Interiorssneak peeks

The Prairie House, a Dazzling Spectacle of 1960s Organic Modernism

by Kelli Kehler

On the prairie grasses of Norman, Oklahoma sits an utterly unique and curious structure — appearing to some as a large bird or creature; to others as perhaps the result of tornado devastation. This gamut of puzzling wonder over first sights of The Prairie House — also known as the Prairie Chicken House for its resemblance to the bird — was fully intended by architect Herb Greene when he built the dazzling home in 1961.

However strange the 2,100-square-foot, two-story home might appear from the outside is quickly forgotten upon stepping through the doorway; a swirling feast for the eyes of rough sawn cedar boards and unfinished cedar shingles swirl and unfold, a fantastic display of Greene’s “freestyle” interpretation of his learnings and influence from both Frank Lloyd Wright and Bruce Goff. Greene’s Prairie House, built for himself and his family, was considered to be an early symbol of Organic Modernism.

Some 60 years later, The Prairie House was in need of some love and maintenance, and Austin Hacker and Bryan Bloom, owners of design/build firm OXBloom, came along and purchased the property in March. Austin and Bryan, whose firm focuses on residential architecture and academic partnerships, plan to restore entire property, inside and out, working with Herb and the Oklahoma University College of Architecture.

“Growing up in Oklahoma there’s a sense of renewal from what’s relevant in the world’s cultural hubs,” Austin and Bryan tell us. “Maybe even a certain notion of being confined due to the distance from either coast or the conservative nature of our culture. So when we saw this place for the first time and then dove into everything Herb Greene and his philosophy, we felt an immediate kinship with the place and knew it could be brought back to life to serve as an example of what it means to love an artist wherever you are, with whatever you’ve got.”

The team got to work making some immediate fixes to maintain the structural integrity of the home, and plan to roll out the end result of their full-property restoration sometime this fall.

“Once we stopped all of the leaks by putting on a new roof, the interior now functions properly as it did some 60 years ago. The big challenge now is the skin of the building. Clad in simple tar paper and overlaid with an intricate pattern of cedar boards of varying sizes that give it the appearance of a bird or a bison or some other animal not yet discovered, the big task is to replicate the original while utilizing modern techniques to ensure that this version lasts another few generations.”

With the most pressing of improvements to the home completed, Austin and Bryan had photographer Mel Willis come through and photograph The Prairie House in its current state. We’ll touch base with the OXBloom team again this fall to take in the architectural treasure’s restoration in-full. But for now, Austin and Bryan, working alongside the architect they admire so much, will revel in the mastery of Herb’s work as they embark on bringing his vision back to its clearest light. “There’s a surreal warmth to the place,” they share. “The entire interior is comprised of thousands of raw cedar shingles, arranged in these beautiful patterns, so not only are your eyes constantly seeing new forms, but the scent of cedar gives one the sense of being in the woods after a light rain. Every single time we’re here. It never grows old.” —Kelli

Photography by Mel Willis / @melwillis

Staged by Sus Barkocy and Sunnie Robinson


Rough sawn cedar boards and unfinished cedar shingles swirl and unfold throughout the interior of The Prairie House, by architect Herb Greene.


Some of the updates that are both underway or slated for The Prairie House include fixing the roof, updating HVAC and plumbing, some electrical work, and cleanup of grounds themselves.


In this article, architect Herb Greene goes into great detail about his design theory and how he wanted to create a structure that both protected from the vast Oklahoma prairies and also put them on display.


The Prairie House is comprised of three bedrooms and one bathroom within two floors.


“Working with both Herb Greene directly and with the University of Oklahoma, we are in the process of restoring the home and surrounding plains, with plans for it to serve as a platform for local creative culture, by bringing in artists and makers throughout the year. Hopefully this will allow the general public the opportunity to experience this masterpiece up close while exposing them to new [works that] are made by the people with a link to Oklahoma,” Austin and Bryan share.


Herb’s breathtaking architecture created a place that is both warm and enveloping while open and airy through windows overlooking the prairies beyond.


Herb describes his feelings of designing The Prairie House in this article, “The expression of longing and aspiration as design aims has occupied me since I studied architecture with Bruce Goff. His lectures on aspiration as a necessary ingredient of human experience made as lasting impression. He thought architecture, in addition to expressing ethical building techniques, the nature of materials, and responses to site and clients, should also express human striving for expressions of sensitivity, feeling, longing and aspiration.”


Inside the home, wooden shingles upon wooden shingles as far as the eye can see.


The magnitude of Herb’s design wasn’t lost on new owners Austin and Bryan, and they plan to make the home a creative gathering space once their restoration is complete later this fall.


The house is an ebb and flow of detailed, undulating cedar forms on the inside and vast, clean prairie views out the windows — which draw in natural light to both highlight the intricate work and stand in stark contrast to the darker spaces found inside.


Built in 1961 by architect Herb Greene, The Prairie House’s two-acre location was chosen at the time as Herb could see no other structure around him.


The Prairie House, built to echo a strong connection to the land it sits upon, still achieves that notion decades later.


The rolling swaths of cedar shingles nailed upon concealed concrete blocks and then layered over one another create a warmth throughout the home.


Owners Austin and Bryan and their OXBloom team are underway with restoration plans and will reveal The Prairie House’s updates later this fall.


From left to right, Sus Barkocy and owners Bryan Bloom and Austin Hacker.

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