Cottage-Style Homes: The Coziest Design on the Market

Ginny Bartolone
Written by Ginny Bartolone
Updated February 8, 2022
Cottage in the woods
Photo: Rocter / iStock / Getty Images

Highlights

  • Cottages incorporate a range of architectural styles, including colonial to Tudor.

  • Cottage-style homes are often quaint with one or two stories and charming features.

  • The cottage-inspired decor and interior design are often as important as its architecture.

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When you hear the word "cottage," it's easy to dream up a cozy one-room house tucked away in a forest with a roaring fire and a flock of particularly clever birds. In real life, you'll find this oh-so-charming architectural style spread across the world, featuring a long list of design elements. Let's look at what makes a cottage one-of-a-kind and how to make the home unique to your style.

What Is a Cottage?

Here's a great tidbit for your next trivia night: the word cottage comes from the word "cotter." Cotters were English peasant workers who lived on a nobleman's land in the Middle Ages. The design of the homes are what we imagine from fairy tales: stone or wooden walls, a thatched roof, and a small interior built to hold in the heat of a central fireplace.

While we often imagine English cottages, the style flourished worldwide, from Norwegian hyttes to a small Cape Cod home off the coast of Maine. U.S. cottages are far more likely to be associated with a home in the mountains, along the shore, or tucked in the woods beside a lake. 

Traditional Cottage Style

Cottages typically featured a simple open floor plan. They feature either one or two floors and likely only have two or three rooms on each floor. Many cottages still feature gabled roofs with a sharp slope and a central chimney.

As quaint homes remain popular in the modern era, cottages took on the architectural styles of their time. You'll find cottages from throughout the past two centuries as Cape Cods, bungalows, Craftsman, and even Tudor cottages.

Key Elements of Cottage Design

Defining a cottage may not be as cut and dry as a Queen Anne-style home, but there are clear features that fit a house into the cottage category.

Charm Over Size

While you’ll find cottages in small and medium sizes, the charm tends to outdo the square footage. The frame of a cottage is often simple enough to show off small details like lattice and trellises, quaint front porches, and colorful shutters. The small home will also likely leave room for plenty of yard space, harking back to its pastoral roots. 

Simple Frames

A cottage's structure is typically quite simple, both inside and out. The exterior is often symmetrical with a sloped gable or hipped roof, either facing the street or the side of the home. A-framed cottages have been a popular pick during the past 50 years, particularly with floor-to-ceiling windows to observe the outdoors. 

Open Floor Plan

Step inside a cottage, and you'll find plenty of flexibility to stage your living room, dining room, and kitchen, as well as bedrooms on the first or second floor. Open floor plans that allow for creativity are common, as the traditional layout encourages the flow of heat in the winter and cool air in the summer. While modern room layouts vary, tradition calls for two rooms on the base floor and two on the top.

Charming Features

Less may be more in cottage architecture, but the style encourages personalized accents in all corners of the home. Cottages by the sea may feature one large bay window while Colonial-style homes may place two dormer windows on the slanted roof of the top floor.

Cottages often blend with their natural surroundings quite seamlessly, bringing in the colors of the garden in the stone, wood, or brick siding.

Designing and Caring For Your Cottage-Style Home

Cottage by a lake
Photo: LuCaAr / iStock / Getty Images

As the tiny home trend continues to take off, cottages bring back an old way of simplified living. Living in a diminutive—and sometimes historic—home means there are a few ups and downs you should know about.

Simple and Flexible Space

On the plus side, a smaller indoor space means less time and money spent on designing and caring for individual rooms. Arrange your dining area in unique configurations without sticking to a preordained layout. You can also designate small spaces in a larger room for different purposes, like a reading nook, a breakfast area, or a work corner.

Historic Cottage Care

If you've been lucky enough to nab an early-American cottage—perhaps a classic log cabin—you'll need to keep an extra eye on local regulations when restoring your home. On the plus side, your cottage was likely designed to hold in heat, even if you will need to add insulation and update your HVAC system. But the simple, sturdy structure and a traditional gable roof, there are likely fewer restoration projects on your list.

Celebrating Cottagecore

With the rise of simple living comes the celebration of cottages through an interior design trend—cottagecore. Cottagecore reflects the old English style of country living. It's packed with floral patterns, indoor greenery, thick comforting fabrics, and wainscoting. Beadboard lines the walls of the kitchen and stacked stone surrounds a wood-burning stove.

And what's best, cottagecore works whether you live in a cottage or not. Celebrate all things vintage, country-chic, and the simple bed-and-breakfast vibes of a weekend away in the English countryside.

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