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Wingspread: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Largest Prairie-Style House was Home to the Johnsons

Beyond the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Administration Building that put our company on the map, third-generation leader H.F. Johnson, Jr. had a personal project underway with Wright too – a new home for his family.
Completed in 1939, the home was named Wingspread.

Wingspread is a Prairie Style Home Like No Other

Completed in 1939, Wingspread beautifully interacts with the prairie around it, and lets in bountiful, warm light through its many windows and skylights. Wright called it “the last of the Prairie houses.”
During the early 20th century, Wright developed a philosophical foundation for his work based on how people connect with nature. His “Prairie-style” homes bring this notion to life. They’re characterized by horizontal lines, low-pitched roofs and materials in accord with local nature.
As Wright’s Prairie-style designs evolved, he often planned the living and dining rooms – and other social gathering spaces – as a large, continuing space or “open plan.” This aimed to create a natural flow and to draw occupants out of rooms and into a shared central space. 

Aerial view of Frank Lloyd Wright house, “Wingspread”
The name Wingspread comes from the home’s four wings that spread from its central core living space.  Photo: Mark Hertzberg for SC Johnson.
Horizontal lines and unstained wood architecture features by Frank Lloyd Wright
The horizontal lines and unstained wood of Wingspread’s design help it blend with the 30 acres of nature around it.

A Water Leak and Wright's "Honest Arrogance"

Known for his “honest arrogance,” Wright refused to allow anyone to “tamper” with the designs of Wingspread, whatever the reason. Yet, certain innovations became difficult to live with — something H.F. explained to Wright time and time again.

Those exchanges have become legendary, but none as memorable as the tale of the leaky roof at Wingspread. 

As fourth-generation leader Sam Johnson told the story, at a formal dinner party when he was thirteen years old, a sudden thunderstorm sent a stream of water down on H.F.’s head as he presided over the table.

In righteous anger, he put through an immediate call to Wright in Phoenix, Arizona. He told Wright that Wingspread was beautiful, but it had a leaky roof and water was leaking right on top of his head!

Wright’s reply, which Sam said was loud enough for all to hear, burst from the phone: “Well, Hib, why don’t you move your chair?”

“Despite such difficulties, for my father, sister and me, it was a happy place to live,” said Sam.

Inside H.F. Johnson, Jr.’s “Wingspread” home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
The core living space, called The Great Hall, soars around a central shaft that houses five fireplaces. Around it is a necklace of skylights that lets in warm light. 
For my father, sister and me, [Wingspread] was a happy place to live.

Sam Johnson, fourth-generation leader of SC Johnson

Frank Lloyd Wright crow’s nest lookout
The crow’s nest lookout on the roof of Wingspread is accessed by a spiral staircase.
H.F Johnson Jr. and Frank Lloyd Wright at “Wingspread” house
H.F. and Sam Johnson at Wingspread.

An Architecture Gem for the Johnson Foundation

Wingspread was the Johnson family home through the 1950s, and was then donated to The Johnson Foundation to be an enduring source of inspiration as an educational conference center. H.F. founded The Johnson Foundation to be a convener of experts for positive change leading to healthier environments and communities.
Over more than 50 years, Wingspread has hosted hundreds of conferences and been the birthplace of organizations including the National Endowment for the Arts, the International Criminal Court and National Public Radio.
In 1989, Wingspread was designated a National Historic Landmark.

Frank Lloyd Wright Tour: Experience Wingspread

Wingspread is just five miles north of our campus in Racine, Wisconsin. Plan a visit to see our Administration Building and Research Tower, and add a side trip to Wingspread too. The Johnson Foundation offers Tours that are free and open to the public with advance reservations.

You can also plan a visit to Wingspread and eight other remarkable sites around Wisconsin using the Frank Lloyd Wright Trail app, available for download on the Apple App Store and Google Play