Frank Lloyd Wright’s Only Adobe Design Is Rescued From Total Disrepair

The previous owner had done little to upkeep the Santa Fe residence, a ’40s design built in 1984. So a new one stepped in to resurrect it.
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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.

Since the house is located in a historic district in Santa Fe, the commission overseeing the area had to approve Richard Poe’s choice of exterior paint and stucco colors.  A custom shade of cream replaced a peach paint job applied sometime after original construction.

Since the house is located in a historic district in Santa Fe, the commission overseeing the area had to approve Richard Poe’s choice of exterior paint and stucco colors. A custom shade of cream replaced a peach paint job applied sometime after original construction.

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.

An eye-shaped portal is filled with a metal framework of multicolored iridescent glass tiles by artist Greg Reich that move and shimmer in the wind.

An eye-shaped portal is filled with a metal framework of multicolored iridescent glass tiles by artist Greg Reich that move and shimmer in the wind.

A path leading through the home’s interior courtyard leads to a massive double-sided hearth that serves an outdoor patio and the interior living area. It takes visual cues from traditional American Indian ceramic vessels.

A path leading through the home’s interior courtyard leads to a massive double-sided hearth that serves an outdoor patio and the interior living area. It takes visual cues from traditional American Indian ceramic vessels.

Though it doesn’t run in colder months, a water feature with a small cascade mirrors the swimming pool. The large jars are typical of crafts created by native people from the New Mexico region.

Though it doesn’t run in colder months, a water feature with a small cascade mirrors the swimming pool. The large jars are typical of crafts created by native people from the New Mexico region.

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.

Project architect William Helm of In*Situ Architecture designed pergolas to provide shade from harsh afternoon light; the structures are distinct from the house itself and can be removed. The arched doorframes and other woodwork in vertical grained fir were all rebuilt to Wright’s original specifications.

Project architect William Helm of In*Situ Architecture designed pergolas to provide shade from harsh afternoon light; the structures are distinct from the house itself and can be removed. The arched doorframes and other woodwork in vertical grained fir were all rebuilt to Wright’s original specifications.

The game room includes a vintage Wurlitzer jukebox and foosball table. Richard notes that he "breaks a Wright rule" by hanging a TV on the wall. Wright felt nothing should hang on his walls, as they constituted a work of art in and of themselves.

The game room includes a vintage Wurlitzer jukebox and foosball table. Richard notes that he "breaks a Wright rule" by hanging a TV on the wall. Wright felt nothing should hang on his walls, as they constituted a work of art in and of themselves.

The cabinetry, also in vertical grained fir, and butcher block were rebuilt. Appliances include a solid iron Aga oven, Viking Professional appliances and a Marychef stove. An original pothanger hovering above the island mirrors the shape of the home.

The cabinetry, also in vertical grained fir, and butcher block were rebuilt. Appliances include a solid iron Aga oven, Viking Professional appliances and a Marychef stove. An original pothanger hovering above the island mirrors the shape of the home.

Richard and Helm rebuilt a radiant floor heating system that was installed underneath the brick floor.  The coffee table was designed by Wright, while the silk carpet is a Poe family heirloom that’s generations old.

Richard and Helm rebuilt a radiant floor heating system that was installed underneath the brick floor.  The coffee table was designed by Wright, while the silk carpet is a Poe family heirloom that’s generations old.

The primary bath features more fir cabinetry and an original Japanese soaking tub. The countertop is waterfall edge quartz. Note the terra-cotta pipes that create a pattern above the window, a motif for the house.

The primary bath features more fir cabinetry and an original Japanese soaking tub. The countertop is waterfall edge quartz. Note the terra-cotta pipes that create a pattern above the window, a motif for the house.

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.

Large walls of wood-framed glass keep the interiors connected with the courtyard.

Large walls of wood-framed glass keep the interiors connected with the courtyard.

The outdoor shower, an addition by Richard, is framed with more screens created by artist Greg Reich. The slabs of rough stone were milled in New Mexico.

The outdoor shower, an addition by Richard, is framed with more screens created by artist Greg Reich. The slabs of rough stone were milled in New Mexico.

The swimming pool deck was rebuilt with ipe wood, a dense South American hardwood, while the bridge is original to the home.

The swimming pool deck was rebuilt with ipe wood, a dense South American hardwood, while the bridge is original to the home.

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.

The pool leads into the primary bathroom, allowing swimmers to shower off without walking through the house.

The pool leads into the primary bathroom, allowing swimmers to shower off without walking through the house.

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