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The local Frank Lloyd Wright house that never was

The famous architect designed a mountain cabin outside Asheville — but owner Thomas C. Lea had a different plan.

Rendering of the exterior of the unbuilt Thomas C. Lea House

The concept mirrors the shape of two other unbuilt Wright designs.

Rendering by David Romero

Frank Lloyd Wright’s distinctive Prairie Style dwells in cities across the world: the Guggenheim Museum in New York, Fallingwater in Pennsylvania, the Tazaemon Yamamura House in Japan. But North Carolina is strangely devoid of Wright’s work — sort of. In the mountains near Asheville, the Thomas C. Lea house sits as a monument to a Wright design that was never built.

Rendering of interior of the Thomas C Lea House

Beyond the French doors was a triangular balcony.

Rendering by David Romero

A house designed

Wright designed the two-story house in 1949 for his son-in-law’s friend, Thomas C. Lea. Elaborate plans show a large hexagonal room with a fireplace at its center; a rectangular wing juts off the hexagon to accommodate four bedrooms. Similar to two other unbuilt designs, the Lake Tahoe Summer Colony and the E.A. Smith House, the partially conical roofline is striking, and even in the renderings created by David Romero of Hooked On The Past, the home is splendid.

But the remoteness of our mountains proved a challenge back in the midcentury, and the project was plagued with poor communications and delays. Wright was aware that he wouldn’t be present to supervise, the current owners told Romero, so the eventual adjustments seemed inevitable.

Rendering of the interior of the Thomas C Lea House

The main hexagonal room had a fireplace at its center.

Rendering by David Romero

A home constructed

The original design is extravagant, and despite having plenty of resources, Lea started scaling back as soon as he got into town. The eventual result removed the conical roofline and the wing, but it did stick to Wright’s signature style. It has a large fireplace, two bedrooms, and even a swimming pool (dug by hand, with a boulder remaining as part of the floor).

As with many of Wright’s unbuilt designs, the Thomas C. Lea house occupies a pretty obscure space in architectural history — but in some sense, Wright can still inhabit the pantheon of architects who contributed to the man-made beauty of Asheville.

There isn’t a lot about the house out there, but you can see how the design came to life and check out more of Romero’s renderings at Hooked On The Past.

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