A Sunflower-Inspired Dome Home by a Frank Lloyd Wright Apprentice Asks $450K
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A Sunflower-Inspired Dome Home by a Frank Lloyd Wright Apprentice Asks $450K

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By Lucy Wang
Designed by Taliesin fellow James Dresser, the Sunflower House champions Wright’s ideals for building with and in nature.

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.

The dome shape was chosen partly for cost efficiency. Dresser believed a circular floor plan would provide the maximum interior square footage for the smallest amount of exterior wall.

The dome shape was chosen partly for cost efficiency. Dresser believed a circular floor plan would provide the maximum interior square footage for the smallest amount of exterior wall.

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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.

Set on a 0.371-acre lot, the Sunflower House is surrounded by mature maple, cedar, and walnut trees.

Set on a 0.371-acre lot, the Sunflower House is surrounded by mature maple, cedar, and walnut trees.

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.

The recycled Quonset hut elements can be seen in the carport’s curved roof, which hangs from steel beams.

The recycled Quonset hut elements can be seen in the carport’s curved roof, which hangs from steel beams.

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.

Located in the heart of the home, the kitchen was originally constructed with 20 feet of built-ins.

Located in the heart of the home, the kitchen was originally constructed with 20 feet of built-ins.

The kitchen features a six-sided commercial double-pane skylight.

The kitchen features a six-sided commercial double-pane skylight.

Half of the Sunflower House's circular floor plan consists of living and dining areas. The other half consists of the sleeping areas. The circular kitchen occupies the center.

Half of the Sunflower House's circular floor plan consists of living and dining areas. The other half consists of the sleeping areas. The circular kitchen occupies the center.

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 triangular windows around the home's circumference are outfitted with energy-efficient glazing.

The triangular windows around the home's circumference are outfitted with energy-efficient glazing.

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.

Previous owners combined the two tiny children's bedrooms to create a larger master bedroom with added storage.

Previous owners combined the two tiny children's bedrooms to create a larger master bedroom with added storage.

Both bedrooms have custom window vents. Note how the bedroom walls stop short of the domed ceiling as Dresser intended.

Both bedrooms have custom window vents. Note how the bedroom walls stop short of the domed ceiling as Dresser intended.

A peek inside the newly tiled bathroom. A second bathroom is located in the basement.

A peek inside the newly tiled bathroom. A second bathroom is located in the basement.

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.

The Sunflower House is often compared to the rounded works of American architect (and Wright contemporary) Bruce Goff—particularly Goff’s Ford House in Aurora, Illinois.

The Sunflower House is often compared to the rounded works of American architect (and Wright contemporary) Bruce Goff—particularly Goff’s Ford House in Aurora, Illinois.

The plywood floors in the living and dining areas are original.

The plywood floors in the living and dining areas are original.

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The living and dining area is anchored by a recently rebuilt curved brick fireplace.

The living and dining area is anchored by a recently rebuilt curved brick fireplace.

The current owners preserved Dresser's vision for bringing the outdoors in by installing planters along the top of the cabinets.

The current owners preserved Dresser's vision for bringing the outdoors in by installing planters along the top of the cabinets.

Previous owners changed the outdoor terrace into a sunroom.

Previous owners changed the outdoor terrace into a sunroom.

The sunroom connects to a deck for entertaining.

The sunroom connects to a deck for entertaining.

The property includes a detached three-car garage.

The property includes a detached three-car garage.

The Sunflower House measures 40 feet in diameter and feature walls of poured concrete. The earth berm provides insulation and helped Dresser save on exterior finishing.

The Sunflower House measures 40 feet in diameter and feature walls of poured concrete. The earth berm provides insulation and helped Dresser save on exterior finishing.

5126 Tomahawk Trail, Madison, WI is now being listed by Mode Realty Network for $449,900. See the full listing here.

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