Renovating the English Cottage

The Old House Web

by Allison E. Beatty
OldHouseWeb Columnist

The English cottage style has captivated hearts for hundreds of years. From the worn stone floors to the airy cotton drapes, the cottage style has a casualness that encourages visitors to kick back and sit a spell.

You don't have to live in the English countryside to own this cozy cottage, many of today's homes can be converted into this style. All it takes is a little creativity and inspiration -- it doesn't hurt to have a contractor who shares your vision, too.

Fun Colors

The cottage look is cozy and unfussy, and the furniture invites you to sit down. Many tables, chairs, and sofas have been found at garage sales or passed down from relatives. Some have been repainted while others are left worn lovingly around the edges. Instead of bold reds and blues, look for softer pinks, greens, and creams that create a warm palette. Floral, striped, or beached-themed fabrics are also popular.

While it is possible to go in several directions with the cottage style, it helps to focus your ideas before you start. Do you want a floral cottage look or a distressed design with faded white furniture and wrought iron? Once you've decided on the general theme, be sure to tie your look together.

The Outside View

As you plan your renovation, look first to the exterior of the home. The key is to give the outside a fresh, crisp look. If you have wood shingles, a fresh coat of white paint can do wonders for the overall appeal. Stucco also can work with this style as well.

Next, look at the front door. On an average door without much vintage detail, try a fresh coat of paint. If it is an old wooden door with some character, consider having it striped and restained. Just don't get too exact with the staining. You want the door to appear to have aged with time.

The exterior work also can include new windows and a few flower boxes in key places. The kitchen window is a natural place, as this allows you to throw open the window in spring and tend to the flowers. A few flagstone paths around the yard will also tie in nicely. Talk with your contractor early in the renovation to ensure that all areas of the home will work together. The look can be carried through with everything from woodwork to fabrics and paint.

The Garage

Your garage also can make a cottage statement with the addition of a few cute windows, a fresh coat of paint, and some decorative plants to frame the space. This is one overlooked space that can benefit from a dose of color. A few rose bushes or a decorative trellis can create a welcoming facade.

Imperfection Rules With Floors

Back on the inside, the focus should be on adding cozy touches throughout the space. The floors are a good place to start because they add continuity throughout the home. The beauty of the cottage style is the focus on imperfection. You won't find evenly cut oak floors with a shiny gloss on them. Instead, look for wide plank pine floors or quarter sawn oak that should have been refinished years ago. (Don't do it now. It will ruin the look).

A cottage home also will show occasional scratches from the family dog or a fallen piece of furniture. Those nicks, scratches, and discolorations all tie into the charming cottage theme, so when buying new floors, consider adding character with old-growth wood. There also are many contractors who will scrape and otherwise distress floors and furniture. While this can be pricey, consider it for at least a room or two to make an impact.

Cottage Lighting

Lighting is another important element of the cottage home. The lighting found in many cottages is a mix of hand-me-downs and eclectic fixer-upper projects. Some homeowners find treasures at estate sales or vintage lamp stores. Others use a little ingenuity and turn an old vase into a lamp. The shade can be decorated with fabric, paint, or glaze to fit your mood.

If you are buying lighting, consider shopping at a vintage lighting store or an online site. There are many styles to enhance the cottage look, from those with a wicker or wrought-iron base to a hand-painted design.

Look for lights that dangle as chandeliers or create a focal point as a floor or table lamp. Avoid canned ceiling lights, as they look too contemporary. When lighting the yard, ask your contractor about adding an old-fashioned lamp post or a pair of period sconces to flank your newly refurbished doorway.

The cottage style can incorporate a wide variety of styles and patterns, but the underlying commonality is the charm. You want visitors to walk in and feel at home: This is a place where you can kick off your shoes and put your feet on the couch with barely a pause. Welcome to your new cottage home.

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