Crash Course In Interior Design: Cottage Style

To kick off this series on interior design, we took a look at the three basic design schools of thought: traditional, transitional, and contemporary. But in practice, design is a lot more complicated, with dozens of unique and distinctive styles that each have their own quirks and personalities. Cottage style design falls solidly in the transitional category, combining simple lines and minimal spaces with practical antiques and a subtle rustic touch. Pairing white paint and light neutral linens with natural wood and weathered finishes, cottage style spaces are comfortable, casual, and feel lived in, with a humble sense of history that makes them both classic and timeless. In this crash course, we’re going to take a look at the most important elements of this style in every room in the home.

Cottage Kitchens

Quaint patterned fabrics, like these subtle floral window treatments or the gingham table cloth add charm and whimsy to a cottage style space (by CapeRace Cultural Adventures)
Quaint patterned fabrics, like these subtle floral window treatments or the gingham table cloth add charm and whimsy to a cottage style space (by CapeRace Cultural Adventures)

Cottage kitchens are emblematic of this style as a whole. White shaker cabinets and white walls paired with light hardwood floors create a kitchen that’s bright and open, with a very simple look that’s evokes a sense of hand-made craftsmanship without feeling too rustic. Open shelves in place of upper cabinets have a very functional feel, but also allow ordinary everyday items, like simple stacked bowls or glass canisters of pantry items, to act as decoration. A big, farmhouse style porcelain sink acts as the centerpiece of a cottage kitchen, cementing the pleasantly old fashioned, practical feel of the space. Cottage kitchens are meant to look clean but well used, with an emphasis on functional antiques, like a weather-worn wood kitchen table, an antique egg basket, or just that plain-jane white porcelain dinnerware stored (and displayed) on the open shelves.

Cottage Bathrooms

A solid white on white bathroom can feel a bit stark, especially with little natural light, so consider adding visual interest with multiple textures or colored grout, or warmth with pastel paint or even wood flooring or beams (by Group 3 Designs)
A solid white on white bathroom can feel a bit stark, especially with little natural light, so consider adding visual interest with multiple textures or colored grout, or warmth with pastel paint or even wood flooring
(by Group 3 Designs)

Cottage style bathrooms are classic and iconic, and often show up in homes where the style isn’t used otherwise, particularly homes with bathrooms that are on the smaller side. Cottage style bathrooms have a very distinctive white-on-white decor. Hexagonal tiles one the floor and subway tiles on the wall, paired with a classic pedestal sink and clawfoot tub are all signature features of this timeless look. Working together, they can make a small space feel bright, open, and clean. White beadboard paneling is a traditional (and more affordable) substitution for tile walls, and planked walls and ceilings can work as well. To add a touch of warmth to the white-on-white look, consider a soft pastel paint on the upper halves of the walls. Exposed wood beams and even wood floors aren’t unheard of in a cottage style; adding wood or quarried stone can add a nice natural feel to a cottage bathroom, just make sure not to go overboard, or the look will be a little too rustic. If you have room to spare, decorating a cottage bathroom with small pieces of antique furniture – like a chair, chest, or cart – can lend charm and functionality to the space, and make it feel a little more inviting.

Cottage Bedrooms

Cottage bedrooms should feel warm and cozy, with lots of thick, textured fabrics to soften the simple white-and-wood backdrop (by JAUREGUI Architecture Interiors Construction)
Cottage bedrooms should feel warm and cozy, with lots of thick, textured fabrics to soften the simple white-and-wood backdrop (by JAUREGUI Architecture Interiors Construction)

Cottage style bedrooms should be soft and dreamy, and very inviting for cool weather. White linens atop a tall wood or wrought iron bed frame are a key element; a more rustic style might feature colorful patterned quilts, but for a pure cottage look, stick with a thick white comforter and supplement it as necessary either with a textured white quilt, or neutral toned blankets. Simple cotton or wool area rugs add softness and warmth to a hardwood floor, and whitewashed, plank-style walls add both light and a slightly old fashioned touch to the space. Unlike many cottage style rooms, a cottage style bedroom should be kept relatively free of clutter – fresh flowers or a few small decor items are okay, but the collage of oddball items that works well in cottage style living areas will make a bedroom feel too busy. To add a little more warmth and color to this style, incorporate pastel colored linens, or ones with simple patterns or floral prints. This homey, rustic touch will brighten up a white-and-wood backdrop, but make sure to stick to the same color or color family for maximum effect.

Cottage Dining Rooms

Adding upholstered chairs to a rustic dining table and antique wood chairs gives a cottage dining room a subtle hint of sophistication that can make a humble dining set feel more formal (by de[luxe] design studio)
Adding upholstered chairs to a rustic dining table and antique wood chairs gives a cottage dining room a subtle hint of sophistication that can make a humble dining set feel more formal (by de[luxe] design studio)
Cottage style dining rooms run the gamut from very rustic to fairly sophisticated. The table itself should be simple and made of a natural finished wood, but the type of chairs you pair with it can vary the final look dramatically. Antique style cross backed chairs or other iconic, late 19th century wood chairs – like the No. 14 chair – are simple yet classic, with a uniform-yet-rustic look that pairs well with a cottage style. For an even more casual style, consider putting a solid wood bench on one side of the table. To dress up the look, replace the chairs at the ends of the table with nailhead upholstered high-backed chairs done in a light linen or canvas colored material. This slightly more formal touch can help bring together the more rustic elements, ensuring the space still feels clean. It’s also worth noting that more casual, in-kitchen dining sets – like a banquette ore breakfast nook – are also popular options for this very homey style.

Cottage Living Areas

Decorating with found items creates a sense that items that have been passed down and collected over time, emphasizing the timeless quality of a cottage style (by Jennifer Grey Interiors)
Decorating with found items creates a sense that items that have been passed down and collected over time, emphasizing the timeless quality of a cottage style (by Jennifer Grey Interiors)

It’s in the living areas that the eclectic aspects of a cottage decor really shine. Collections of second hand items and oddball flea market finds are transformed into essential decor items and artwork. Old glass bottles, mis-matched antique mirrors, rustic crates, leather bound books, birds nests, pieces of driftwood, metal pails, or even stylized street signs all contribute to a pleasant hand-me-down quality and an inviting sense of history. As with other rooms, a cottage style living space should be aged, but clean and neat. That means textured wood floors and weathered furniture, but counterbalanced with fresh, clean linens. Fitted white slipcovers are an iconic feature of a cottage style decor, as they feel functional, but keep the living room looking very crisp and clean.

Similar Styles:

Farmhouse, Seaside, Industrial, Shabby Chic, Rustic, Country, Shaker, Eclectic

What do you think of a cottage style design? Is it right for you? Let me know in the comments, and check back for more design guides in this continuing series.