Madison’s modern-day masterpiece of American Craftsman Style
Written by Andrea Gable
Photographed by Blake Smith
The world of art is measured in movements. The pioneers of each are celebrated in history, seared into our collective cultural imagery. Their names are inextricably linked to the movements: Cubism is Picasso. Pop Art is Warhol.
And bleeding over into architecture, Arts and Crafts is Frank Lloyd Wright. He stands alongside the maybe lesser known but no less influential Greene brothers, Charles and Henry, who helped launch what is today known as American Craftsman Style with their “bungalows” on the West Coast.
The Arts and Crafts movement transitioned the country from ornate Victorian architecture into the age of Art Deco. It ushered in open floor plans and uninterrupted spaces that created more functional and “livable” homes for America’s growing middle class. Its hallmark was the use of mixed materials – wood, stone, glass, and metal – to accentuate a “handmade” house. Its bones were brought out from behind walls and put on display – exposed beams, joints, and pegs, detailed woodwork, and intricate, handcrafted fixtures and furniture.
The movement waxed at the turn of the 20th Century and waned around the Great Depression but left a lasting impression on architecture. Homes built by Greene & Greene and Frank Lloyd Wright throughout the country still stand as monuments to these early visionaries.
Though not as prolific, the style is still popular today, scattered throughout neighborhoods with the adoption of certain elements like tapered columns or hipped roofs. But perhaps no other house more completely revives the style than a modern-day masterpiece hidden away in rural Morgan County.
Clean lines and natural materials allow this three-story house to blend seamlessly into its landscape overlooking Lake Oconee. It has the Craftsman style’s signature low-pitched roof lines, deep eaves, and exposed rafters, accented by stacked stone, cedar shakes, and even a stained glass front door.
If the Greene brothers and Wright had ever teamed up on a project, this would have been the result. It’s almost as if the house is an embodiment of their “greatest hits,” lifted from the pages of a coffee table book.
In fact, that’s exactly what it is.
Stephen Cooke pulls out those very coffee table books from the handcrafted wooden shelves in his warm and well-appointed study. He unabashedly turns to bookmarked pages with photographs of stunning staircases, stone porches, exposed beams, walls of windows, and geometric light fixtures – the exact same features we passed on the way into the study.
“I basically stole all my ideas,” says Cooke, smiling as he points out more of his home’s replicas from the book in his hands. There is his front door. On the next page is the recessed lighting in his kitchen and bedroom. “It was like going to a Chinese restaurant and pointing at the menu. I’ll take one from column A, two from column B,” he explains. “I took the best ideas from these homes and made my own.”
He knew exactly what he wanted, and a man like that could either be a blessing or a curse for an architect. He enlisted the services of William “Bill” Harrison, noted architect and owner of Harrison Design, based in Atlanta.
Cooke began showing Harrison and his design team the pages he had bookmarked. Most of the architectural elements came directly from “Taliesin East,” Wright’s home and studio in Wisconsin, and the Gamble house in Pasadena, Calif., built by Greene & Greene.
“All three of my architects said, ‘You can’t do this. It’s two types of Arts and Crafts styles. You can’t combine the two,’” says Cooke. “I asked them to at least give me a sketch of what it would look like.” The architects acquiesced and brought Cooke a watercolor of what they considered an implausible design. “As soon as I saw it, I said, ‘Let’s do it. Let’s make it happen.’” That watercolor now hangs on the wall of his study.
Cooke says Harrison and his team made the two styles work together flawlessly. “It’s a testament to Bill’s talent,” he says. After construction was completed in 2007, he remembers Harrison surveying the finished product and saying, “I knew I did good work, but I didn’t know I did this good of work.”
Before he had bookmarked his pages, Cooke had a general idea of what he wanted for his dream home. He just didn’t realize it was textbook Arts and Crafts.
“I was more attracted to the materials – the stone and the wood – than the look,” he says. “I didn’t know what things were called, but it ends up that I’ve always been an Arts and Crafts guy.”
Cooke grew up in Virginia before moving to Roswell in the 80s. He was a Boy Scout. He spent his time outdoors, camping and wandering the woods, he says. That’s perhaps why he was subconsciously drawn to the American Craftsman Style and its architects. Frank Lloyd Wright’s bedrock philosophy was that structures should live in harmony with the environment – what he called “organic architecture.” Perhaps his most iconic example of this philosophy is “Fallingwater,” which he built over a waterfall in Pennsylvania.
Wright’s use of mixed materials to blend his homes into their surroundings was further amplified by large expanses of glass that joined indoors with the outdoors. Wright wrote an essay in 1928 in which he compared glass to the mirrors of nature.
In Cooke’s living room, a wall of windows reflects the nature of his secluded main terrace and Koi pond. Natural light pours in, blurring the lines between interior and exterior. In utilizing the techniques of Wright and the Greene brothers, Cooke is able to find nature in each corner of the residence. His can see Lake Oconee clearly from his study. Exterior balconies off the upstairs bedrooms give him an expansive view of the natural stream running through his property below. “I like coming out here to look at the lake and watch the wildlife,” says Cooke. He boasts that he counted 36 deer there this year.
Inside, nature is welcomed into his conservatory, just off of the kitchen. The glassed room is lined with rows of Bonsai trees and rare orchids. Downstairs, the terrace level opens out into the rose garden – a breathtaking expanse of geometric raised beds holding more than 700 rose bushes. “I don’t necessarily have a green thumb, but I’ve been gardening all my life,” says Cooke. “My mother gave me ten Zinnias when I was little. All ten came up and I was hooked.”
Equally impressive is the vegetable garden that yields far more than one man can consume. Cooke shares most of the bounty. Almost every week, he brings a load of fresh vegetables to The Caring Place, a food pantry that serves Morgan County. One week, he says, there were 615 pounds of tomatoes.
Cooke is also involved with the Madison Morgan Conservancy and its efforts to protect and preserve historic sites, greenspace, and farmland. He enjoys giving back to a community that has provided a place to build the home of his dreams in a space infused by nature.
This dream home honors the legacy of visionary architects, but more importantly honors their philosophy – homes should be original, simple in form, and in harmony with the environment – beliefs that were strong enough to start a movement.
Cooke lives by what Frank Lloyd Wright once said, “Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.”