John McDonald began his long architectural career in Racine, designing some twenty houses. Like Frank Lloyd Wright, McDonald sought to blend his houses with the surrounding environment, choosing natural materials and using large expanses of glass to blur the boundaries between indoors and out. He wanted to build, he said, with “wood and stone, sunlight and shadow.” Unlike Wright, however, McDonald generally worked for middle-class clients during the early part of his career, and he generally managed to create artistic yet functional houses that stayed within relatively limited budgets.
Perhaps the finest of his Racine designs was this house. He called it “Trilogy,” because he drew it on a triangular grid, an idea inspired by Wright’s late work. Viewed head on, the house mimics the simple lines of the surrounding land, with bands of stone, glass, and wood on a raised foundation of limestone, laid without courses to suggest a natural outcropping. A continuous ribbon of glass makes the low-pitched roof and its wide cedar fascia appear to hover above the house. But seen from the corner where a short flight of steps leads the visitor to the entrance, the roof extends at an acute angle over the triangular porch and casts a long shadow over the doorway. The door itself lies on a diagonal line drawn back from the wall plane so that it is not immediately apparent to the eye, lending a sense of mystery and privacy common in the architect’s work. Triangular clerestories and tall, columnar sidelights frame the door. McDonald drew sunshine into the house with a peaked skylight rising from the center of the roof and four wide glass panels bisecting the rear elevation.