The Wilson House
In the 1950's laminate was a commonly used household material that,
while prized for its durability and decorative qualities, was applied
only on tabletops and counters. By 1959, when Ralph Wilson Sr.,
the founder of Wilsonart LLC, designed and built his house,
people were beginning to view laminate as a material that could
have more extensive application in the home.
Wilson built his house to serve three purposes. First, the house
was his private residence, where he lived from 1959 until his death
in 1972. In addition, it served as a model home for his then-fledgling
laminate company and as a location where he personally could test
the quality and durability of the products his company manufactures.
The Ralph Sr. and Sunny Wilson house appears to be a hybrid of a
ranch and modern-style home architecture. The open interiors and
U-shaped plan reflect the influence of the California Case Study
House - a series of architectural experiments from the early 1940's
and 1950's that were offered as better solutions for residential
The interiors of the Wilson house feature extensive use of decorative
plastic laminates in innovative applications, most of which had
not been seen before. The kitchen countertops reveal some of the
earliest work in post-forming, a process where laminate is bent
to form continuous curves from the top to the side edge of the counter.
Other applications include laminate clad built-in cabinetry in the
kitchen, laundry and bathrooms, even in the shower! While installations
such as these that are common today, they were unheard of in the
Perhaps most unusual, unlike other structures of the period, the
Wilson house was constructed with very little dry-wall. Instead,
most of the walls were made by applying panels of special-grade
laminates directly onto two-by-fours. For further experimentation,
Ralph Wilson covered the walls of the garage in various grades of
wood-grained laminates. The living room is decorated with a geometric
pattern of custom laminates that covers one entire wall. Even the
colors of laminate used throughout the house are reflective of popular
1950's period fashion, such as lemon yellow, pumpkin, aqua and bright
The Wilson house was featured in Ralph Wilson Plastics Company advertisements
as well as in the editorial pages of the nation's top trade magazines.
It represented an ideal design for affordable and fashionable residential
housing and had a profound influence on the future uses of laminate.
Today, the house stands as one of the best residential examples
of the mid-century modern style in the state of Texas.
The Wilson house was purchased by Wilsonart LLC from Ralph
Wilson's widow in 1997, and has been restored to its essential appearance
in 1959. A striking commentary on the durability of laminate, nearly
all of the original laminate remains in excellent condition, preserving
this moment in interior design history (a moment which has, in large
part, been deleted by over-zealous remodeling). In July 1998, the
Wilson house was awarded National Landmark status by the Texas Historical
Commission and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places
as a significant architectural structure. On the national level,
it was recognized for the extraordinary design of the interior which
had an impact on the design of subsequent structures; and the employment
of cutting edge laminate technology. Also, on a local level, it
was cited as an excellent example of a ranch style house. Most noteworthy;
the Wilson house is the first 20th Century vernacular structure
less than 50 years old to have ever been nominated.
Two important motivators for preserving the house surpass even
its architectural significance in the collective eyes of Wilsonart
Since its founding 50 years ago, Wilsonart has carried a strong
culture of corporate pride. No single structure or artifact
this corporate pride so much as the Wilson house, which is a statement
of the many founding principals that remain intact even today
innovation, design excellence and a commitment to the continuous
development of interior surfacing products that, literally,
the fabric of our everyday lives. In light of this, the house also
provides a repository for Wilsonart history. Two of the bedrooms
are being converted to archival filing not only for corporate history,
but also for documentation of the surfacing industry since 1956.
The house is open for tours Monday through Friday by appointment.
Additionally, the house is also used for corporate entertaining
- the main purpose for which it was originally built.