7 Secrets to a Relaxing Cottage Style Decor

Bursting with charm, comfort, and a bit of nostalgia, cottage style decor has always been a favorite of mine. In this post, we will explore the 7 secrets to bringing a relaxing cottage style decor to your home.

cottage style

When we moved back to Michigan from California (for the second time) 20 years ago, I knew that we had to have a cottage. With each move my husband would say, ‘get rid of that’ or ‘we don’t need that anymore’. My response was always, ‘I’m saving it for our cottage’. You see, I had been dreaming of how that cottage life would look and memories we could make there. I was saving ideas for cottage style homes and already had it decorated in my mind.

I fell in love with that New England cottage style back in the 80s. We had spent 15 plus years making memories while vacationing on Cape Cod, and I adored that cottage style aesthetic.

There’s nothing like that warm, welcoming feel of easy cottage living. Since we live in Michigan, where it seems that everyone has a lake cottage or knows someone with a family cozy cottage, we would purchase our cottage somewhat close to home. But the Cape remains in my heart.

cottage style decorating ideas

A Cottage Style Home

What is it that brings the enchanting allure of cottage style in a home, transforming it into a haven of tranquility and warmth? Is it the weathered furniture and floral patterns? Or the simplicity of nothing being too precious or off limits? Maybe it’s the nostalgia of a simple life where whimsy and charm reign supreme. Whatever the reason, an idyllic cottage retreat is both timeless and inviting.

With its playful mix of vintage treasures and rustic simplicity, cottage style decor invites you to kick off your shoes, relax, and unplug from the world. And don’t we all need a bit of that these days?

The good news is, you don’t have to own a cottage on the lake or in the woods to create a space focused on cottage style. Cottage interiors can be created anywhere you want that simple cozy life feeling.

I have this funny sign in my studio that says ‘people ew’. A cottage style home feels like the ultimate backdrop to that feeling. Not that you are hiding from ALL people, but you just want things simple. Maybe just a quiet life with only YOUR people. Here’s 7 ways I like to style a home for that quaint cottage look.

decorating ideas

Keep it Simple Sweetie

Cottage style rooms are all about simple living and uncomplicated furniture. Even though you may be adding various decor items, they should all have a purpose. No fussy decorating ideas needed. Cottage style brings a warm and welcoming feel.

Especially in a smaller space, cottage decorating should be focused on functional pieces with a touch of vintage charm. Keep window treatments minimal, decor elements usable, and furniture multi-purpose.

cottage decorating ideas
Due to one bathroom, an extra mirror in the hallway allows others to check themselves while bathroom is occupied

Allow the beauty of your surrounding nature to shine through, whether that be lake, woods, or mountains. Cottage color schemes can be patterned after the outdoor life just beyond your cottage walls. For cottage design is really about simpler times. To evoke those feelings, give it that homey feel so you can let go of worldly cares.

We go to our cottage to relax and play. Outside of the work that goes into it when we open and close it each year for the season, I’m not interested in having to fuss too much with upkeep. So for me, any cottage decorating ideas that I come up with need to be simple.

Pour on the Charm

If you peruse any country magazine, you will see that all cottage decorating ideas are dripping with charm. Rooms are full of natural elements, playful prints, and charming furniture from flea markets. With a little imagination, vintage pieces are repurposed and used in creative ways that support simple living and add charm.

Nothing can be more charming than a cottage kitchen, with a farmhouse kitchen table and simple ingredients waiting to be made into yummy food. Stacked stoneware bowls, gingham linens, and useful baskets will add to the cozy feel. No need to buy new furniture, charm will be found in using different materials, ages, and textures.

cottage decorating ideas

Since I had been ‘saving’ (also known as hoarding) items for a cottage style decor for awhile, we didn’t have far to go to achieve that cottage charm we desired. Flea market finds are in abundance over here, so there were plenty to choose from. In order to accomplish an inviting space, we added lots of peely chippy furniture and mixed patterns.

Personally, our cottage has evolved over the years, but the charm has stayed the same. There’s been a mix of DIY projects, comfortable furnishings, woven materials, cozy accents, and vintage pieces that ooze charm.

Comfort and Function are a Key Element

When you are creating cozy spaces, comfort and function are top priority. This is especially true in cottages. Think practicality paired with that comfy appeal, like your favorite pair of faded jeans, but in cottage decorating.

The weekend we moved into the cottage, we brought all the functional pieces that we would need to stay in the home. Beds and chairs I had been saving, along with newly purchased slipcovered furniture, were the key items needed for function.

cottage decorating ideas living room

Tables needed to be functional based on where they would be placed, and how we would use them. So I had a guy who made rough hewn wood furniture custom make a table to an odd size we needed. For inside the cottage, we wanted to match our log ceiling beams.

For outside living in the screened in porch, I built a large dining table where we could all gather for meals. Mismatched chairs and benches complete the cottage style and offer seating for a large crowd of friends and family. Comfort + function are the key to family cottages.

cottage style dining

Rumpled is Okay, Actually Preferred

The best part to me about the cottage look is it doesn’t have to be perfect. As long as your structure is secure, then cottage interior design can lean to the definite rumpled and simple. There is beauty in the imperfections.

Checkered tablecloths are comfortable right out of the dryer, just a bit rumpled on the edges. Faded fabrics, and worn finishes make a cottage space feel relaxed and secondhand furniture provides a collected look over time.

cottage living

Fresh flowers picked from the garden add cottage feel, and wooden furniture need not be pristine. Choosing natural materials make cottage interiors feel perfectly imperfect and relaxed for all who come to stay, as they seem to get better with time.

Our cottage started out with medium pine-colored tongue and groove boards throughout and beige carpet. In my minds eye, I saw this wall paneling as a more neutral palette of crisp white, and wood floors, where my lake cottage colors would really pop. I wanted a cottage, not a cabin. So the first thing I did was rip up carpet and then hire an interior painter.

After a huge two-week job of every square inch being bathed in bright white paint, the boards emerged as cottage style walls. They add rustic style, where all the decorating elements are comfortable being imperfect. They are the perfect backdrop to all the cottage decor ideas I could come up with.

cottage decor

Nothing is too Precious

Since cottage living is all about simplicity, considering what family members will use the space is super important. Especially if you choose cottage style rooms for your daily life, choices need to be made to accommodate all who live there or visit. Choose Sunbrella fabrics, and outdoor rugs, as they are long lasting and hardwearing.

Since our cottage decor is found in a second home, I really wanted to focus on a casual vibe. We have kids of all ages, dogs, and adults who need a respite from the world. Rules are to a minimum (my only one being ‘no food or dogs on the upholstered furniture inside’ which is only 3 pieces) otherwise everyone has free range. Our dog relishes all his naps on furniture in the screened porch, sandy fur and all!

Making Long Lasting Changes

We used tongue and groove pine wood for the flooring, as I wanted natural materials that would age like an old barn floor. All the sand or dripping water that has passed over it through the years has created ripples and wear, just the way I was hoping. Maybe one day I will sand it down and wax it, but for now it is part of the imperfections that we love about our cottage life.

In cottage decorating, nothing is too precious. For many years before we had grandkids, I had a beloved wicker tray on the coffee table that displayed a collection of glass bottles of soft blues purchased at various tag sales. Seashells piled in a bowl brought in soft colors and organic textures. It was a nice cottagey touch in the living room space.

Alas, this is no longer the time or season for that display. It is now tucked safely, high up on a shelf in my closet, until a later time when the kids get bigger. They have space to play with toys, jump from the table to the sofa, and enjoy the living room like the rest of us. And no adults need to worry about items that could get broken. You gotta style for your audience.

Add a Bit of Nostalgia

Many cottages in Michigan and the surrounding lake-filled states are generational and have been in families for many decades. I always hear stories about how people spent summers at their grandma’s cottage, living an easy life with vintage goodies all around.

If you are creating a new life with fresh cottage decor, leaning into a bit of nostalgia will go a long way in giving you cozy vibes in your space. Just think of the all the vintage items in antique shops that you’ve seen that has ever evoked a memory, and lean in that direction.

Cottage homes are filled with quilts, wood with patina, patterns layered (think of always mixing two styles and not succumbing to pairs) and all the things that make a room feel storied to you. Provide places to snuggle together, do a puzzle, play games, and get back to simple living.

cottage bedroom

Coloring In Cottage Style

Depending upon what cottage style you are leaning toward, color is usually key. In a woodland cottage, you may want natural materials and earthy colors. An English cottage provides moody colors, lots of layers and patterns, and darker furniture. A beach cottage may lean light and bright and more nautical, whereas a garden cottage will be cozy with pastel colors that match garden tones.

Whichever cottage style you choose, neutral paint colors for your walls will allow cottage accessories to become the feature. Cottage style homes are definitely about a feeling, mindset, and way of life.

budget cottage bathroom with blue vanity and blue pattern floor

To me, I always picture a cottage kitchen with white cabinet doors, lots of pops of color, nothing matching but everything melding. I chose colors that evoked those feelings for our environment. Your cottage decor should speak to you in a way that makes you and your loved ones relaxed and happy. With color, that could look different for all of us.

cottage decorating ideas

Cottage Decor For the Win

Whether you are looking for decorating ideas for a room or an entire house, I think we could agree that there is something magical about cottage style. Although I say that our current home is our forever house, I am always daydreaming about our possible ‘next’ house being done in an English cottage style. I do love me some English country vibes!

Until then, or maybe never, consider a cottage style next time you are needing a little refresh of a space. It’s the perfect way to repurpose, reuse, restyle, and rethink your space as it hardly ever requires anything new. Remember, simplicity is key when it comes to cottage decor, allowing the beauty of nature and a timeworn past to shine through.

cottage porch

If you’d like to see how we created our cottage garden, read this post.

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