image showing row of english stone cottages with charming plantings in front and sage green trim

Know Your Home: Cottage Style

Learn about Cottage Style for your exterior, including lots of ideas and sources.

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Cottage style homes are having a moment.

And why not? Cottage style is cozy and warm while still being timeless. Unfortunately, there are a lot of conflicting ideas about what a cottage is. Searching the internet gives you a LOT of confusing information.

Simply put, “Cottage” is a style of architecture. It doesn’t matter what size the house is – you can have a giant cottage or a tiny one. You can have a Cottage even if you don’t live in England.

How to get Cottage Style Curb Appeal

The first step is to confirm you have a house that is cottage in style, both in the architecture and the materials.

If your home has any combo of the following:

  • Pitched roof with open gable that faces the street
  • Divided Light Windows
  • Arched Details
  • Lanterns Around the Door
  • Chimney

… you may be living in a cottage! And if it doesn’t have these things, it’s the perfect place to start to add that cottage feeling.

graphic showing line drawing of a typical cottage with pitched roof with open gable, facing the street, divided light windows, arched details, lanterns around the door, a chimney and overall balanced asymmetry

Every cottage will have these essential characteristics in varying degrees, regardless of its size or location—the real defining one though, is that street-facing pitched roof open gable. If your gable faces the other way, you most likely have a bungalow or a colonial. Cottages always face front.

And a quick note about the “Euro” cottage style: it simply doesn’t exist. If your home has Cottage characteristics but also some other stuff that’s not immediately recognizable, it’s probably a McMansion. The best way to deal with that is to either not buy that house or have a good architect because they typically require significant changes to the structure to make any sense of them.

On to the materials!!

Standard Cottage Materials

The materials used on your home can also be an indicator of the style of your home.

Cottages, no matter their style, typically have the same family of material finishes on their exterior. Each style may use more or less of any of these, and most cottage-style homes will have more than one of these materials at a time.

  1. STONE SURFACES: The most common exterior surface for a cottage is stone. You’ll see it applied to the entire exterior, or in smaller areas, like just the foundation.
  2. WOOD ACCENTS: To be specific, I mean unpainted, NATURAL wood surfaces. Examples could be doors, shutters, window sills, or support posts and beams.
  3. WOOD SHINGLES: Roofing is the most frequent use for wood shingles. Wood shingles also clad the walls for some cottage styles. These are genuine wood, but there are some excellent facsimiles available if you’re looking for this style roof.
  4. PAINTED SURFACES: Yes, duh, I know, painted surfaces on a house. Groundbreaking observation. Hear me out, though. Painted areas are typically used only as an accent on a cottage. The more natural wood and stone surfaces generally are the majority of the exterior surface.

Which Cottage Style?

In North America, homes that have cottage architecture are typically styled in one of the following ways:

  • English Cottage
  • Suburban Cottage
  • Modern Cottage
  • Beach Cottage
  • Mountain Cottage

Unsurprisingly, this will almost always have to do with WHERE exactly your cottage is located. Location is everything!!

Each style will use the basic cottage materials in different ways and have different color treatments, hardware styles, and landscaping.

Let’s take a deeper look at each…


English | Suburban | Modern | Beach | Mountain

English Cottage Exterior Style

You may be living in an English Style Cottage if:

  • You live in the United Kingdom. Just kidding! English style is popular here in North America, too.
  • Masonry is the sole building material on the exterior.
  • You have a wood shingle roof, made from real wood.
  • There is an arch over your front door, or the door itself is arched.
  • You have a very charming and abundant garden in your front yard.

English cottage style is found all over North America, too, but especially in the places where gardens pretty much grow themselves – ie Southern California, the Pacific Northwest, and the Upper Midwest.

Inspiration for an English Cottage:

Designing an English Cottage Exterior:

Here is how I would help a client with their English Style Cottage:

  1. STONE EXTERIOR: To get a really authentic look, I’d start with cladding every single exterior surface of your home in some sort of stone or masonry. For the most charming look, we’d want to make sure we limit straight lines. I’d help you look for a flat face veneer, a tumbled stone with wide-set mortar lines between each piece. Windows should have exposed wood beam lintels and sills and be left to their natural color. (This is a great place to go faux!)
  2. WOOD SHINGLED ROOF: A classic way to add more natural texture is with a cedar shake roof. I would help you decide if you want to go natural or composite. If you go the genuine route, you can let it weather to a soft grey over time, or the really great composite options will look great from day one. And natural copper gutters and details will add richness, warmth, and even more charm.
  3. ARCHED DOORWAY: If it doesn’t already, I’d recommend that we make sure the main entry door to your home should be arched in some way. The arch detail will add balance to all the straight lines from the divided windows and the steep angles of the rooflines.
  4. ADD CHARM: What would an English Cottage be without a charming garden? So for the final touches, I’d recommend that the front garden be riotous with color and texture and feature flowers heavily. Then we’d accessorize the house with a gorgeous hanging lantern that replicates natural candlelight and numbers that look hand-wrought. You can add even more English style with shutters that have full strap hinges and interesting hold-downs.

Sources for your English Cottage:



Suburban Cottage Exterior Style

You may be living in a Suburban Style Cottage if:

  • You live in a city suburb or small town in North America, and your home dates to between 1920 and 1960.
  • Your house is best described by saying it is small, tiny, or adorable.
  • There is a pop of bright color on the front of your house (doors, shutters, window boxes, etc.)
  • You have a green lawn accented with abundant green plantings.
  • The house has a chimney that seems slightly too tall for the scale.

Inspiration for a Suburban Style Cottage:

Designing a Suburban Cottage Exterior:

Here’s how I would help a client with a Suburban Cottage:

  1. SMALL SCALE: This one is really important and the best place to start. We want to make sure everything you select matches the small scale of your structure. We don’t go for the giant lantern, we want to keep the numbers on the short side, and we shouldn’t overwhelm the house with tall plants in the front yard. I’d also recommend keeping the color scheme limited to 2 or 3 tones of the same color for the materials because too much strong contrast can look a wee bit crazy on houses this small.
  2. ADD A POP OF COLOR: That being said, while the siding can be a nice neutral, we want to make sure to add a bright hit of color in one spot. The front door or the shutters are the perfect places to do this. Keep it punchy and fun!
  3. GREEN LANDSCAPE: I always say you should enjoy the reason you moved to the suburbs in the first place and really go for it with easy to care for smaller shrubs, colorful flowers, and a gorgeously lush green lawn.
  4. TALL CHIMNEY: Finally, the chimneys on these houses look way too tall for the smaller structures. But this is how they’re pulling in even more cottage charm, so let them shine!

Sources for your Suburban Cottage:



Modern Cottage Exterior Style

You may be living in a Modern Style Cottage if:

  • You live in an upscale suburb of a major metropolitan area in North America.
  • The house looks crisp in its detailing.
  • There are many flat surfaces with few outcrops.
  • Mullions fully divide all of your windows.
  • Paint covers every square inch of your exterior, and it’s most likely all white or all black.

Inspiration for a Modern Cottage:

Designing a Modern Cottage Exterior:

Here is how I would guide a client who wanted a Modern Cottage:

  1. CRISP DETAILS: Ideally, your home would already have a crisp and clean architecture. This means that everything is very linear, objects come to a point, and there are few, if any, curves. Eaves are usually really small or non-existent, and there are no fussy add-on details.
  2. FLAT SURFACES: Unlike the other cottage styles, there are very flat or smooth surfaces in place of most of the siding or cladding. I’d recommend stucco or brick be used instead of stone or siding. Removing or replacing existing siding and veneers are a quick change that will give an instant modern look.
  3. FULL MULLIONS: And now the details! Because there is so little detail on these homes, the windows become the star. So we would pay special attention to the mullion and frame style and select black frames inside and out.
  4. PAINTED FINISHES: Finally, and blessedly, EVERYTHING IS PAINTED. EVERYTHING. And if it’s not painted, it’s the same color as something else – the roof matches the trim, window trim matches siding, doors match the trim or roof. No pops of color here! Go with warmer whites and blacks, and be prepared to swatch many colors to get just the right feeling for your natural lighting.

Sources for your Modern Cottage:



Beach Cottage Exterior Style

You may be living in a Beach Cottage if:

  • You can see the ocean or a lake from your front door.
  • Wood Shingles clad the entire exterior of your house.
  • You have all white trim.
  • You have a covered deck on one side of your house.
  • The second story of your house has room-sized dormers.

Inspiration for a Beach Cottage:

Designing a Beach Cottage Exterior:

Here’s how I’d help a client with their beach cottage…

  1. SHINGLED EXTERIOR: The simplest options are often the right one, so for these homes, I’d recommend cedar shake shingles on every surface. The big decision is if you want to go with genuine wood shingles that will weather gradually over the years, saving money upfront, or instead use a top-notch faux version for the same effect instantly, which are more expensive upfront but will save you time for years to come.
  2. WHITE TRIM: Deciding to go with white trim is the easy choice here! And then everything that isn’t shingles or deck flooring is painted white. If you have shutters, I would recommend blending them into the grey color of the shingles. And then, the front door is a great place for a pop of soft yet bright color. Go for it!
  3. COVERED DECK: Sitting and watching the sunset is a big part of having a house at the beach, so I’d recommend adding a covered porch for not only charm but to provide a great place to nap in the afternoon.
  4. ADDED DORMERS: If it doesn’t already have them, dormers can add some needed interest to the roofline. If you plan it right, you can have a dormer that you can fit a bed into. So cozy!

Sources for your Beach Cottage:



Mountain Cottage Exterior Style

You might live in a Mountain Style Cottage if:

  • You live in Western North America or Vermont. Maybe North Carolina. Your house can be in the city or the boonies, but it’s absolutely surrounded by trees or have a picturesque mountain view.
  • The majority of your house has siding or wood cladding of various styles.
  • Beams are accenting the front-facing open gables.
  • You have LOTS of windows in relation to the size of the house.
  • There is a chimney, although, from the front view, it’s not immediately noticeable.

Inspiration for a Mountain Cottage:

Designing a Mountain Style Exterior:

Here is how I would help a client with their Mountain Cottage:

  1. SIDED EXTERIOR: Siding, be it wood, steel, or composite, should be at least 50% of the home’s exterior. So we’d work together to decide on all the same style or a balance of vertical, horizontal, or shake. Then, select a paint with colors that reflect the surroundings and finish the siding. Finally, I’d find some places to add Stone veneer as an accent.
  2. BEAMS ON GABLES: The most defining feature of a mountain cottage is the beams on the open gables over the front entry. We could leave these natural in color or tie them into either the siding or paint color.
  3. LOTS OF WINDOWS: Because of the remote location, privacy isn’t as much of an issue, so I’d recommend letting that glorious light shine in! If they are not already, I’d recommend windows divided with mullions and accent them with shutters.
  4. HIDDEN CHIMNEY: So, the chimney isn’t the focal point here. If you have a fireplace on the front of your house, I’d recommend blending the stack into the siding – let the beams and the window be the stars!

Sources for your Mountain Cottage:



And that wraps up this edition of “Know Your Home.” If you EVER need help figuring out what to do for the exterior of your home or would like a custom option just for you, please reach out!

Whenever you’re ready, I’m here to help make sense of it all!

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