Named after its circular form and petal-like awnings, the Sunflower House is one of the most unique architectural masterpieces in Madison, Wisconsin—and not just because Wright’s influence can be seen throughout the home.
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Tucked away on a forested lot within walking distance of Lake Mendota, this midcentury marvel is the work of Madison architect James Dresser, who built the home for his family in 1953 after studying at Taliesin in nearby Spring Green. Wright’s design philosophy strongly inspired Dresser, who used an earthen berm to merge the building into the site and derived the building's form from the shape of a flower.
The Sunflower House was revolutionary for its time and area—not just for its shape, but also for its experimental use of materials. Recycled structural steel beams from Quonset huts—lightweight prefabricated structures made for WWII—were used for the curved radial framework that supported the roof’s 28-ton concrete shell.
At the heart of the dome home is a circular kitchen that opens up to a spacious living and dining area that takes up half of the home’s ground-floor footprint. This room opens up to a carport on one side, and a sunroom with an outdoor deck extension on the other side.
Triangular windows and a skylight in the 14-foot-tall domed ceiling funnel light into the interiors. Dresser also installed a clear plexiglass rectangular cutout in the kitchen floor to let natural light into the basement.
The other half of the home originally comprised a compact master bedroom, a bathroom, and two tiny children’s bedrooms. The bedrooms featured cork walls that stopped short of the ceiling to open the rooms up to views of the domed ceiling and access to natural light.
Subsequent owners made several changes to the original home—one renovation combined the two tiny children’s bedrooms to create a larger master bedroom.
When the current owners purchased the Sunflower House in 2004, they conducted an extensive remodel to restore Dresser’s original vision and improve the home’s energy efficiency. The owners have actively maintained the 1,451-square-foot house for the past 15 years.