Once upon a time there were people who lived in small huts on the land of a nobleman. They were known as huts and their houses as cottages (both came from the Latin word “cotagium”). These simple one-storey dwellings were usually made of stone or wood, with thatched roofs and a prominent chimney.
The feudal system has faded, but the cottages remain. And while we often associate them with rustic settings and picturesque facades, today they can be done in any style and anywhere, from a city block to a country road, in the woods or in a seaside town. But cottages are still defined by their cozy size — no more than 1,000 to 1,200 square feet, about half the average American home.
Who might be looking for such a home? Cottages are popular with buyers looking for a holiday home or starter home, especially one with ingenious, handcrafted features. “Little artistic details were made with pride in cottages,” said real estate agent Shannon Wineman of the PorchLight Realty Team in San Diego. “Nooks for shelves, cabinets, arched doorways” are all appealing to millennial homebuyers in particular, she finds.
Let’s continue reading the story of cottages and how much they repay a buyer.
What is the history of cottage style?
Cottage houses date from the late Middle Ages (about 1400-1500). They originated in England or Russia, depending on who you ask, but they quickly spread and served a similar purpose in the UK and Europe. Farmers would occupy these dwellings – the original small houses – on large lots owned by the aristocrats for whom they worked.
During the late 19th century, as it spread to the US, a cottage of the significance of a working-class house morphed into a more generic tiny house, somewhere outside a metropolitan area (and sometimes not even that small – Gilded Age millionaires called their elaborate mansions in Newport, Rhode Island and other “cottages” resorts.) As a vacation or country home for the upper and middle classes, the cottages retained their quaint size, but were modernized, equipped with plumbing, heating, and electricity. They often sprouted small second stories.
Today, some people choose to live full-time in a cottage, especially a historic cottage. Their intricate, old-fashioned masonry and other types of craftsmanship make them both sturdy and aesthetically pleasing, Wineman explains. “There is a ‘made with care’ atmosphere that is very important to many people at the moment. The idea of living in something that’s mass-produced isn’t so desirable to some buyers.”
Different types of houses
Given their long history and great geographical popularity, cottages come in a variety of styles. Some of the most common are:
- English: When people imagine a cottage house, they often think of an English style cottage. This style probably has thatched roofs and gardens right against the structure. Most English cottages are single.
- French: French chalets often have stone facades, brickwork and clay roof tiles. Many homes have romantic vines creeping along the side of the building and bright exterior shutters. This type of cottage often has an elegant interior.
- Coast: Many American cottages fall into this category, found on the waterfront in places like Cape Cod and Nantucket, Massachusetts, on the east coast; Carmel and Monterey, California, on the west coast. These homes usually have wide porches and wood shingles that can turn gray over time. Expect lots of white trim and large bay windows.
- Nordic: Many cottages in places like Sweden and Norway serve as rural getaways. They are often made of wood and painted bright red (a simple, white aesthetic dominates the interior).
- Canadian: Like American cottages, Canadian cottages are usually found near a body of water rather than in the countryside. They tend to have a second story.
- Bungalow: Smaller versions of this architectural style, popular in early 20th-century America, are often classified as cottages (especially those in the Craftsman style). Bungalow houses are made of materials native to their region and are one to one and a half stories high with front porches shaded by low-pitched gabled roofs supported by exposed trusses or beams. Interiors often have built-in wardrobes and double top-hung windows.
What characterizes the cottage style?
You can find cottages with a variety of features, but these cozy homes share some common features.
Some common exterior elements of cottage properties include:
- Cedar Shingles
- Curved doorways
- Stone or brick accents
- Asymmetrical design
- Sharply pitched roofs
Outdoor spaces are often valued in a cottage, because the interior is so small, you can also find many exterior accents, such as:
Cottages often integrate many natural materials into their interiors. The inside of a house may have:
- Visible ceiling beams
- Exposed brick or stone walls
- Arched doorways
- Built-in shelves and nooks
- Stone back wall
How much do cottage style houses cost?
The national average sale price for a cottage is about $236,000, according to a recent survey of real estate listings, “The Most Popular and Valuable Home Styles in the U.S.” Building a home costs about the same, $260,000 on average — although, depending on size, materials, features and location, the range can range from $120,000 to $500,000.
The small square footage of most cottages can limit their price tags in many markets. That said, cottages are often located in beach towns and vacation destinations, where real estate is expensive. Also, “if a cottage is in a community that is going through gentrification and that community is very walkable, you’ll see prices go up compared to other home types in the area,” notes Wineman.
Since cottages have features such as built-in breakfast nooks and custom shelves, restoring an older one can be expensive. But Wineman also advises residents to pay attention to tax credits. For example, California’s Mills Act program provides incentives for buyers of historic real estate. “If the home qualifies, a homeowner can save 40-70 percent of their property taxes. The rationale is that the owners will use those funds to keep the historic home in good condition,” she says.
Final Word on Cottage Style Homes
Cottages can be ideal for a couple or a small family looking for a simple life. What these homes lack in spacious floor plans and bright interiors, they more than make up for in character and unique features, such as vaulted interior doors and custom bookcases. The prominence of exposed natural materials such as wooden beams and real stone accents give cottages more personality than many conventional homes.
Keep in mind that buying an older cottage may also mean inheriting a certain number of plumbing or wiring challenges and, if it’s a Grade II listed building, restrictions on approved alterations. That said, a cozy cottage can be an affordable home purchase and inspire you to live more efficiently than a modern property.