Text by Robert C. Martin
It’s really no mystery why the American Dream conjures up images of a cozy cottage with a shady front porch, all surrounded by a white picket fence. Such sentimental visions represent cherished ideas—like home, family, security, and the ability to claim a plot of land—that are near and dear to our hearts.
With this said, modesty and quaintness have always been hallmarks of the cottage style. Historically, these meager homes contained few, if any, frills. Instead, they provided the basic essentials of shelter for European peasant farmers known as cottars (hence the origin of “cottage”). In time, the diminutive dwellings expanded their roles to include vacation houses and lakefront cabins that didn’t require the year-round accoutrements of a primary residence.
Even today, cottages are generally smaller in scale and appearance when compared to other residential types. As opposed to ambitious McMansions that are often the products of current home design, the essence of cottage style harkens back to simpler times when each house contributed to a cohesive, pleasing streetscape rather than attempting to overpower its neighbors. Still, through creative uses of materials, colors, and details, these seemingly straightforward homes can possess an amazing amount of individuality while staying true to their compact nature. It’s because of their versatility that whole communities have been developed with smaller, more traditionally inspired abodes and time-honored town planning.
Likewise, these inviting domiciles can adapt to many styles and locales. Whether English Tudor, coastal Lowcountry, Craftsman bungalow, or New England shingle-style, a cottage’s appeal is often derived from the indigenous materials that surround it. Elements such as local stone, cedar shakes (for sheathing exterior walls and roofs), simple trim boards, and even half-timbering with stucco infill can be combined in endless variations to distinguish one eye-catching façade from the other. Further building components that include board-and-batten siding, rough-hewn posts and beams, and crimped metal roofs instill a rustic, natural aesthetic that works in concert with rural settings.
In terms of characteristics, cottages entail many architectural features that, similar to materials, can be successfully grouped together. Things such as shed dormers, steep roofs with exposed rafter tails that provide ample overhangs, rugged and overscaled chimneys capped with chimney pots, and intimate, well-detailed entryways all denote a handcrafted, authentic sensibility. Mixtures of window shapes and sizes, primarily casement and double-hung units, can be employed to emphasize a cottage’s demeanor—and even its quirkiness. Asymmetry is often a noted design intent as well, in which balance and proportion are achieved by prudent placements of distinct elements rather than relying upon precise, mirror-image rows of columns, windows, and doors.
Other finishing exterior touches—which might incorporate eave and bay brackets, curved rooflines, small roof cupolas with weathervanes secured on top, flower boxes, operable shutters, and built-in or simulated bird perches at gable vents—add warmth and texture reminiscent of older homes. Coupled with stepping-stone paths and vegetation like climbing roses and vibrant hydrangea bushes, these components create a picturesque scene worthy of any classic novel or children’s fairy tale.
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