The Ralph Sr. and Sunny Wilson House in Temple, Texas: The house that that launched America’s love affairs with laminates

Visit-an-historic-house2.2During last week’s laminate ramblings, I stumbled on this incredible 1959 house in Texas – it’s the original home of the founder of Wilsonart laminates, and it’s now owned by the company, serving as their archives and a space for corporate events.

All photos: Courtesy Wilsonart – who were fabulous, very responsive! Thank you, Diana Z.!

The story of the Wilson House’s salvation is right out of a retro renovation suspense novel. 10 years ago, when there was little appreciation for this type of mid century modern design and certainly not for something as pedestrian as laminates, the company decided to sell the house. But, it needed to gut it first due to the “problem” interior. The house had been built as a showcase for the use of laminates – so the stuff is everywhere but the ceilings and floors. It’s truly incredible.

Then — someone brand new to the company is taken over to the house on the very day they are going to start demolition.  She has historical sensibility – and passion – and stands in front of the bulldozer. Well, there was no bulldozer. But she did stop the demo…convinced the company to keep the house…and went on to lead the restoration of what is now the youngest-ever National Historic Landmark.

Her name, by the way, is Grace Jeffers – and I will do more features on her soon. She is my new idol (along with Courtney and so many of you readers!) She has gone on to many other fabulous projects in the world of man-made materials.

Holyoke Cindy was the first one to mention here that laminate kitchen cabinets are a great solution for our midmod kitchens – and she is absolutely positively right. Cindy’s kitchen is totally appropriate to her early 60s contemporary…and this Wilson kitchen, with its Mondrian influences, undeniably gorgeous, is further proof that laminates are a great and worth alternative for our retro renovations.

Thank you, Grace. You did a good thing.

Click here for a history of the house on the Wilsonart website, and here to a New York Times story circa 1998 on the Wilson House – well worth it.

Read all our stories on historic mid century homes you can visit here.

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Comments

  1. says

    I love this house! The restrained use of accent pieces is something I’m trying to achieve, and this house does a great job in this respect .. the blue vase next to the kitchen sink.. the Yellow Blenko piece on the bathroom vanity, and the starburst clock over the fireplace. Simple but very impactfull. I wish I could be this conservative, but I usually wind up over accesorizing my horizontal surfaces.

  2. andie says

    I went to see this place today – it’s truly incredible. A real time capsule! I was asking about purchasing laminate, as I’ve been on a fruitless search for turquoise laminate forever, and was oohing and ahhing over the many examples of lame laminate in the house. Diana told me that you can order custom laminate from them – anything you like. She said while they don’t do the gold flecks anymore, they can duplicate the look. I thought some of you might be interested in this for your restoration projects!

  3. says

    Wow, Andie – that is so cool! I actually have a lead on another laminate maker that has several colors darn close to turquoise – I will do a post on Monday, 23rd, okay? Also – it is my understanding that you really cannot replicate the gold speckle lame’ formica because the technology today is not the same. Alas. But I think you are 100% right in that Wilsonart can do custom designs of a minimum order if you are ‘in the trade.’ That is – go through an interior designer. We need to explore this some more!

    • Rob L says

      Wilsonart Custom Laminate is available without a minimum. Call the Hotline at 1.800.433.3222 to get information on where to purchase and how to order, as you don’t necessarly be trade affiliated. There’s Wilsonart-owned and independent distributors throughout the USA and worldwide. All Wilsonart Laminate is manufactured in the USA and is FSC Certified.

  4. retroppo says

    OMG!!!! This is my dream home! From the mondrian style kitchen to the georgeous swirl pendant lights! It is stylishly & perfectly colour co-ordinated with all the right furniture! When I die I hope to be living like this in retro heaven! x

  5. Tamra Lemmon says

    Hi Kevin, how are u? I love this “retro” stuff! My husband and I collect turn of the century (late 1800’s to 1920’s) antiques, and we have been seeing quite a bit of “retro” stuff for sale at reasonable prices. If your interested, check out some “small town” antique shops in your area – you just might be surprised!!! P.S. I’m proud to be a part of the “retro” generation!

  6. Brenny says

    I would like to do the elongated diamond and star shapes on one of my living room walls. Are those just cut out of laminate? I feel silly for asking that about a laminate home, but ya never know. If they are just laminate cut outs, would you just glue to the wall?

    • says

      Brenny, I believe they are cut outs….and honestly, I think the entire wall is laminate. The folks at Wilsonart are quite helpful – if you want to replicate this look exactly, I recommend you contact them directly. If you can wait I can do it…eventually. I am super backed up right now….

  7. Liz says

    They are cut outs. One of my family members works for Wilsonart and I have been there a couple times. And the whole wall is laminate and so is the rest of the house. Everything is lamanate for the most part. I just love it!

  8. says

    Do I love this house?!! You betcha! So neat – It was the inspiration for one of my first miniature designs! I think you have this pic. Pam, but just in case, here it is again.
    Maryann

    [IMG]http://i56.tinypic.com/dp8hll.jpg[/IMG]

  9. Karen says

    This house is truly amazing and one of the many that inspired my love for all things “midcentury modern”. I’m so glad it was saved.

  10. ahenry72 says

    Wow. There is an incredible (and sadly vacant at this time) house in my hometown with kitchen cabinets just like these! It also has built in Subzero refrigerators and and very cool built in electric grill. Sigh…

  11. Joe Felice says

    I have saved the photo of that wall, and someday plan to have a wall like that in my home. It consists of inlaid laminate panels. How cool! Also, I would never have considered orange counter tops, but the ones pictured have made me re-think that. I had always thought bright colors should not be used on counter tops, but the photos of orange, yellow and turquoise ones on this site have opened my eyes to new possibilities! And that, after all, is what the ’50s were all about in America.

  12. Jack Edenburn says

    I visited Ralph and Sunny’s home many times from 1964 to 1966 while working my way thru college. I worked for Ray Vance and associates accounting firm in Temple and often had to pick up and return paperwork to and from the home. Mr Vance later went to work for Mr Wilson as comptroller. My fondest memory is seeing the former ‘Sunny Fairweather of New York City each time I was at the home. What a nice lady who always graciously invited me in and always offered me something to eat or drink. She would then sit me down and we would talk about anything until I had to return to work. Good memories.

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