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William and Marie Willett House

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1940, William and Marie Willett. 900 Dempster St.

William Willett, a metalworker at James Manufacturing in Fort Atkinson, designed and built this stylish Moderne house, and his wife Marie designed the interior. William spent more than six months of his spare time to construct the house. To save time and materials, he employed a 4 × 8–foot module and clad the walls with 4 × 8–foot sheets of plywood, which he also used for the interior walls and ceiling. For the exterior, William drew heavily on machine-age imagery. On the facade, a long row of sliding windows terminates in a cluster of five horizontal grooves, suggesting speed and movement, and the flat roof’s metal coping curves in a streamlined look. The house also included a lighting system with foot-activated automobile dimmer-switches installed in the floors near doorways.

When the house was completed, William approached his employer with the idea of marketing his design as a “kit house.” Buyers would receive both the plans and the materials as a complete package. The firm was not interested, so this is a one-of-a-kind house. The Willetts’s project, however, was part of the larger American movement toward prefabricated modular housing that arose from the demand for inexpensive housing during the Great Depression.

Writing Credits

Marsha Weisiger et al.


What's Nearby


Marsha Weisiger et al., "William and Marie Willett House", [Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Wisconsin

Buildings of Wisconsin, Marsha Weisiger and contributors. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2017, 252-252.

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