Text published in Martha Stewart Living magazine
Photographs by Gael Towey
Enter through an allee of giant cottonwood and elm trees, their branches arching majestically overhead. Pass by a lavender field, blue-green rows against the red earth. Take a moment when you get to the low-slung, unassuming adobe porch—thank goodness there’s a sign—to look out towards the pond crowded with lotus, their pink swan-like heads rising up to touch the unobstructed view of the ancient, craggy Sandia Mountain Range in the heart of the Rio Grande River Valley.
Here at the 20-room Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm, the Rembe family has created a special place that celebrates the setting and honors the past, all while looking toward the future. As a guest at Los Poblanos, you have the rare opportunity to live—if just for a few days—in rooms of uncommon craftsmanship and significance. And yet, this is no stuffy museum. As you have a cocktail in the courtyard or sit by the fire in your room, as you visit gardens where food is grown that you will eat at delicious meals on the sunny porch, you relax and explore and feel deeply connected to America’s southwest.
The Rembe family has worked hard to create this warm, welcoming experience, and in the process they have created a unique and successful business model, created jobs, and furthered a cause they believe in.
Penny and Armin Rembe, who have been married for 52 years, raised four children in the classic courtyard adobe house where guests now check in. In the late 1990s, the building next door, known as La Quinta —which was built originally as a cultural center in 1934—was under threat of being demolished and the land developed. Penny and Armin, a now-retired oncologist, and their children decided together to buy the property. In order to pay for it, they would turn their own home into a six-room bed and breakfast.
The idea did not seem so farfetched to the ever-optimistic Penny; she had been the proprietor of a catering business in town for five years and is proud to say she introduced the baguette to Albuquerque.
In embarking on this venture, preservation was foremost in their minds. In the 1930s, both buildings—their home and La Quinta—were part of the same property, a dairy farm owned by Ruth Hanna McCormick Simms and congressman Albert Simms. Ruth—herself a congresswoman as well as a suffragist and newspaperwoman—had a firm belief in engagement with the local community. She hired New Mexico’s leading architect, John Gaw Meem, to enlarge their L-shaped farm house, and to build the cultural center she would name La Quinta.
Meem was a leader in the Santa Fe style, which combines classical and Spanish colonial architecture. Indeed, at La Quinta, beaux arts details combine seamlessly with traditional regional shapes and color palates. Meem brought together craftsmen from all over New Mexico to create pieces—tin chandeliers, colorful tile, intricate hardware—that remain in place today.
The idea of preservation extends beyond the doors of the buildings. Penny and Armin brought sustainability to the farm by planting lavender, which uses less water than many crops and doesn’t deplete the soil. Armin experimented with various techniques, finally contriving his own steam distiller to make lavender oil. When they started the bed and breakfast, Penny used the oil to make her now-famous lavender salve on her own kitchen stove as an amenity for her guests, who were also served warm lavender shortbread cookies when they checked in.
In 2004, Matthew Rembe took over the business from his parents, who had been working seven days a week in their retirement. The first thing he did was create a pragmatic business plan with the goal of making Los Poblanos profitable while advancing the family’s preservation goals. They built their staff into the creative force that elegantly manages a busy event business, and added guest rooms and a superb restaurant. And as Matthew realized that the lavender products that Penny was making in her kitchen represented an opportunity, he started the Farm Shop, in a sunlit, white-washed farm building. Today, Matthew and his team balance what are essentially six distinct but interdependent businesses—lodging, retail, wholesale production, farming, restaurant, and events. This dynamic model results in a property that may be deeply rooted in history but feels very much alive.