When I first heard about the Village of Kohler, I started to get ideas. Maybe it’s just the word “village” that implies something quainter and cuter than a typical company town, but by the time I was able to visit the Wisconsin home of the kitchen and bath manufacturer this past fall, I had quite a picture painted in my mind. A town populated by Kohler workers, who were, of course, shiny little stainless steel Ooompa-Loompa types (also available in polished chrome?). These little faucet-makin’ fellas would cruise the streets of Kohler in bathtubs on wheels, under streetlights made from gigantic arc taps. The village would be run by Mr. Kohler, a tiny little man with a pointed beard and top hat.
When I finally got my golden ticket to Kohler, I was a bit disappointed to find that there weren’t actually Oompa-Loompas there casting sinks. But I did get a factory tour where I got to see the pottery, iron and brass foundries where you can watch products being made with a variety of techniques, from traditional to the most technologically advanced. I also got to see the innovative Arts/Industry program (in which artists-in-residence collaborate with the company, creating works in the foundries), in action.
The tour is open to the public, as is the Kohler Design Center, where you can check thousands of in-production products in person. Most interesting, in the lower level of the design centre, is the Kohler museum, where you can see how design and trends have evolved and even repeated. Not a bad place for trendspotting — the retro lines and minty green colour of the old school, cast iron “electric sink” (an early model residential dishwashers) would be at home in many modern designs. But the technology is just slightly outdated. The cardboard “Mom” dropping dishes into the sink is a nice touch, looking like she just popped out of one of the vintage Kohler ads that line the walls.
In the end, it wasn’t the Kohler-land fantasy world I had dreamt of, but throw in a trip to the award-winning Kohler Waters Spa and it’s a pretty good business trip. And there is a Chocolate Room of sorts: check out the Craverie, just a few doors from the Anne Sacks showroom. Plus, I came home with a great idea for a kid’s book, about a little girl who doesn’t like to wash; I’ll call it Farrah and the Faucet Factory. CI