th century. Pioneered by Frank Lloyd Wright, these homes departed from the European styles of architecture that favored vertical lines, decorative ornamentation, and formal spaces. In contrast to these styles, prairie homes focused on natural materials, horizontal lines, and an open concept that lent itself well to casual spaces.

The low-pitched roofs traditionally featured natural roofing materials that fit with the overall aesthetic. Today’s prairie homes can take advantage of the traditional style but with materials that fit into a modern world.

What Is A Prairie Style Home?

The concept of a prairie home was introduced by Frank Lloyd Wright and other young architects who made up Wright’s architectural practice in Oak Park, Illinois. Wright described prairie buildings as “married to the ground.” Prairie style was popularized in the early 1900s and faded out of popularity around 1915, though many of the concepts and design features were later displayed in mid century modern architecture of which Wright was also a pioneer. Prairie style homes were uniquely American and “free from the shackles of European styles.”

He wanted to celebrate the open prairies found in the Midwest and designed the prairie style roof pitch to emphasize this expanse with low-pitched roofs, horizontal lines, architectural masses, wide boxed eaves, and sweeping porches.

Prairie style homes are one or two stories, but the elevation is modest, drawing a stark contrast to Victorians, Colonials, and Gothic Revival which emphasized height. Prairie homes share some similarities with Craftsman style homes which were also popular in the early 1900s. They both emphasize built-ins, wide overhanging boxed eaves to increase outdoor spaces and shade the interior, large porch supports and columns, bands of tall windows to increase the flow of natural light, sidelights common on primary doors, and hipped or gabled low-pitched roofs.

Prairie Style Roof Design

Prairie style roofs were low-pitched and emphasized horizontal lines. On the two-story versions, prairie style homes featured a primary roofline that extended over the porch and the secondary roofline covered the second floor and often a roofline to top off clerestory windows.

These homes were typically clad in wood, brick, or stone, and sometimes stucco with a central chimney, and prairie home roofing was often natural slate tiles, adding yet another natural element. Slate tiles offer a darker, neutral color. Prairie style homes also used cedar shakes as a roofing material. The natural material enhanced the natural surroundings.

Carports were created as an extension of the primary roofline with support columns similar to those on the porch. Prairie home roofs also featured skylights to let in even more natural light and form a connection with nature.

Traditional Prairie Style Roof Materials

Roofing materials for prairie style homes were in keeping with the emphasized connection to nature and were typically natural slate and traditional cedar shake.

Natural Slate Tiles

Natural slate tiles create a beautiful gray roof that reflects the beauty of nature and takes advantage of the durability of natural materials. Slate roofs can last up to 150 years provided regular and necessary maintenance is performed over the life of the roof.

Slate tile maintenance includes regular inspections to ensure the tiles are holding up and none are broken or cracked. If there are damaged tiles, you’ll need to decide whether to repair or replace the roof. In addition to regular inspections, a slate tile roof requires constant cleaning and maintenance. Slate is porous, so it absorbs water and is prone to growth of moss, algae, and other plants that thrive in damp environments.

Cleaning or repairing slate tiles can create more problems because slate can break when walked on, especially if its strength is compromised by years of moisture exposure and natural wear and tear.

Traditional Cedar Shake

Traditional cedar shake roofs also highlight the beauty of natural materials and enhance the aesthetic of a prairie style home. Cedar is naturally insect and rot resistant, which makes it the obvious choice for wood roofing. Cedar shakes can be stained to the desired color or left to weather naturally to a soft gray.

Along with its beauty comes a substantial amount of maintenance if you want to retain its looks and protective qualities over the years. Cedar shakes should be stained and sealed regularly, and chemical treatments can add protection against pests and mold growth. Natural deterioration can cause the shakes to warp, cup, or crack over time, and repairs can be difficult if you’re trying to match the color of the rest of the roof because of the fading that occurs over time.

Achieve A Prairie Style Roof With A Modern Alternative

Composite roof tiles are a modern alternative to natural materials. Made from a blend of 100%-recycled materials, Brava’s composite Cedar Shakes and Old World Slate are infused with natural minerals for superior color and texture, as well as advanced UV stabilizing elements to protect them from fading over time.

Our collection of Nature-inspired hues allow you to choose the best color for your prairie style home with confidence, knowing that the color will remain true for years to come. Our composite cedar shakes and slate tiles are cast with molds that give them an authentic look and texture that you have to see to believe — and even then, you might not believe it!

Contact the experts at Brava today to request a sample and see how our composite roof tiles can complete the look of your prairie style home.