When you think about Outer Banks architecture, you likely imagine pastel-colored beach houses with expansive, wrap-around porches, sitting atop wooden pilings. But in the mid-20th century, a different type of vacation home was popular. Known as flat-top cottages, they are characterized by their no-pitch roofs and clean, mid-century modern lines.
Frank Stick, an artist and conservationist, is credited with designing the flat-top cottage. Stick studied at the Chicago Art Institute and his paintings appeared on covers of popular magazines like Field and Stream and the Saturday Evening Post. In 1929, he and his family settled on Roanoke Island and helped to establish the Wright Brothers National Memorial and the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. Stick also played a vital role in establishing Cape Hatteras National Seashore as the United State’s first national seashore, which protects significant portions of OBX barrier islands.
After World War II, Stick turned his attention from painting and philanthropy to architecture. In 1947, he bought 2,800 acres north of Kitty Hawk, including four miles of Outer Banks oceanfront. Timber was scarce due to the war, so Stick chose to build with concrete blocks made of local sand. Inspired by island-style homes in the Florida Keys as well as the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, the home facades and floor plans are clean and simple. The flat roofs feature extended overhangs, which offer shade, while the large windows let in ocean breezes. Many of the cottages feature local juniper-wood paneling, ceiling beams, and hurricane shutters.
Stick built 80 of these homes in a community called Southern Shores, which was incorporated as a town in 1979. Currently, less than half of the original flat tops still exist. Some were damaged by hurricanes, but most were replaced by multi-story vacation homes as owners’ tastes and needs changed. The flat top cottages that remain are treasured by their owners as important parts of OBX history and iconic examples of mid-century architecture.
Each year the Southern Shores Historic Flat Top Cottage Tour takes place in April. Click the link to purchase tickets.
Blog by Jessica T. Smith for the Coastal Cottage Company