Last weekend, my husband and I took the tour at Wingspread with some friends. We drive by the gates all the time, but you can’t see the main house from the road so we’ve been curious about it for a couple years now. The tour schedule is not consistent. But the tours are free and well worth the time so it’s worth checking periodically if you’re interested.
Wingspread is a 14,000-square-foot Frank Lloyd Right-designed home built for SC Johnson (formerly S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc., also known as Johnson Wax). The home features four wings extending out from the center of the building, which is where it gets the name Wingspread. (See an overhead shot here.) Several Johnson generations lived at Wingspread. Wright completed the building in 1939, and the family lived there through the 50s. In 1961, the Johnson family dedicated the property to be used as a conference center. Currently, the 5th Johnson generation manages Wingspread. The building received National Historic Landmark distinction in 1989.
If you know anything about Frank Lloyd Wright, I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you to learn there are some great Wright stories about his involvement with Wingspread. The tour includes a video with interviews with a couple Johnson family members, both of whom share Wright stories.
The entire Great Hall is decorated for Christmas right now, which is so beautiful.
One of the most notable features of Wingspread is the glass-enclosed “crow’s nest” lookout. Of course, as a visitor, you can’t go up in the nest. But it’s still neat to see the winding spiral staircase right in the middle of the Great Hall. Other notable building features include the five fireplaces, teepee-inspired clerestory ceiling, and cantilevered “Romeo and Juliet” balcony.
If you know anything about building a fire (as in, you’ve ever seen a fire burning in a fireplace or fire pit, even if you have no experience building one yourself), you’ll know instantly that this fireplace has inherent issues. Yes, it might look neat if logs could burn and stay straight in this vertical position. But they don’t. So the fireplace and logs simply decorative.
Like all Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, the architect had a vision for the entire home, which included the furniture. He designed many of the original furniture pieces, which are still in Wingspread today.
Wingspread sits on 36 acres and features nature trails, forests, prairie, streams, flower gardens, and a private art collection. In addition to the main Wingspread home, the conference center includes The House, where H.F. Johnson lived during his later years, and The Guest House, which offers high-end overnight accommodations and casual gathering spaces for conference attendees. It was freezing the day we toured Wingspread and was getting dark by the time we’d finished the inside tour. So we didn’t walk much of the grounds. But you’re welcome to do so when you’re there for the tour.
Again, Wingspread tours are free and open to the public. The entire interior tour takes about an hour. For more information about Wingspread, visit The Johnson Foundation at Wingspread. To reserve a Wingspread or other SC Johnson tour, visit SC Johnson.
I also visited the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Annunciation Greek Orthodox church earlier this year!