What is Cottage Style?

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Rachel Stone

So what exactly is cottage style? Today we will explore the roots of cottage style, the common variations of this charming style, and simple ways you can add this style into your home. Let’s go visit some cottages!

Traditional English Country Manor House Style

In the manor house the style was more formal, using grand proportions, expensive materials, symmetry, and objects gathered from extensive travels. Think elaborate “show” rooms with jacquard wallpaper, high ceilings, ornate moldings, fancy drapes using yards and yards of fabric and trim. Decorative items were often collected from foreign travels giving the style a “traveled” look and contributing to the quirk often found in English homes today.

It was at this point we see interior designers John Fowler (British), and Nancy Lancaster (American) enter the scene with significant, lasting effect. The manor house rooms had a more “done” look that Fowler & Lancaster intentionally strayed from, hence the birth of the English country cottage.

During the feudal period in England’s history the lord lived in the Great house, often known as the manor, and portions of his land and small buildings of traditional design called a “cot”, “cote”, or “hut” would be “let” or rented to a “cotter.” A cotter was a Scottish term for a pheasant farmer. In exchange for the land and cot, the cotter would provide some sort of service to the lord. Over time these cots were called cottages. These humble cottages grew in size and began to resemble the grand house in interior design just on a simpler scale. This style was the first interpretation flowing from the traditional manor house style.


The manor style is the “mother” style from which the English cottage style descended thanks to John Fowler & Nancy Lancaster. Nancy Lancaster knew that a degree of informality promotes relaxation – hence the English adherence to comfort above all. She also held that every room should have something “ugly” to offset the beauty of other items in the room. Neither did she believe in perfection. “Crossing too many t’s and dotting too many i’s makes a room look overdone and tiresome.” she said.

More informal, the cottage style favors casual living above trend or convention. Quality, and history is still important as you will see furniture from decades past, often clad in the original, shabby upholstery.

English Cottage Style 

As you know, there are many cottage styles today and while these have pulled influences from many different sources the English cottage look pulls heavily from the original English manor or country house style. There is a sense of history about the furniture, artwork, and decor items. This often comes across effortlessly because these pieces have the history of being passed down from generation to generation. The greatest difference between the manor house interior and the cottage is shown in the favoring of comfort and livability above having a “designed” showy look.

Elements of English Cottage Style:

  • Architecture: Cottages are usually small houses with cozy nooks, some slanted attic ceilings, and exposed beams. Most walls are painted tongue and groove paneling, wallpaper (or fabric), brick, or stone. The floors are ancient brick, stone, or wide planked wood often covered with wool or rag rugs. Open shelving in the kitchen.
  • Lighting/furnishings: This look favors natural lighting and a soft ambient glow, so you’ll rarely see rooms lit with harsh overhead lighting. Lamps are used everywhere in every shape, color, size, and often with the classic pleated fabric shade. Antique furniture sits comfortable in every room with mixed wood finishes, and some painted furniture. Furniture emphasizes comfort with plush rolled-arm sofas, the iconic English turned leg and caster, deep wing-backs, and a liberal sprinkling of colorful throws and cushions. Casual, practical living that is oblivious to trends is favored in the cottage style.
  • Color Palette/Décor: One of the most attractive elements of the cottage style is the versatility in color palette and decor interpretations.  In color you will notice different preferences from muted & natural, to bright & quirky. In décor there is also quite a diversity from a soothing, natural more minimal look to a full colorful maximal look. Some universal elements of English cottage design include the British love of the indoor/outdoor lifestyle through their tendency to have flowers on everything… in addition, the British enjoy reading and keep books within easy reach. Art (usually in large amounts) is a given in creating the English cottage style and is used in spaces that may surprise you such as the kitchen, pantry, and even the bathroom.

This style is probably the most recognized for its fullness in the “stuff”, color & pattern, and the emphasis on comfort, and personalization. Most of the other styles (except French) are more regimented in design aesthetic, and color palette.

In an article published by House & Garden, written by Ros Byam Shaw. “Of all the styles of decoration that have flourished over the past 50 years, none has been as enduring as that associated with the English country house. Though ‘English country house style’ has never been exclusively English, was perfected by an American, and pops up in Clapham nearly as often as in the Cotswolds, its decorative tropes are instantly recognisable: a mix of antique furnishings, at least one capacious sofa with a generous serving of cushions, rugs, table lamps with fabric shades, and flowers both fresh and recreated in prints and paintings. Antique textiles, a dash of modernity, a flourish of the oriental, and a couple of dogs can be added for extra flavour. Part of the success of this style is its tolerance and flexibility. Unlike minimalism, which demands straight-edged perfection, or rough luxe with its ban on prettiness, English country house style embraces wear and tear, and doesn’t take itself too seriously.”

Isn’t the English way of mixing color and pattern fabulous?! I’ve been enamored with this seemingly effortless skill and have studying many, many photographs to learn the secrets. Here are the tips I’ve picked up:

  • Choose a color palette either warm, or cool. This will help all the pattern seem to come from one “family”.
  • Choose one, or two feature fabrics. Feature fabrics generally have the most colors and largest patterns.
  • Avoid too many floral prints… (I know, I know it doesn’t seem possible). Breaking up floral prints with stripes, checks, dots, or solid textured fabrics (like corduroy) gives a balanced, intentional look.

French Cottage Style

The overall feeling of the French cottage style is a blend of the romantic and rustic, which can swing from quite fancy, to humble. You will see more sparkly chandeliers, gilded picture frames, painted, curvy furniture, and dreamy artwork. Think shabby elegance with a rustic backbone/framework.

Elements of French Cottage Style:

  • Architecture: Wood finishes can be raw wood, weathered gray, or covered in delightfully chipped paint with gold touches. Think faded glamour. Other natural materials are favored such as huge exposed beams and centuries old stone slab floors.
  • Lighting/furnishings: French chandeliers, wall sconces, brass candlesticks, and crystal lamps are commonly seen in French cottages. Furniture has more curved lines, and carved wooden edges. You may see tufting, as well as the casual slipcover in vintage French grain sacks. The fabrics, while used simply, can be sumptuous satin, velvet, jacquard, toile, and historical tapestry. Often these fabrics are gently faded or tattered contributing to the faded beauty of this style. This style mixes well with English cottage and farmhouse.
  • Color Palette/Décor: Color palettes may fall into three camps. A lovely soft muted or neutral monochromatic scheme, or soft pastels usually dominated by the classic French blue. or a ballet pink. Lastly, you may see a more rustic, vibrant Tuscan palette with barn red, sunflower yellow, and a smoky navy blue.
Photo courtesy of Theelliothomestead.com.

Another trademark of French cottage decorating is the use of copper. This copper bathtub is stunning! You will also see collections of copper in the kitchen to accompany the magnificent range and gourmet meals.

In the French cottage style juxtaposition is king. Think faded glamour, or aged beauty. If you were to picture this style in an outfit then imagine a worn, faded blue jean jacket paired with an antique lace skirt. The definition of rustic romance, or relaxed elegance.

In these bedrooms you see a backdrop of soft French pastel colors in ballet pink and powder blue. The romance of floral fabrics, curved furniture, and ornate picture frames is happily mixed with rugged exposed beams, heavily textured plaster, and practical jute floor coverings.

French color palettes:

  1. Older Tuscan styles of red reds, golden yellows, and bright navy blues.
  2. Soft pastels: Dreamy powder blues and ballet pink.
  3. Monochromatic neutrals: whites and creams

Coastal Cottage Style

In the coastal cottage style think simple, serene, light, bright, and casual. Similar to the English cottage style the lifestyle focus with the coastal cottage is on being outdoors, or bringing the outdoors in. Decor is generally minimal, casual, and unfussy. An emphasis on blurring the lines of indoor/outdoor living.

Elements of Coastal Cottage Style

  • Architecture: The coastal cottage style is influenced by the French cottage in color palette and use of raw, or painted woods, as well picking up elements of the surrounding traditional New England styles (but that’s a design topic for another day). Coastal cottage reflects natural elements such as exposed beams (smaller and simpler than the English or French beams) in raw wood, natural finishes on wood flooring, stone accent walls, and lots of windows. You will also see more shake siding on the exteriors which you won’t find on French or English cottages.
  • Lighting/furnishings: Lighting includes lamps made from unique natural materials such as raw wood, driftwood, green glass, baskets, or textured crocks and pottery. In hard furnishings you’ll see wood finishes in naturally finished, raw, or weathered wood, as well as chippy paint. Typical soft furnishings include casual rolled arm sofas in slipcovers, deep comfy armchairs, and wooden farmhouse tables in a natural or raw wood finish.
  • Textiles: Fabrics for curtains, throw pillows, or rugs include stripes, textured fabrics such as linen and drop cloth or burlap, and woven, jute rugs.
  • Color Palette/Décor: Think natural, neutral, light, and bright with a clear seaside flavor in blues, greys, greens, sand, and creams. Décor styles are relaxed, and may include seaside paintings, driftwood displays, seashell collections, oars, and duck decoys. This style can easily slip into a Swedish cottage look too…

Modern Cottage Style

This style, as the name suggests, is a more recent variation of the cottage style and is growing in popularity. The look has clean lines, neutral, or strongly contrasting color palettes, minimal furnishings, with the architecture often making the loudest statement. This is the most pared down version of cottage style and where the modern “farmhouse” lover could merge easily into a “cottage-y” look.

Elements of Modern Cottage Style:

  • Architecture (walls/floors): The open floor plan concept is more prevalent here with higher ceilings and exposed beams creating sharp angles. Walls are smooth sheet rock, or paneling and texture is kept at a minimum.
  • Lighting/furnishings: Overhead light fixtures play a large role as the statement piece in the room. Overhead pendants in glass or metal are often oversized and sculptural.
  • Color Palette/Décor: The color palette may fall in one of three camps.  A blended neutral, with pops of black and earthy tones, an edgy strongly contrasting white backdrop with black accents and dark wood finishes, or rich, dark colors (emerald, navy) giving a moody feeling.

So, why does interior design matter? Why learn the different cottage styles? It is from our homes we venture into the world, return for rest and refuge, and to rejoice with friends and family. Cultivating the art of a certain style in your home creates an atmosphere of calm, comfort, and intention. By establishing the why and how your home reflects the needs and tastes of your family you create a place of refuge and rejoicing to share. By learning the elements of your style, you gain focus. You can search for specific pieces on a budget to tailor the feeling that style offers as well as the function that will best serve your family.

My all-time best cottage style design tip: Really, this tip applies to any style of interior design. Create comfort. The function of your home is more important than how it looks. You use your home first and when it functions well, you enjoy your home. Take careful note of how you and your family live in your home and look for ways to make it more comfortable, to serve you more smoothly. Then make it pretty!

Thank you for joining me today as we strolled through several different cottage styles! I hope you gained some insights into the elements of each style and how to use them in your home. Until next time, 



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Author: Rachel Stone
Rachel is passionate about creating a comfortable and beautiful home for her family. She also loves to share the lessons she is learning with her wonderful audience both on this blog and her YouTube channel.

14 thoughts on “What is Cottage Style?”

  1. some lovely examples!! Thank you for exploring each cottage style. I admit I am at a loss with which is which, it’s nice to have some concrete examples. I love all the cottage styles and I fear my house reflects that, but maybe that’s not so bad!

    • Hello, Miss Josette!
      I’m glad you found your visit defining the cottage styles to be helpful. No worries trying to figure out which cottage style is yours ~ the mix is delightful! Really the only place where you’d find a “pure” example of a certain style is in a museum ~ and who wants a home like that?! A true reflection of your personality will shine through the pieces that reflect your taste. Mix well, let it bake, and tweak the “recipe” as you go!

  2. Wonderful post and video! I feel like I’ve taken a class in interior design with all the information and examples you provided. The list of books and blogs is so helpful. I look forward to some long evenings with a cup of tea and stack of books to slowly savor. Thank you for the explanation of why home design matters. Sometimes I chide myself for paying to much attention to it all but maybe that’s what a “home-body” truly is!

    • Good afternoon, Miss Ellen!
      How exciting to see you pop up here on my blog ~ welcome! I’m thrilled you found today’s visit encouraging & helpful, it is my hope that this video will serve as a useful reference for design style definition and direction in my viewers homes. Most of all, I’m glad the thoughts shared at the end of the visit on making our homes lovely resonated with you. As long as we keep sight of the fact that serving & blessing our families (& not feeding a collection obsession, or as an excuse to shop), is the ultimate goal we will be successful “home-bodies”! I have a couple “new” books from the library to peruse with a cup of tea in the evening as well!

  3. Thank you Rachel…so much! I enjoyed this video due to my eclectic style of English, French, & Coastal!
    I love them all. I have created my home, built in 1913, with a sense of warmth, comfort, and beauty. I love how you placed the best pictures for these designs. The florals, plus the art work, never has to break the bank, and you show us how to utilize these in your own home. I love your guest room art wall!
    Thank you for the tips, the book ideas, and most of all what a wonderful life home-making can be, and is!
    I made bread today and the smell is wafting through the fabric of “home”.
    God Bless You,

    • Good evening, Miss Lina!
      Thank you so much for joining me today on the cottage style tour ~ it was great fun to have you along! Your home sounds lovely, especially with the scent of fresh bread floating through the rooms ~ incredibly welcoming! Artwork has got to be one of my favorite parts of a home as it reflects the personality of the host.

      May the Lord bless you too,

  4. This was such a helpful, inspiring, and educational post. I’m split between French and English cottage style. So many reasons to love both.

    • Hello, Miss Arianne!
      I’m so happy you were inspired & helped by this post. Yes, French & English styles are both easy to love, plus they blend beautifully!
      Thank you for visiting & leaving your thoughts.
      Have a lovely spring!

  5. Very inspiring, the Tuscan bedroom is really attractive. I love the colors.
    Looking around my home I notice that I often default to those colors in small details. The flowers around the cottages, well now that’s a really something. I am putting roses on top of my shopping list.!💕

    • Hello there, Miss Luana!
      I’m glad you found your visit to be inspiring! It was such fun to make this video & learn more about each cottage style variation. The color palette in your home sounds warm & welcoming. You’ll never regret roses! Have a lovely evening.

  6. You really have put in a lot of time to research the different cottage styles. You are becoming quite* the expert sweetie. Great job on your video!

    *The American meaning of “quite,” rather than the British.

  7. This was so thorough and packed with information. The various pictures that show the different styles were so helpful! By the way, I looked up pictures of the boho modern farmhouse cottage style and you were spot on with that! Everything in the decor in this style is what I gravitate towards when picking items for my own home…a nurturing, serene place with some of the outside brought in + a little bit of luxury. Now that I know about the modern farmhouse style/boho, everything makes sense! It ties everything together and will create cohesiveness throughout my home.

    • Hello Joanna!
      I’m really glad you found the post/video helpful. Your home is lovely, thank you for stopping by!

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