Austrian immigrant John Michael Kohler came to Sheboygan in 1871 and married Lillie Vollrath, daughter of a prominent industrialist. Two years after their marriage, Kohler bought his father-in-law’s foundry, where he manufactured agricultural implements and, later, enameled iron products. In 1888, Kohler organized a new company to produce ornamental iron and enameled plumbing fixtures and cookware. From these beginnings grew the Kohler Company, now one of the world’s leading manufacturers of plumbing fixtures and other products.
Family tradition holds that John Kohler himself designed this Italianate house. The house incorporates elements made at Kohler’s iron factory, including iron capitals, cast-iron keystones, iron sills at the brick round-arched windows, roof cresting, the gazebo, and the fountain, the last adorned by a cast-zinc sculpture of children and a dolphin. The gazebo and fountain were moved to their current locations around 1920, when Philipp refashioned the house for Kohler’s son Walter Sr. Philipp removed the porch’s gingerbread woodwork and installed hexagonal cast-iron columns to replace the originals. He also added the stuccoed second-story bay and installed stained glass windows and interior cabinets, designed by Albrecht, of Austria. The addition of 1970 extending from the rear of the house contains an arts center, including galleries, a theater, classrooms, and a museum. A larger addition of 1999 features an atrium with rich modern finishes of slate, bird’s-eye maple, and stainless steel.