Tips on Achieving Cottage Style

I love cottage style decorating!

I love that it’s a mix of old, new, vintage, family hand-me-downs, antiques, kitchy junk store finds, found treasures and sweet decor pieces… all layered together in a carefree manner promoting a relaxed, fun environment. In this post, I hope to help you identify cottage style as well as help you figure out how to create it for yourself. So let’s get going… Tips on Achieving Cottage Style

I define cottage style as a relaxed, eclectic style, with a certain amount of fun and whimsy added in for good measure.

A well achieved cottage style mixes in antique, vintage pieces with new contemporary pieces.

In the opening picture of this post is the top of my dresser with vintage glass bead flowers I found at a flea market sitting in a ‘fluers’ vase I picked up at Michael’s during one of their ever running 50% off sales, a vintage dutch mill jewelry box from a tag sale, all sitting on an antique dresser I gave a new paint finish to, with a peek of the draperies I made from old duvet covers I bought from a friend’s garage sale… Many layers sort of tossed together to create a sweet cottage feel.

With cottage style, it’s kind of like the old question, “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” because a big part of cottage style is that layered look that comes from necessity… Most cottages are not the main home for people. They are a seasonal cottage. I know for us, since this is a vacation place, decorating it is not going to be a major budget priority and the beach is calling, (once you’re at the cottage, somehow the time frame of life magically changes to “beach time”) so decorating the cottage takes the back burner, especially compared to our main full time home. (click here to see our favorite beach in Kennebunkport)

I think that’s how it is for most people, and that’s probably how ‘cottage style’ originated, don’t you think? With hand me downs in generational cottages and yard sale finds to fill the need for something, along with the nautical stripes, sometimes kitchy fun additions that we add, along with sweet accessories, treasures from the beach, special gifts and trinkets from loved ones visiting, it all gets blended together to create what we lovingly call ‘cottage style’.

There is for sure in this blend of decor a juxtaposition or contrast.

Think of it… you’ll have a kitchy, brightly colored, hand-painted arrow sign designating miles to your favorite locations, next to a turn of the century drop front secretary, adorned with bones from the beach and antique novels. Now that’s juxtaposition, and it’s also a corner in our cottage! (click here to read about that kitchy DIY arrow sign)

This juxtaposition for sure creates a feeling of relaxation for one’s mood as well. I really believe that last sentence… did you read it?! I think that how a space is decorated can have a major impact on our mood. You know how having a dirty messy space can make you feel yucky and make it difficult to concentrate, or being in a formal museum setting makes you feel like you need to whisper and sit up straight? That’s kind of what I’m talking about with cottage style creating a relaxed feeling.

But this juxtaposition in decorating is not about going crazy with the contrast, especially with color contrast… that can very quickly end up looking garish and have just the opposite effect of relaxation to one’s mood!

Ok, let me show you some elements we’ve pulled together, both out of necessity and fun to create our little cottage style… Tips on Achieving Cottage Style

In the entry of our cottage in Maine, (which is also the living room… haha, it’s a tiny cottage!) I have a vintage quilt, with fun fresh colors, thrown over the loft railing. Above that is a fun kite shaped like a ship. Of course, this still picture doesn’t show it, but the ship kite is always moving about a bit in the breeze in the cottage.

The grouping of framed artwork is by a local artist… it’s actually a calendar, from the year we bought the cottage, featuring lighthouses from the New England coast.  I framed each month with simple black frames from Michael’s.

The thing is… don’t take it too seriously. That’s why I’m showing you the real picture of the front entry… with the collage of beach bags, light jackets hats for sun &/or rain all piled together on the hooks by the front door ready to grab at a moment and run out the door…

with some flip flops or tennies: Tips on Achieving Cottage Style

stored conveniently on the other side of the door on this vintage table I found on Craigslist along with a boot tray that fits underneath it perfectly. Helps keep them tidy and controls the sand, but not so much that they’re hidden from view… just enough. And doubles as a side table for the sofa that is a mere 16″ from the entry door.

Almost every cottage I’ve ever liked has some sort of painted paneling, planking or beadboard in it. Tips on Achieving Cottage Style

That’s why I went ga-ga over the easiest DIY beadboard I installed in our kitchen on the backsplash. (perfect for both a small budget and time saver!) You can read about that easiest beadboard project here.

Hanging over the stove are some treasures I found at local yard sales. an antique match holder, a vintage tin fish mold, and a contemporary ceramic fish… all from different eras, but put together they work well. Oh and a little-mustached cheese grater sits on the counter to greet me each morning. (another yard sale treasure)

In fact, most of the pieces in our cottage are from yard sales, craigslist and a few from home.

We do also have new pieces mixed in… Tips on Achieving Cottage Style

Like this little wall opposite the front door, (it’s the wall above the SIY seashell table I showed you here) the clock we found new, although it looks old, but in fact is a ‘treasure’ from the famed Reny’s… a local favorite discount store. Mixed with the authentic old pieces, the new brass clock seems to fit right in. That antique, walnut cased barometer I snagged at a yard sale for something like $10.

‘Found treasures’ are an important part of true cottage style decorating.

These bones we found washed up on the beach from some sort sea creature are now treasures displayed under a glass cloche with a nautical rope handle. (notice the antique pirate book sitting behind it, found that at a yard sale too) Tips on Achieving Cottage Style

There is also an element of hand painted or crafted decor that blends nicely in with the layers of cottage style.

This vintage stepback side table works great with the red paint finish and Mod Podge ‘how to eat a lobster’ placements I decoupaged all over the tops. It’s a great place to stack some fun reads… both paperback novels for the beach on the bottom and hardcover books about the history of the area on the top level. Tips on Achieving Cottage Style

Vintage and antique plates… Tips on Achieving Cottage Style

I love mixing in the fun texture, color and even history of vintage plates. Out here in New England, you’re hard-pressed to go to a yard sale and not find a couple of antique plates. In fact, I’ve come across some very, very old ones… for pennies!

Simple window treatment: Tips on Achieving Cottage Style

Over the kitchen sink, I needed just a little bit of a light diffusing curtain, and this sailboat printed ladies scarf I found at a shop in town worked perfectly. It was actually an infinity scarf that I just snipped open the seam to create a sheer cafe. Perfect! It lets just enough light in. Above it, another yard sale find, a cute little antique stained glass window offers some nice texture, but with very subtle pale yellow and clear textured glass, it doesn’t feel overwhelming.

On the window sill, there are basil and thyme growing, (I’ve been using them for cooking all summer) along with various treasures found at the beach, or yard sales, and even a special anniversary gift of Italian alabaster miniature fruit. (every year my husband has celebrated our anniversary with a gift to me for that particular year of marriage. This year, our 37th year, was alabaster. He’s incredibly creative and thoughtful with his gift giving…) See… that’s some of the ‘sweet decor pieces’ that make up cottage style.

Here’s another example of mixing old and new, in one of the displays above the upper cabinets: Tips on Achieving Cottage Style

A lovely antique blue and white pitcher sits in front of vintage blue glass dishes all back-dropped by a contemporary striped plastic serving tray. All from different styles and eras, yet together they create cottage style.

On a wall in the kitchen, I have this wicker shelf that I’ve had for many years… Tips on Achieving Cottage Style

To it, I’ve added found treasures from yard sales, and a special teapot my husband gave me one year for our anniversary. Because our cottage is on the coast of Maine, which is also in New England, a historically important place to our country, to mix in nautical-themed decor with historical decor seems fitting…

In the kitchen which also is the dining room, we have this fun yellow bench. My dad made it many years ago, and for the cottage, I gave it this happy yellow painted finish, then added those very colorful striped papers, that I Mod Podged on the back boards. Tips on Achieving Cottage Style

We also have a pair of vintage bow back chairs at the table too… I spray painted them this bright blue color after we rescued them from the dumpster!

So all in all, why do I love cottage style?

Because it’s relaxed… both in the feeling and in the actual creating. Cottage style has lovely pieces worked into it but not so lovely that it’s a museum. It’s meant to be fun, not expensive, and for sure needs to have some found treasures, handmade pieces and sweet decor items that evoke memories of sweet moments of past summers.

Thanks so much for stopping by! Please feel free to follow and share this blog with your friends, as well as on Facebook, Pinterest, Flipboard, Bloglovin, YouTube and now Instagram!  I appreciate you reading along.

To read more about the Maine Cottage decorating, click here!

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Reader Interactions


  1. Phyllis E. says

    I know this is an older post, but I am just now reading it. (Missed it somehow earlier.) I really enjoyed this post and I love your TRUE cottage style! This was a timely post for me because we are fixing up our home to sell it this spring (hopefully!), and I am trying to “update” our master bathroom, without doing a complete remodel, and turn it from “dated” to “vintage” by using a “coastal cottage” style –ha, ha! I am going to be putting in beadboard wainscotting and new white painted vanities, but was a bit stumped how to decorate everything else (wall décor, lighting, window treatments, etc.) This post helped me understand a bit better, thank you! Evidently this style will really work for me because I have to shop Craigslist and clearance sales, all the off-price stores (like Home Goods, Ross, and Burlington) and thrift stores out of necessity anyway!! I will have to go back and see if you have any posts about your cottage’s bathroom! I would love to see it.
    (Our realtor came through our home to give us some pointers and really was concerned about our dated master bathroom with its almond tile around the almond jacuzzi tub, and she especially did not like the almond and white mosaic tile floor. I don’t feel so bad about our dated mosaic tile floor now, though, since I recently read a post, on another popular design blog, where the designer ripped out the supposedly “on trend” large format, wood-look tile in her powder room and replaced it with, you guessed it—a very dated, oops- I mean “vintage”, white hex mosaic tile! She wanted a “cottage” look! My realtor would probably be surprised and I had a good laugh about it!)

    • Liz says

      Oh I’m so glad it helped you with your “vintage” project. Yep, what goes around comes around… it’ll all be back in style again. 😉

  2. Donnamae says

    The most interesting part of cottage style to me is the stories of particular pieces. Love your cottage style! 😉

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