When Richard Poe first saw Frank Lloyd Wright’s Pottery House in 2016, it was in a desperate state. The previous owner hadn’t maintained the Santa Fe, New Mexico, residence, and their pack of 27-some-odd dogs, none of which were house-trained, says Richard, had left the home a mess. Richard, who had fallen in love with Santa Fe during visits when he was younger, was seeking a country property in the area when the home came on the market.
What others viewed as a burdensome undertaking, he saw as a unique work of genius worth bringing back to life. "I took one step past the front door and knew it was the home I wanted to own and the project that I wanted to tackle," he remembers.
Richard had been a fan of Wright since boyhood and was intrigued by the idea of owning the 1943 design because it was meant for his hometown of El Paso. (The original client’s divorce ultimately prevented construction there). But that it was ever built was the doing of developer Charles Klotsche, who was attracted by the design’s intent to reflect the Southwest with its proposed adobe construction.
With oversight from the Frank Lloyd Wright Fellowship, Klotsche erected the home in 1984 as the centerpiece of his new Santa Fe development, doubling the plan and arranging it east to west rather than north to south, as was originally intended. Perched on a hill, its curved facades and interlocking concentric circles—experiments for Wright, and American home design—capture sweeping views of the desert landscape and the San Miguel Mountains.
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Richard closed on the home the same year he made his first visit, and he and long-time friend and El Paso architect William Helm of In*Situ Architecture began a restoration that took a bit longer than expected. Richard and Helm knew they’d face unforeseen challenges, but didn’t anticipate being turned down by contractors; some told them the house was too far gone to repair, or just too difficult.
"It’s a true adobe house," Helm remarks, "but with cement-based plasters and foam added to achieve the dramatic outlines. So in this case the walls had to be stripped down to the base coat of original plaster and then replastered—a job done by an entire team with hand grinders." The pandemic also interrupted progress, but another challenge was juggling requirements from the local historic commission, which kept a close eye on how the home appeared from the road.
The home’s striking details include original vertical-grained fir siding that was almost entirely intact—"one of its gems," says Richard—and replacement bricks that were fired by the original manufacturer to Wright’s specifications. A new element by Helm, a series of standaway pergolas provide shade from harsh afternoon sun without impinging upon the house itself.
An indoor/outdoor space typical of Wright’s work also saw a fresh element, a striking series of screens created by local artist Greg Reich. Iridescent glass tiles create multicolored, shimmering mosaics that fill out the screens’ wire frames, enclosing an outdoor shower and filling an eye-shaped portal in a courtyard wall.
Richard hopes his preservation effort will allow people to enjoy the home for years to come, as does Helm. "It’s been safeguarded for another generation to carry into the future," he says. That it was ever built was a miracle of sorts; as Wright’s sole adobe design, it’s a wonder to behold.