Cottage Style House: History of This Charming House Type

A cottage-style house is a quaint and small structure dating back to the Middle Ages in Europe.

Workers of the land created these small dwellings to keep them warm and dry. They built the homes from local materials like thatch, stone, and wood. They also made the cottages self-sufficient, equipping them with gardens for food and a well for water.

Today, our ideas about cottages have become more modern, but they still retain the rustic charm of their early existence. Many people see cottage-style houses as places to escape from the frenzy of life and get close to nature.

What is a Cottage Style House?

Cottage Style House

There is no universal definition of a cottage. We use the term “cottage” to refer to small and informal dwellings with a specific aesthetic. Most cottages are around 1,000-2,000 square feet, located in a picturesque setting with an informal style.

People often use cottages as vacation or second homes built in remote or coastal locations.

Evolution of Cottage Style Houses

In the Middle Ages, the term “cotters” referred to people who worked land owned by others. The cotters lived in small dwellings on the ground they worked, called cottages. These people paid rent or worked in exchange for the right to live in their homes.

Cottages at this time had a simple and rustic style. By growing their food and animals, these cotters created a self-sufficient life.

By the 18th and 19th centuries, the word cottage meant something different to the growing middle class in Europe and the United States. Cottages represented a retreat or a vacation spot in a picturesque location. When the wealthy applied this term to their homes in vacation areas, the structures became larger. They used the word “cottage” to convey a place for relaxation rather than referring to the size of the house.

Our current concept of a cottage is closer to this idea, yet cottages today represent broader possibilities. With the potential of remote work, people can consider living in a cottage because it is more affordable, a good retirement option, and a viable choice for sustainable and minimalist living.

Types of Cottages by Region

Different regions have varied cottage styles. The location, climate, and particular use will determine the cottage’s building materials and type.

United Kingdom

Cottage house in UK

The United Kingdom, including Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and England, has a long tradition of cottages. Artisans built a typical English-style cottage house in various methods, including timber-framed, stone, and traditional thatched cottages. These cottages populate the countryside from the Lake District to the coastal regions.

United States & Canada

Cottages in the United States and Canada have varied designs. You can find both modern and traditional styles in rural environments and the city.

Many coastal areas such as Cape Cod, the Outer Banks, the Florida Keys, the California Coast, Alaska, and Hawaii feature coastal cottages. North America also has a strong tradition of vacation lake cottages.

France & Europe

Maison de Campagne

A French cottage-style house called a Maison de Campagne is a small and informal dwelling used for vacation or secondary homes. Craftsmen build these dwellings in traditional, modern, and rustic styles.

Classic French and European styles feature brick or stone walls with tiled or thatched roofs. The interiors include exposed beams, stone or brick fireplaces, and wood floors.


The Alps are a mountain range running through many European countries. As a hiking and skiing destination, you can find Alpine cottages dotted throughout the Alps for people to use as they pursue outdoor activities.

Alpine cottages have steep roofs to shed snow and large windows to take advantage of the gorgeous views. Builders use traditional and modern construction techniques, utilizing local materials like wood, stone, and brick.

Nordic Countries

The Nordic countries, including Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, and Norway, have a long tradition of vacation cottages. Many of these structures have simple paneled siding with bright red paint, though Finland has a strong tradition of log cabin cottages. As a result of urban sprawl, many people have turned these country cottages into permanent houses.


Australians use the word cottage to refer to small dwellings built in the traditional English style. Today, Australians also use the word cottage to refer to tiny houses built on a trailer platform that can move between locations.

Characteristics of Cottage-Style Houses

Cottage house styles feature similar characteristics but are also distinct according to location and context.

Cottage Style House Exterior Features

  • Roofs – Cottage roof materials include thatch, tile, shingle, and shakes. Often, the climate of a region determines the roof builders’ use. Cottages also feature roofs of different styles, including gable and hipped.
  • Doors – Cottages have various doors, including solid wood and French.
  • Walls – The climate and location of a cottage determine the building materials craftsmen use for the walls. Some options include wood, stucco, brick, and stone.
  • Windows – The size and style of the structure determine the number, size, and type of windows. Some popular window-style options for cottages include casement, double-hung, and bay windows.
  • Porches – Many cottages feature porches and verandas, extending their living spaces. These features give inhabitants a greater connection and access to the outdoors.
  • Outdoors – Outdoor spaces were essential to historic cottages to create self-sufficiency. Today, outdoor areas like gardens enhance the rustic and rural vibe.

Cottage Style House Interior Features

  • Beams – Many cottages feature rustic and traditional elements, including exposed beams on the ceilings.
  • Fireplaces – Brick and stone fireplaces create a cozy focal and inviting focal point.
  • Wooden Floors – Wood floors create a warm and traditional style that works well in modern and rustic dwellings.
  • Rustic Furnishings – Many cottages have rustic and antique furnishings to enhance the comfortable style.
  • Decorative Features – Certain styles, including English cottage house style, use simple but decorative elements like table linens, cushions, cozy blankets, and curtains to enhance their look.
  • Built-ins – Built-in features like bookcases, banquettes, and room dividers give a custom look and help to utilize the small area more efficiently.

Historic Cottage Style Homes

Many historic cottages today are museums regulated by local and national heritage laws.

Anne Hathaway’s Cottage

Anne Hathaway was the wife of William Shakespeare. Her childhood cottage is in Shottery, England, near Stratford-upon-Avon. Her home is a larger structure than many would consider a cottage.

The style of the home is typical of vernacular Tudor architecture. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust owns and maintains the house and extensive gardens, which operates as a museum.

Ernest Hemingway Cottage

The Ernest Hemingway Cottage was home to American author Ernest Hemingway. His parents built the house in 1900 on Walloon Lake in Michigan.

The cottage has a single-story frame with white clapboard siding. The Hemingway family still retains ownership of this cottage.

Ivy Green

Ivy Green is a historic cottage that was the birthplace of Helen Keller. This property also features a larger home that Helen’s grandfather David Keller built.

Arthur Henley Keller refurbished this small structure as a bridal suite where his wife bore Helen in 1880. The house is one and a half stories with a timber frame, clapboard exterior, and a gabled roof. Ivy Green is now a museum open to the public.

Dove Cottage

Dove Cottage is a typical English-style cottage where William Wordsworth and his sister, Dorothy, lived from 1799-1808. It features stone walls with a limestone wash and a slate roof. There are four rooms downstairs, with four rooms on the floor above.

The home still has the oak panels and slate floors traditional in Lake District cottages in England. The Wordsworth Trust owns this building and operates it as a public museum.