Solon Springs couple transform greenhouse into wedding venue
The Johnsons and a hired "army of high-schoolers" deconstructed and rebuilt what is now the Atrium, a sought-after wedding spot, already fully booked for 2023
SOLON SPRINGS — Sometimes, what you’re looking for is right in front of you. That was the case for Al and Lyndsey Johnson.
Years into running a wedding photography business, the couple wanted to open their own venue. After scouring properties across the state and making an offer in Hayward, their dream spot ended up being close to home. It's a half-mile from the house they built, actually, and their dream location: a fully functional greenhouse, on the market for two years.
“We were constantly looking. It took coming here,” recalled Lyndsey Johnson. “Moss and green stuff was growing on the walls. …This will be huge, but we were hungry to do it.”
After a lot of work by the Johnsons and a hired “army of high schoolers,” they now operate The Atrium , a set of indoor and outdoor wedding sites, two suites, a courtyard and a large reception hall.
The sellers and others were skeptical at first, Al Johnson recalled, but a couple years in, they’ve hosted more than 120 ceremonies, and they’re fully booked for 2023.
On Tuesday, fluffy snow gathered on the see-through rounded roof of the greenhouse. Clumps slid en masse, hitting the ground with a soft thud. The couple aimed to create an outdoors-inspired space, and they succeeded.
Massive wooden discs cut in different sizes lined the wall. Across the greenhouse, striking weathered wood vertically lined the front of the ceremony space.
Almost everything you see has a weird story, he said.
They deconstructed a slew of plant benches — leaving hundreds of 2-by-4s weathered by years of water and fertilizer, which they repurposed into the doors and accents.
One of the wedding party suites touts a collection of striking wood carvings and accent pieces — all returned or rejected items from a local warehouse. A wall of framed, full-body-length mirrors used to function as a neighbor’s closet doors.
They landed their feet-long chandelier from an estate sale, and a round rusted orange couch from Craigslist.
In The Atrium, large wooden spools serve as standing guest tables, complements of a powerline worker connection. Al Johnson built the rows of long tables from wood on their land.
Leftover greenhouse material supports dreamy floating mirrors, wall-lining wisteria vines and a dramatic archway accenting a clearing in the trees leading to the outdoor ceremony space a short walk from the main buildings. This location is cupped by trees, which mask a trail and entrance of the wedding party.
This site featured in numerous ceremonies and wedding photographs is a former farm dump spot that used to house tractor pieces, dozens of tires, and half of a truck.
To furnish the space, the couple “mistakenly won” a series of crane mats and outdoor seating for $5 at an auction. They later discovered they’re worth more than $1,000. “A bigger power was at play,” Al Johnson said.
Asked about their design choices, he said it stems from necessity and creative problem solving. “We’ve got a problem, we need to fix it. We don’t have anything, so let’s see what we got," he said.
Lyndsey Johnson grew up in Solon Springs and Al grew up in Esko. They met while attending the University of Wisconsin-Superior. After working as directors at Luther Dell Bible Camp, they launched their wedding photography business.
In their years traveling to Costa Rica, Jamaica, Maine and Idaho, they noticed ceremonies migrating out of the church — a location not necessarily built for the occasion, said Al Johnson.
And the trend led to hotel ballrooms, conference centers or community spaces, and eventually, folks wanting more garden-like ambiance. “It’s timeless,” said Lyndsey Johnson.
In the early days, they felt like they were in over their heads, but they moved past feeling annoyed or disappointed, focused on what they could do and they were able to survive and make it through.
Now, they feel content in their planted roots and in their original venue.
“Just like a wedding dress, we’re not for everybody,” Johnson said. “We'll repel some, and they'll be happy in a more classical environment. We learned that in photography: You're not for everyone and that's OK. You can't be.”