What would you picture if I asked you to close your eyes and imagine a cottage? Would it be a cozy wood-sided house in a beach town, a quaint thatched-roof home in the English countryside, or maybe a Tudor-style house straight out of a fairytale? As it turns out, none of those images is technically wrong, even though those houses are quite different. The word “cottage” has been around for a long time, and thanks to its usage by different cultures and communities, it’s come to describe a category of house, not one specific architectural style. No matter what, the one thing cottages have in common is that they’re smaller homes with lots of charm (inside and out).

What is a Cottage House?

The term “cottage” and the house style most closely associated with it originated in England during the Middle Ages. Peasant farmers were known as “cotters,” and their modest, rural homes came to be called cottages. Even today, a cottage-style house in the U.K. has the same description it did hundreds of years ago—the homes are simple dwellings meant to fight off the cold, typically with one large living room downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs, under a thatched roof. Picture the cozy country home Cameron Diaz’s character in The Holiday stays in—that’s a quintessential English cottage.

The History of Cottage Houses

In the United States, the concept of a cottage evolved somewhat. Eventually, it came to describe a small-frame vacation home near the beach or lake or a secondary, smaller dwelling on the property meant for guests or laborers. That doesn’t mean that you will only find cottages at the beach or on rural estates. The cottage style evolved and spread throughout cities and rural areas but retained its charming qualities. The Gilded Age introduced cottages to the ultra-wealthy society who considered their vacation homes “cottages.” Yet, the size did lean towards a larger, more modern structure equipped with electricity, plumbing, heating, and other updated features.

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Types of Cottage Houses

Coastal Cottages

One typical cottage-style house that originated in the northeast is the Cape Cod. Modeled after English cottages that withstood bleak winters, Cape Cod houses fit all the characteristics of a cottage. They’re small and compact (typically one-and-a-half stories with dormer windows under a steeply pitched roof), adding to the cozy factor. These homes also happen to be near the beach. Plus, you can’t forget that irresistibly charming curb appeal. You can find these American cottages throughout New England, especially in areas such as Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, which feature cedar shingles. Cape Cod-style houses are found all over the United States now, and it would be accurate to describe them as cottages, even if they’re in a more suburban setting.

Creole Cottages

Southern cottages tend to be a bit breezier, emphasizing outdoor living, thanks to the temperate weather. New Orleans has an entire subsection of homes called Creole cottages, which are narrow, one-story homes with a porch spanning the front of the house, and a side-gabled roof sloping down over it. In the Lowcountry, quaint cottages of a similar style dot the coastline with farmhouse-meets-coastal charm, perfect for a short or permanent stay.

English Cottages

English cottages are prevalent throughout the countryside, often seen adorning thatched roofs designed to keep the house warm throughout the rainy and cold seasons. English gardens are standard features of cottage houses. These gardens are overgrown and often grow up against the building structure. Lush greenery and outdoor spaces are also indicators of this house style.

Nordic Cottages

Cottages dot the countryside in nordic regions, such as Sweden and Norway. These homes have wood exteriors, often painted bright red. The interiors retain the cozy quality but with a minimalistic style.


Bungalows refer to a specific architectural style, often creating cottage homes. A small bungalow can be a cottage if it retains features like a sloping roof, dormer windows, and overhanging porches. However, not all cottages will be bungalows—only if a home design fits one of the bungalow architectural molds. The Craftsman-style bungalow feature post-and-beam construction and exposed framing, while Chicago bungalows are typically brick with gables that extend parallel to the street.

Elements of a Cottage House

A few elements are consistent throughout all cottage houses, including coziness, natural materials, and an open floor plan.

Cozy Comforts

Often constructed as vacation homes or in quaint countryside villages, cottages have retained coziness as one of their essential features. Intentionally designed to fulfill a purpose, every room has warm textures. Cottage styling includes layering textures and textiles, such as pillows, blankets, rugs, and curtains.

Natural Materials

Depending on the cottage style, materials such as wood post-and-beams or brick exteriors add to the textures to construct these houses. The seamless blend of natural elements and the garden landscaping positions these houses in their surroundings without disturbance.

Open Floor Plan

The ample first-floor living space is critical to constructing a cottage home. The small house does not waste any space, ensuring the home functions efficiently. Built-ins enhance the craftsman quality of the home, while the earthy elements complement the cozy furnishings.


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