9 Cottage Style Decorating Ideas
Cheerful, laid back and welcoming, cottage style feels like a giant hug. Find out how to make this appealing look work its magic
What it is: In some ways, cottage style is as much a frame of mind as it is an approach to decorating. There's an everyday ease in the way it celebrates imperfections, ordinary treasures and blended families of furniture. Cottages tend to be humble, unpretentious and full of heart — traits most of us would be proud to claim.
Why it works: Comfy, casual and personal, cottage style is perfect for the way we really live. Fabrics are forgiving; furnishings invite us to flop down and prop up our feet. There's a lot of leeway for the individual expression that anchors the way we think about decorating these days.
You'll love it if… You rock the straw-hat look. Shiny surfaces leave you cold. You bought slipcovers way before they were trendy. You'd take a pitcher full of hydrangeas over a bouquet of long-stemmed roses. You're on a first-name basis with local flea market vendors.
Style Secret: Gentle Patina
Not so long ago, cottage was practically synonymous with shabby chic. Although that term feels stale now, the elements that made it so popular — light colors, floaty fabrics, mismatched furnishings — are still mainstays of cottage décor. Faded prints, rumpled fabrics and peeling paint contribute to the vintage charm that underlies this style.
Hot tip: There's a fine line between pleasantly distressed and plain beat up. To avoid crossing it, balance aggressively weathered pieces with newer ones and keep color schemes soft and simple. The gracefully aged furniture in this space appears more striking against clean, updated walls, trim and window treatments.
Style Secret: Airy Palettes
Cottage colors feel as soft and clean as a cotton sheet fresh from a clothesline. No jewel tones or shocking brights here — think white mixed with ivory mixed with cream. Layer in pale pinks, blues, greens and other washed-out hues. Don't combine too many pastels; stick with one or two shades instead.
Hot tip: If you can't resist a bit of bold color, go right ahead. But limit it to a handful of smaller furnishings or accessories, and keep it tone on tone. One turquoise pillow in a tumble of pale blue ones might look fresh and appropriate, but if you also throw down a chartreuse rug and paint the ceiling lemon yellow, the look veers in a different direction.
Dreamy Whites, original photo on Houzz
Style Secret: Beadboard
If there's one thing that shouts "cottage," it's beadboard. This classic grooved paneling is a perennial favorite, and for good reason: Not only is it easy to install, but it's a no-brainer for adding warmth and character to a bare wall, a blank ceiling or bland cabinetry. You can't go wrong by painting it creamy white, but it's also fun to add a hint of subtle color and distress it ever so slightly.
Hot tip: Beadboard can be a strong addition to a room, so a little goes a long way. The paneling in this bathroom pops because of its texture, despite being in the background.
KitchenLab Design | Rebekah Zaveloff Interiors, original photo on Houzz
Style Secret: Feminine Fabrics
As much as any other element, fabrics define cottage style: delicate florals, ticking stripes, gingham, eyelet. Natural, textured materials, such as cotton, linen and burlap, fall right in step with the look. Vintage fabrics, from hankies and dishcloths to flour sacks and aprons, pop up on pillows, quilts, chair seats and more. Curtains are usually simple, sheer and breezy.
Hot tip: Keep a light touch with the floral prints. It's fine to mix and match a few, but too many can feel overly sweet, especially if they're all small scale. Ditto for lace — you don't want your house to look like a bridal shop.
Style Secret: Slipcovers
Slipcovers and cottage style were made for each other. What's more laid back than tossing a sheet over an old sofa and calling it a day? OK, so it's not quite that simple, but the right slipcover does lend a low-maintenance charm — and hides a multitude of upholstery sins.
Hot tip: The sheet thing? Really, don't do it. Slipcovers should be tailored, closely contouring the piece beneath. There are loads of ready-made styles on the market, but if you're willing to invest a little more cash, you can have one custom-fitted for a crisper profile.
Rethink Design Studio, original photo on Houzz
Style Secret: The Power of Paint
Cottage decorating mavens have never met a wrought-iron bed or battered side table that they couldn't liven up with a paintbrush. Whether you want to rescue a ratty finish, brighten dark wood, or unify pieces that carry the mismatched look a little too far, paint is your friend. It's cheap, it's quick and it's fuss free.
Hot tip: Worried that a just-painted piece will look glaringly new? It's easy to get a worn look with a little strategic sanding or filing. Period (or period-look) drawer and cabinet pulls and other hardware also help.
Style Secret: Old-Fashioned Flooring
Ever seen a classic cottage with wall-to-wall carpeting or slick vinyl? We haven't. You want more rustic materials that can take a few hard knocks. Wood (stained, painted, pickled, stenciled or simply left natural) is queen, but you can bring in brick or stone as well. Keep rug materials simple, such as sisal or braided cotton.
Hot tip: Although tile isn't the first material that comes to mind when you think about cottages, it can work as long as you choose a style that reads as vintage (for example, the small hexagonal tiles that often turn up in bathrooms).
Style Secret: Collected Chic
Here's the key to making collections work: power in numbers. And that's especially true for the flea market finds and vintage castoffs that tend to populate cottage-style rooms. If they look too scattered, so will the space. Massed together, these glass bottles have a collective impact.
Hot tip: A room full of quirky displays, offbeat furnishings and cheeky accents can easily slide into eclectic territory. If that isn't the look you want, keep the foundation of the room true to cottage conventions.
Style Secret: Open Shelving
Not so long ago, kitchens didn't have the banks of upper cabinetry that are standard now. What they had instead was shelving, home to stacks of plates and bowls, canisters of dry goods and baskets of edibles. And in cottage interiors, not much changes in the translation, although nowadays the look is as much decorative as it is utilitarian.
Hot tip: Open shelves are not for the chronically disorganized, so you'll have to keep clutter in check (and commit to a little extra dusting). Dishware that hews to a similar look and palette, such as ironstone, creamware or basic white porcelain, is ideal for cohesiveness.