KOHLER, Wis. — The home of more bathtubs than you’ll ever need, Kohler is probably not on your bucket list of must-see destinations. But maybe it should be.
The Kohler name is synonymous with plumbing products but the family behind it has also created a world-class spa, a private membership club, several hotels, an acclaimed arts center and award-winning golf courses including Whistling Straits, which will host the Ryder Cup in 2020. The company also owns and operates the Old Course hotel in St. Andrews, Scotland, but you don’t have to cross the Atlantic to experience Kohler hospitality.
Winter holidays in Kohler are special, with thousands of lights, horse-drawn carriage rides and carolers serenading guests. Weather permitting, there is a wide variety of seasonal activities, including ice-skating, Bavarian ice curling, cross-country skiing, pheasant hunting and ice fishing.
“The resort is set on hundreds of acres of stunning landscape that provide a scenic backdrop for the holidays,” said Christine Loose, group director of lodging for Kohler Co.
You can stay at The American Club, a five-star hotel which was built in 1918 to entice immigrants to work in the Kohler factory. The brick dormitory was always called the American Club, housing single workers and including a pub and bowling alley for their amusement.
“These immigrants were landing on the western shore of Lake Michigan without money and without knowledge of the language or the culture and forced to live in the poorest parts of town and take a horse-drawn streetcar 45 minutes to work every day,” said Herbert Kohler, chairman of Kohler Co.
“Imagine what that does to your work ethic. So my uncle built the American Club and at its opening, he said, ‘A worker deserves not only wages, but roses.’”
A century later, it sits near the center of the Village of Kohler, a planned community with tree-lined residential streets and manicured lawns. It is also the centerpiece of Destination Kohler, with 186 guest rooms and another 55 in the Carriage House annex.
The property has five locations to dine, including the Immigrant Restaurant, The Horse & Plow and the Winery Bar. Original beamed wood ceilings, fireplaces and deep leather sofas offer plenty of nooks to read a book or answer email.
“The American Club is a great story about design and it was my father who came up with the crazy idea of turning it into a five-diamond hotel,” said David Kohler, president of Kohler Co. and son of Herbert Kohler.
The Inn on Woodlake and the new Inn on Woodlake Suites are other Kohler lodging options. The River Wildlife nature preserve has 500 acres of hiking, biking and bird watching for those wanting to get outdoors no matter the weather.
The Kohler Design Center, just down the street from The American Club, is a showcase for the company’s creativity and innovation with stacks of toilets, sinks and tubs as well as vignettes of kitchens and baths. At the Kohler history museum, guests can trace the history of plumbing from the humble outhouse to intelligent toilets and everything in between.
Sculptures can be found on the walk from the hotel and design center to the shops at Woodlake, where you can purchase dark chocolate brandy, a specialty of The Art of Kohler Original Recipe Chocolates.
“It’s a delightful spirit,” Herbert Kohler said during an address to design writers at Riverbend, a private club run by Kohler.
The 1923-built, Tudor-style Riverbend was built by Walter and Charlotte Kohler, who were both interested in the Arts and Crafts movement. Mrs. Kohler designed the Riverbend logo. The mansion was built on the site of an old native American campground and became the property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation before it was purchased back in 1985 by Kohler Co. to become a private club.
“This home, Riverbend, is an oasis of calm, creativity and rationality,” said Herbert Kohler, the grandson of John Michael Kohler, the company’s founder.
Kohler Co. now has 55 plants on six continents. “We are one of America’s oldest and largest privately owned companies,” he said.
Perhaps the stress of remaining successful for more than a century was the inspiration for Kohler’s Waters Spa which is next to the American Club. Whether you spend a day or an hour, you will leave refreshed and wanting more.
“Kohler Waters Spa is one of only 60 Forbes five-star spas in the world,” said Garrett Mersberger, director of wellness at Kohler Waters Spas.
Wisconsin winters are cold and dry, which is why many of the treatments incorporate the Kohler custom Vichy shower. “The more hydration, exfoliation and warm water application that one can experience, the better,” he added.
The newest businesses in the Kohler wellness portfolio is Yoga on the Lake and Bold Cycle studios.
“We see more and more travelers who wish to partake in shared wellness experiences and it’s not uncommon to see a group come bust their butt in a cycling class, have a healthy lunch at Craverie and indulge in spa and dinner in the evening,” said Leslie Stachowiak, associate manager for hospitality and real estate.
Some visitors also head to The John Michael Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, built around the 1882 Kohler family home and run by the Sheboygan Arts Foundation. The bathrooms are a must-see, and not because of the plumbing. In their artistic tile display, you see the confluence of art and industry, a hallmark of the Kohler brand.
Patricia Sheridan: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter; pasheridan