As soon as Charles Manson, owner of a local insurance company, read about the first house Wright had created for Herbert and Katherine Jacobs in Madison (DA38), he knew he wanted a Wright design of his own. It became the fourth of Wright’s Usonian houses. The exterior materials are characteristic of Wright in this period: red brick for the central core and lower walls, cypress wood siding and generous expanses of glass for the rest. The exterior wood walls and interior partitions employ the architect’s usual plywood core sandwiched between cypress board-and-batten layers on both the inner and outer faces. Here, however, to adjust the house to Wausau’s frigid winters, Wright called for three layers of plywood rather than the typical one. He also responded to the sloping lot by designing the house to step down three levels from west to east. This composition, combined with a low second story and a tall brick core, creates a sprawling, multilayered appearance. Nonetheless, because of its long horizontal lines and flat, wide-overhanging roof, the house still seems grounded to the earth.
The Manson House plan reflects a Wrightian experiment in design geometry, combining squares with triangles and parallelograms. Consequently, the living room on the east end and the master bedroom and carport (now enclosed) on the west, are oddly shaped by 30- and 60-degree angles. These rooms are joined along a diagonal axis that runs west to east. The circulation pattern is strange, too. Wright placed the main entrance next to the carport at the west end of the diagonal, at the opposite end from the living room. Visitors step down from the entrance into the bedroom wing and move east along a lengthy hallway through the normally private section of a house to reach the main public areas. At the far end of this hall, a visitor descends into the sunken living room, a classic Wrightian space with a high ceiling, massive brick fireplace, and glazed doors opening onto a terrace.
Wright designed many special features into the house, including a built-in phonograph system in the living room and a laundry rack in the two-story-tall kitchen. To dry laundry, the Mansons lowered the wooden rack, hung wet clothes on it, and then lifted it to a position high above the kitchen by pulling a rope attached to a pulley. Upstairs, extending west from the workspace tower is a maid’s room and a darkroom for Charles, an amateur photographer. These upstairs rooms constitute a full-height upper story, but from the outside this story appears to rise only a few feet above the bedroom wing—a low profile made possible by dropping the ceilings of the children’s bedrooms underneath.