Small but Stacked

A covetous retreat on Gardiner’s Bay
The late architect Francis Fleetwood helped create the perfect artist’s studio. A wall of glass doors runs the length of the building, making the most of the sky, the light, and the view of beach and bay.

The late Francis Fleetwood was on Forbes magazine’s 2001 list of leading architects, which called him “the architect for the A-list in the Hamptons.” He believed the shingle style was the truly indigenous architecture of the United States. Among the 200 shingled, sprawling houses he designed, one on Georgica Pond had 14 bathrooms within its 25,000 square feet. But he also renovated a tiny, felicitously situated, 500-square foot, artist’s studio for a friend.

“He and his wife shared the boat slip next to us for years,” explained Lucy Cookson, an artist who owns the small studio house, which sits squarely facing Gardiner’s Bay. The boat slips to which Ms. Cookson referred were in the boat basin at the Devon Yacht Club, which was founded about a hundred years ago as a casino by her great-grandfather, Joseph Rawson Jr., and three other wealthy businessmen from Cincinnati. 

The men had discovered what was then called the Amagansett Highlands while they were on a Montauk hunting trip. Duly impressed by the property’s being near Montauk’s wildlife and by the fact that it is 80 to 90 feet above sea level, with Gardiner’s Bay to the north and the ocean to the south, they bought a huge tract, eventually building grand stucco houses and two smaller ones, founding the Devon Colony. Because their wealth came largely from Procter & Gamble, it was sometimes called Soap Hill. In addition to the residential enclave and casino, the men built roads, bath houses, a dock, and a power plant. The 

“I remember the Sunday morning Francis came into our ship’s galley and out loud bemoaned the fact that nothing was happening in his work, that he might have to make a change,” recalled Ms. Cookson. “We laughed, of course, because he was terrifically impatient, and pretty soon after was going to initiate for himself his architectural genius: the low-country house with its gabled roof and at the ends of the houses, his use of shingles to wrap around the edges, creating a flatness at the end of the slope, a uniqueness.”

In the early 2000s, Ms. Cookson took ownership of her family’s small waterfront house, to the east of Dev­on on Cranberry Hole Road, which was used as a guest cottage, although they owned Windy Dune, one of the original Devon houses. Her family, Ms. Cookson said, had ordered up a “ready built little house, put a wonderful deck around it, and called it home.” It stood next to the tall brick smoke stack, all that remains of the power plant. In her parents’ later years, she said, they spent their summers in the Stack House, as it came to be known, enjoying the seclusion and early morning bay bathing.  

Having made her mark as a artist, Ms. Cookson and her husband, Steve Cookson, decided that the Stack House would make a perfect studio. They had been spending several winter months each year in Hawaii and became particularly enchanted by the idea of owning a place open to the sea, she said. 

She signed on Mr. Fleetwood, who she said was “her lucky charm.” He also renovated Windy Dune, turning the 10-bedroom, two bathroom manse into a seven bedroom, seven bathroom stately, and more livable, home. 

In 2013, Mr. Fleetwood began his work on the Stack House, and without changing the original footprint, made the most of the sky the bay, and the beach with a wall of glass doors. Ms. Cookson describes it as “a green, tight, self-sufficient house on two high-ground slabs allowing for the water’s rise.” Inside, the common room is filled not only with light flooding in through the glass doors but with piles of artwork, clearly inspired by all that light.

Wide planks of pickled wood give the impression of a sun-bleached indoor space. Large stones from Montauk were used to build a massive fireplace and its chimney, which rises well above the house’s low, sweeping roofline with an almost Thai-inspired curvature, Mr. Fleetwood’s trademark. A full kitchen and bathroom, as well as a bedroom loft upstairs, make the Stack House a covetous beachfront retreat, a fact that is not lost on Ms. Cookson. 

“In the rains and winds one feels as if you are on a boat and hardly moving. The ocean changes on the hour and the sunsets linger in the earliest part of summer. It’s so appealing. And then to create down there is so special,” she said.

The studio doubles as a home away from home, with a fireplace made of Montauk stones for winter, a kitchen and bathroom, and a loft bedroom for those occasions when Lucy Cookson simply cannot put away her artwork.
Seen from the beach, the studio displays the architect’s commitment to the shingle style and love of swooping gables.
The smokestack is all that remains of the Devon Colony’s power plant. Ospreys have found it to be a handy nesting place.
The base of the smokestack as seen from inside.