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Parkitecture: A Rustic Back-to-Nature Architectural Aesthetic

Published September 26, 2019

Check Out This Blend of Late 19th Century and Rustic Architectural Styles for the Modern Home

 

It all started with the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone Park, Wyoming.

Designed by architect Robert Reamer and located near the Old Faithful geyser within Yellowstone, the Inn – which opened in 1904 – was an immediate sensation. Constructed of logs and stones, it featured a massive gable roof, a majestic lobby with a vaulted ceiling almost 80 feet high, and a 40-foot tall fireplace. Described as “rustic and luxurious, breathtaking yet casual, a monumental icon that fit perfectly into its surroundings,” the Old Faithful Inn inspired a novel architectural style: the National Park Service Rustic, or Parkitecture, which created buildings that fit naturally into the amazing landscapes and scenery of the parks.

Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park

Lobby with 80-ft. tall ceiling in Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park

Top: The Old Faithful Inn (in 1914) launched the rustic parkitecture style in the United States. One of the largest log-style buildings in the world and a National Historic Landmark, the Inn provides a great view of the Old Faithful geyser (photo credit: Old Faithful Inn, Northeast Aspect, by Yellowstone NP, USA, under license CC BY 2.0)Bottom: Be prepared for the breathtaking lobby with its 80-foot vaulted ceiling and a stone fireplace that measures 40 feet in height (photo credit: Public Domain).

 

What exactly is Parkitecture?

Inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Prairie School, parkitecture is the signature rustic style of the national parks in the U.S. When it first emerged in the 19th century, it blended several architectural styles – like the Queen Anne, shingle, and mountain designs – within the park structures. It became a more cohesive and defined design when the National Park Service was established in 1916.

Like the masters of the Arts and Crafts and Prairie style homes, famous parkitecture designers, landscape artists, and professionals such as Reamer, Gilbert Stanley Underwood (architect of Yosemite’s Ahwahnee Hotel), Mary Jane Coulter (Hermit’s Rest-Grand Canyon), and others advocated simplicity, use of natural materials, and a connection to the surroundings. They ensured that structures throughout the entire Park system – gates, entrances, roads and bridges, visitor centers, shelters, hotels, inns, and staff facilities – were made with local wood and stone, were visually appealing, and “harmonized with their natural environment.” 

Ahwahnee Hotel at Yosemite National Park

Dining Room in Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite National Park

Top: Nestled in a grassy meadow in Yosemite National Park’s east end of the valley, the Ahwahnee Hotel is surrounded by oak and fir trees. Instead of competing with the magnificent scenery, architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood designed a building that provided wonderful views of the park from every window. The asymmetrical layout features three different 3-story wings that radiate out from a 6-story central tower. An interesting color scheme adds to the exterior visual appeal of the Ahwahnee Hotel. Look closely at the slate hip roofs and windows; and the massive and tall granite boulder piers and chimneys that match the color of the nearby cliffs (photo credit: Ahwahnee Hotel Half Dome by Mark James Miller under license CC BY-SA 3.0). Bottom: The dining room in Ahwahnee displays the exquisite rustic design sensibilities in the establishment with the vaulted ceiling and exposed natural timber trusswork (Ahwahnee Dining Room by Mark James Miller under license CC BY-SA 3.0).

 

Principles of Parkitecture

Through the early and mid-1900s, park architecture evolved into a more cohesive and refined style centered on the rustic design. In addition to the emphasis on natural materials, there are a number of principles that define parkitecture.

1.  The fundamental theme is that buildings should be in harmony with their natural surroundings but “should not attempt to visually upstage the natural beauty” of the landscape around them.

2.  Buildings should blend with each other. For example, similar materials should be used in design; roof types and slopes should be about the same.

3.  Horizontal rather than vertical lines should dominate.

4.  Rigid, straight lines should be avoided.

5.  Stone, log, and heavy timber work should be in scale to have a well-balanced design.

6. In some cases, it may be necessary to make stone and log work a little oversize so that the cliffs, rocks, and natural forest do not dwarf the buildings.

 

How is Parkitecture Incorporated in Modern Designs?

A classic architecture that has withstood the test of time, Parkitecture is a major influencing factor in the way architects design and plan buildings as well as today’s contemporary homes.

You don’t have to live within the boundaries of a national park to achieve the feel and ambiance of the rustic aesthetic. From various architectural styles – including Arts and Crafts, Craftsman, Prairie, Ranch, Farmhouse, Country, Midwestern, Modern, and the obvious log cabin and mountain lodge – to exterior and interior home features and fixtures, you can have your own parkitecture rustic designs.

Rustic style home with exposed timbers and stone siding

This 4-bedroom, 4.5-bath Luxury home shows the insfluence of parkitecture in its Rustic style: exposed timbers. stpme sodomg. ahip rooflines all at the same slope (Plan #193-1094).

 

One of the exciting challenges that architects face today is how to bring parkitecture house plans to their clients. And what do they tell clients who come to them about design elements of the inns and lodges they’ve seen at Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Glacier Park, or Crater Lake?

It’s not surprising that architects and designers are equal to this task and very willing to work with their clients to give them that parkitecture vibe. Architect Ellis Nunn of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, says he likes to “incorporate dormer windows and a large log and stone porte-cochere into the design” to give the home “a great lodge look.” Other designers include cedar posts and large windows to bring the outdoors into the home.

Rustic style home with ston block siding and timber-framed entrance

Rear covered patio with timber-frame roof structure

Top: It may not be the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite, but this 2,815-sq.-ft. Ranch style home with a loft and unfinished basement features gable rooflines, large windows, and a gorgeous exterior facade of natural stone and dark wood. To complete the stunning exterior, there are large rocks that form a hardscape around the covered vaulted porch supported by wooden posts on stone pedestals (Plan #161-1101). Bottom: The vaulted timber roof over this rear patio, along with the stone column bases, wood and stone siding, and relaxed furniture put you in a Parkitecture frame of mind (Plan #161-1094).

 

Interior Essentials

If you're searching for a plan or building new in a style that embraces at least some elements of the rustic Parkitecture style, you'll likely want your interior to echo the style as well. An open floor plan is essential, along with modern furniture and natural materials – and some of the tips below.

If you have have an existing home and like the style but you’re not ready for a major interior renovation to transform your home decor into parkitecture rustic, don’t fret. Think of what you can do and all the ways to create an interior that exudes the warmth, comfort, simplicity, and beauty of the design.

Here are a few elements of the rustic style that can be included in a 21st century home:

1.  Let’s begin with the natural color palette. While beige, cream, brown, gray, and neutral hues rule the day, you can also go with bold touches by mixing shades of blue, green, and even red. Just make sure the tones are soothing, calming, and inviting.

Great Room with vaulted ceiling in Arts & Crafts style home

You can’t get a more neutral palette than the one in the spectacular Great Room of a luxurious 2-story, 4,412-sq.-ft. Arts and Crafts style mountain lodge. Soft shades of green in the L-shape sofa, area rug, heavy wooden door – with splashes of color in the yellow throw pillow, reddish brown and dark brown wood beams, and stone fireplace – create a cohesive and appealing design (Plan #202-1017).

 

2.  Wood and stone are the essential materials that give the home its natural look and feel. So designers suggest using them in furnishings, ceilings, floors, and walls. 

Lots of stone and natural wood spell rustic in this kitchen

This impressive kitchen in a 2,478-sq.-ft., 1-story, 2-bedroom Transitional Craftsman home uses a lot of wood and stone in its design. There are dark wood floors that match the cabinets, drawers and trim. Then you have a stone arch surrounding the stove, a stone backsplash and countertops, and stainless-steel appliances (Plan #161-1073).

 

3.  Large wood beams for the ceiling will always remind you of those park inns and lodges, and of course, the great outdoors.

Great Room with vaulted and beamed ceiling in a Craftsman style home

Rustic Ranch style home with lots of wood and stone detailing

While not as high as the vaulted ceiling of the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone Park, this ceiling (top)  in the Great Room of a sprawling 2-bedroom, 3,623-sq.-ft. Ranch home (bottom) – with its huge wood beams – is magnificent in its own right. Wide glass doors and clerestory windows provide terrific views of the surroundings (Plan #161-1094).

 

4.  You’re going for the natural look here. So choose the right accessories, materials, and fabrics to add to the atmosphere. Floors only need area rugs, and to capture the feel of a rustic home, go for hand-crafted accents like woven baskets, quilts, throws, and cushions. Make sure that you use sturdy fabrics like jute, burlap, and canvas.

Bedroom with bunk beds in a European style rustic home

Take in the natural color palette of this bedroom in an attractive 2-story European-Rustic style home with a total of 4719 sq. ft. of finished space. An area rug made of a coarse fabric is the main accent of the dark wood floors. Accessories on the bunk beds include neutral-tone pillows with a slight splash of color and coverlets of a sturdy material (Plan #193-1095).

 

5.  Furniture is usually oversized and designed to be cozy and comfortable. Heavy wood pieces are common – like side and coffee tables and built-ins. Usually the dark tone of the wood is balanced by lighter accents and the fabrics used for accent chairs and sofas.

Great Room with vaulted ceiling and stone block fireplace in Ranch style home

Ranch style house with rustic accents of stone and wood

Entrance to Ranch tyle home constructed in timber-frame style

Top: Feel at home in this fabulous Great Room of a Ranch style home. From the high vaulted ceiling to the large windows, huge stone fireplace, wood accessories, and muted fabrics and accents, the Great Room, which is designed in a modern-rustic aesthetic, exudes warmth and comfort. Center: The delightful 3,162-sq.-ft., 2-bedroom Ranch home, which houses the Great Room shown, sports rustic accents like stone and exposed timbers. Bottom:  The timber-frame entrance reinforces the Parkitecture feel of the house (Plan #161-1100).

Stone fireplace and elk-head wall decoration in Great Room with rustic vibe

Another take on the rustic design is animal head wall decor as seen in this Great Room of a 2,478-sq.-ft., 1-story, 2-bedroom Transitional Craftsman style home. In addition to the wall accent, there is a corner table made of dark wood and a fireplace with a stone surround (Plan #161-1073).

 

6.  How about a fireplace for a campfire atmosphere? Whatever style your home is, a fireplace adds an inviting and welcoming feeling. In a rustic-inspired home, a fireplace is almost a must. So start imagining a very tall one with a rock or brick surround and a thick wood mantel as the focus of your family or living room. 

Beautiful Great Room with tall stone fireplace and other rustic accents

Modest Rustic Ranch style home with stone block siding

The towering fireplace featuring a stone surround and a thick wood mantel (top) is the “stop-in-your-tracks” attraction in this Great Room of a rustic Ranch style home (bottom) with 2815 sq. ft. of living space. Look closely at the pieces made of wood – built-in cabinets, shelves for picture frames and collectibles, side table, and staircase against a stone wall (Plan #161-1101).

Great room with beautiful stone fireplace and chimney and vaulted timber ceiling

This fireplace in a 4-bedroom Rustic style home shares center stage with the dazzling vaulted ceiling. On the left of the fireplace is a wooden staircase leading to the upper level; on the right, a large glass window gives a glimpse of the brick and stone exterior of the home (Plan #161-1108).

 

7.  Don’t forget the large windows to bring the outdoors into the home. One of the principal elements of Parkitecture rustic – inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement – is a home’s (building’s) harmony with nature. You can bring this home by installing large glass windows and doors that provide abundant natural light, air, and great views of the surrounding landscape.

Wood-and-window dining area in Great Room that looks out onto deck and lake beyond

One view from two perspectives: Large picture windows (top) in the Great Room of a rustic Ranch style home provide a view of the surroundings and homes across the lake. Another band of huge windows (bottom) in the dining room/breakfast nook allow a more visible view of the lake (Plan #161-1101).

 

Room by Room Rustic

Here are some rustic looks for different areas of the home to fuel your creativity and imagination.

 

Kitchen

Rustic kitchen with natural wood cabinets behind a dining area with large table and white chairs

From the foyer of a European-Rustic style home (Plan #193-1095), guests step into its magnificent Great Room, which includes the spectacular modern-rustic kitchen above. With its wooden built-ins, a colorful backsplash, animal art decor, and interesting wood pieces in the dining area wall, the kitchen complements the rustic decor of the rest of the house.

 

Rustic kitchen with vaulted ceiling and exposed beams

Dining room with dark wood floor in Rustic style home

The vaulted kitchen (top) in a two-story, four-bedroom Rustic Contemporary style home (Plan #161-1108) features a double island counter. A step away is part of the casual dining area, shown just below the photo of the kitchen.

 

Master Suite

Master suite with wood floor and dark-wood, distressed furniture for a rustic feel

Though not a large contributor to your home's overall style, as it's not exactly a "public space," being a room only close family and friends are ever likely to see, the master bedroom may still a place where you want to maintain the continuity of the home decor. You can do so by staying tradtional in your design choices and imagining yourself in a National Park hotel room.

In a five-bedroom European Rustic home (Plan #193-1095), the master suite shown above comes with several dark and distressed wood pieces, a unique wall accent, and a colorful coverlet to meld with the National Park aesthetic.

 

Master bedroom with tray ceiling and gray walls

The master suite above in a charming three-bedroom Bungalow style home (Plan #153-2083) has a huge bed nestled in a thick wood frame. It is covered with a thick patterned quilt with shades of yellow and blue-green. The tray ceiling gives a feeling of height and the neutral gray walls complement the rest of the decor.

 

Balcony

Covered back porch/balcony in Rustic style home


Rustic balconies are a fixture in many National Park structures, allowing visitors to take in the views and surroundings from unique viewpoints. If you're lucky enough to have a balcony or elevated deck or porch in your home, outfitting it in the right finishes will help bring the park atmosphere to your yard, especially if you have wooded, water, or mountain/hill views.

Wood floors and ceiling, stone walls, and wood fixtures and furnishings are the finishing touches of the spacious balcony shown above in a five-bedroom European Rustic home. The 4,719-square-foot home features a second-floor living room that opens onto the balcony (Plan #193-1095),

 

Powder Room Accents

Vanity in a powder room that has rustic style detailing


An innovative vanity (shown above) in the powder room of a Transitional Craftsman style home (Plan #161-1073) will definitely get the attention of guests. It does what you're after when working with rustic Parkitecture style in your home: harks back to the past with details that look like they may have been used in the early 20th century while being modren and functional in today's home. Note the vessel sink that resembles an old wash basin on a wash stand (the vanity) with backsplash and shelving and overhead light fixture, which calls to mind a gas or oil lamp.

 

Bathroom

Master bathroom with wood and stone decor accents for a modern rusticated look

Of course, you want bathrooms to have all of the modern conveniences, but in a Parkitecture decor it can be difficult to marry that with the detailing necessary to create a rustic atmosphere.

Modern meets rustic in the amazing master bathroom shown above, which comes from a two-story, 4,531-square-foot Rustic Country style home with three bedrooms, two full baths, and two half-baths (Plan #161-1076). The natural wood vanities, cabinet, door, and window frames go a long way in creating a rustic theme, as do the stone, the rubbed bronze faucets (especially the bath faucet, which looks as though it could be the spout from a well riser), the heavy light fixtures, and the wall sconce.

 

Parkitecture’s Back Story

In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant declared Yellowstone the first national park in the United States. Little did he realize then that this would spark the emergence of a novel architectural design within the country’s national wparks. As Sequoia, Yosemite, Rocky Mountain, Mount Rainier, Glacier, and other parks gained national recognition, there came a need for shelters and housing facilities for visitors. By 1904, architect Robert Reamer designed Old Faithful Inn, a lodge within Yellowstone Park near the famous Old Faithful geyser.

Constructed of logs and stones, it became the first lodge of the Western U.S. – and the inspiration for the National Park District’s rustic design or parkitecture. 

Very soon, other famous architects designed and planned spectacular inns, shelters, museums, and other structures within the national parks. Among them:

  • El Tovar in the Grand Canyon (1905 - Charles Whittlesley)
  • The Stanley Hotel – Rocky Mountain National Park (1909 – Freelan Oscar Stanley
  • Many Glacier Hotel - Glacier National Park (1915)
  • Crater Lake Lodge - Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park (1915)
  • Lake Crescent Lodge - Washington’s Olympic National Park (1916)
  • Paradise Inn - Washington’s Mount Rainier National Park (1917)
  • The Ahwahnee Hotel (formerly the Majestic Yosemite Hotel) – California’s Yosemite National Park – Designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood, the amazing 123-room with large granite chimneys opened in 1927.

As the Park Service became more organized, the Parkitecture rustic aesthetic firmly took hold. Soon this design filtered to the state parks – and the American home.

Rustic style home with exposed timbers and wood siding

This 4412-sq.-ft. Luxury Rustic Cottage style home with 5 bedrooms and 5.5 baths (Plan #202-1017) has many of the hallmarks of Parkitecture style, and one could easily see it – on a grander scale for sure – as a lodge on the grounds of a National Park.

 

You don’t have to travel to Yellowstone or Yosemite to get the Parkitecture rustic feel. Just step out of the box – and get ready to transform your home into the rustic haven you’ve always imagined!

 

Footnote: The lead image in this article is a picturesque 1-story, 3-bedroom Traditional style home with Arts and Crafts influences. For more details on this stunning home, go to:  (Plan #190-1074)

 

Additional Sources:

National Park Service

The New York Times

 

Parkitecture

Parkitecture House Plans

Craftsman Style Homes

Prairie Style Homes

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