Decorating 101: Cottage Style

Author: Alecia Pirulis


Imagine stepping into a Thomas Kinkade painting … the small cottage in the woods surrounded by colorful gardens, the candlelight illuminating the windows, the ivy climbing up the side walls and along the aged picket fence. What would you expect to find if you could walk through the door? That is the essence of cottage style – think warm, cozy, inviting.

Everything about cottage style is relaxed and comfortable – even the “rules” of cottage design (there really aren’t any). Cottage style is simple and casual. The color palette is warm and inviting – keep that gorgeous flower garden from the painting in mind when selecting your colors: warm apricot, soft shades of green, sunflower yellow, and dusty rose. Walls are typically painted white or cream (but they don’t have to be!) and serve as a backdrop to the more colorful fabrics and furniture.

Cottage-style homes typically have exposed beams, bead board, wainscoting, molding, natural fibers, floral patterns, and stripes. Fabrics most often used in cottage-style spaces include linen, wool, cotton, and burlap. Kitchens are often white and feature open shelving, a farmhouse sink, and perhaps a farm table. Bathrooms often feature a claw-foot tub and antique bronze fixtures. Furniture and décor is a pleasing blend of old and new, bargain finds and expensive splurges, the simple and classic mixed with the fussy and ornate.

Paint old wooden furniture and add some pretty knobs, and look for furniture in natural fibers such as wicker. Give your furniture a slightly aged, distressed look by lightly sanding over the (dry) paint where furniture would naturally wear – at the corners or along the edges. For window treatments, look for natural fibers – such as wood blinds. Or try adding interior shutters – look through thrift and antique stores to find vintage shutters (peeling paint is a plus!).

Items in a cottage-style room shouldn’t look shiny and new. Everything should be comfortably worn – but not worn out. You should want to sink into the couch, relax, and put your feet up on the coffee table. Nothing in a cottage-style home feels cold or too perfect or sleek. Instead, everything is inviting, warm, and perfectly aged. Cover your couch with a slipcover and add some throw pillows and maybe a blanket. Mix your fabrics and patterns, but keep the fabrics light – no heavy drapes. You want bright and breezy – not heavy and dark.

Cottage-style homes use every bit of space – think cozy reading nooks by the window or under the stairs, a wine rack in the kitchen corner, and a small desk tucked into a bedroom dormer. But while space is utilized, a cottage-style home isn’t cluttered.

Use natural wood flooring – such as wide pine planks – and use throw rugs in natural fibers to define spaces. Built-ins are also a common cottage element. Be sure to include lots of open shelving, built-in bookcases, storage cubbies, and snug alcoves.

When looking for items to include in your cottage-style space, be sure to look for vintage items. Adding vintage milk tins, a pie safe, a wrought-iron headboard, or even vintage bottles and wire baskets will give your cottage-style room an authentic look. Cut fresh flowers (from your cottage garden?) and put them in the milk tin, the vintage bottles, or in that antique pitcher you found.

Remember: the buzzword in cottage-style decorating is “comfort.” Choose items you love, don’t worry about design “rules,” and make your cottage-style home your own personal retreat.