English Cottages That Will Make You Leave the City

A Guide to English Cottage Designs, From Tudor to Modern

charming english cottage
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    The Cottage Appeal

    Cottage style architecture and interiors radiate comfort and informality; for many people this is the only kind of house in which they can really feel relaxed and "at home".  Cottages evoke cozy living: a crisp, clean, wholesomeness and back-to-nature sensibility for which they'd abandon their current urban digs in a heartbeat.

    While some architects do a good job of producing modern interpretations, you won't find many contemporary home tracts built to look like authentic Tudors or English cottages. The look has been romanticized through magazines like The Cottage Journal and films like The Holiday, in which two women swap houses at Christmas. The house that most people fell in love with: Kate Winslet's fairytale-perfect Rosehill Cottage outside London, which was actually a specially built set.

     

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    Influences and Influencers

    english cotswold cottages
    Steve Slater / Flickr / CC by 2.0

    Cottages grew out of the Picturesque architectural movement of England and Europe, starting in the late 1700s. Initially, the Picturesque style was used to describe buildings or landscapes inspired by scenes depicted in then-contemporary paintings, like those of French masters Claude Lorrain or Nicolas Poussin. The cottages were rustic, in rural areas or small villages, and made with local materials and resources (Vernacular architecture). Styles often blended, with many using Gothic and Tudor architectural elements, which suggested Medieval roots.

    Before universities trained architects, carpenters and craftspersons built homes by following plans outlined in illustrated books published by architects like Alexander Parris, Benjamin Henry Latrobe, and Alexander Downing. One of the most popular, Downing's 1842-published Cottage Residences, introduced Picturesque architecture to homeowners and builders. Designers emphasized the charms of a rugged and rustic lifestyle in the country.

    The Influence of Voysey

    At the turn of the century, the architectural, furniture, and wallpaper designs of Charles Francis Annesley Voysey became extremely popular. Cotswold homes of the 1700s inspired Voysey's Tudor cottage designs of the early 20th century. Voysey supported the use of stucco on wood framing for cladding in his Tudor designs. After 1920, the solid-stucco home-building technique was preferred; leaving behind the half-stone/masonry and half-timber patterns. 

    The cottage style was phased out around World War II, after which postwar home builders promoted a whole new modern world.

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    Characteristics of Cottages

    thatched roof english cottage
    Spencer Means / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

    You won't find an English cottage with all of the following characteristics, but most have at least a few of these features;

    • Thatched roof: A dense covering of harvested reed, rush, or straw was applied to roofs for insulation and also added to the homes' rustic charm
    • False thatched roof: Since reed or straw aren't the most practical roofing materials, a fake thatched roof can be made with modern materials. Wood shingles are steamed or composition roofing is rolled around eaves, resembling thatch
    • Half-timbered: In an effort to use what was available, cottages were often built of stone or brick on the first floor and timber or a mix on the second
    • Leaded windows: Multi-paned or lattice-style windows
    • Bargeboard: Aka vergeboard, is a carved, ornamental board attached to the projecting gables of a roof 
    • Smart use of concrete
    • Sash windows
    • Vines often covering the cottage
    • An emphasis on rustic and an almost Medieval look
    • Stacked chimneys
    • Sometimes, a single tall roof
    • Especially on Tudor styles: front-facing gables
    • Low eave lines
    • Massive chimneys
    • Side gables
    • Steeply pitched roof
    • Decorative half-timbering on facade
    • A beautiful English cottage garden

    Enjoy a tour of diverse cottages that all have one thing in common: charm.

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    False-Thatched Roof

    Yes, that's a faux family of ducks marching across the false-thatched roof of a cottage in Norfolk, England. This roof subtype copies real thatched roofs that once dotted rural landscapes throughout Great Britain. This one is steeply pitched with curved dormers and gables.

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    English Country Garden

    Irene lives with her sons and husband in an "ancient" Cotswald manor house with a romantic garden and a courtyard built in 1570, what she calls "a gorgeous 500-year-old money pit." In the eight years since she's lived there, Irene has created a lovely terrace, greenhouse, and garden that grows tomatoes, peas, and herbs for the family's supper. She also grows breathtaking flowers, like these white viburnums.

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    Bwthyn Swynol

    Masha likes to stay in old houses (or mansions) while traveling throughout Europe to experience what it's like to live like a local and explore intriguing buildings. This B&B is a well-maintained cottage in Wales that has had architectural elements painted for just enough emphasis.

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    Older-Looking English Cottage

    Nat Woods loves French antiques and furnishings and owns a Morris Minor automobile--named Mrs. Taylor--that takes her through the Hampshire and West Sussex countryside. Although Nat's house looks like a tidy but slightly rustic farmhouse/cottage, it was actually built in 1993. In her blog, Laid Back Farmhouse, Nat chronicles the renovation of her home  as she adds period architectural elements and furnishings to give a newish home character and lots of personal touches.

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    By the Sea

    Another renovation that's a work in progress is Laura's 1920s cottage on the coast of Devon, England. Dubbed her "forever home by the sea", the property sits on an acre with a wild garden that she and her husband are in the process of renovating, like everything else. Did you ever think that English gardeners might want an American look? Laura is hoping to give her landscape a "New England kind of vibe" with Adirondack chairs and a fire pit. Of course, she won't rule out a classic English country garden.

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    Savoring the English Countryside

    As the owner of Gather & Grazeboards, Kyle Campbell divides her time between her home base of Nashville and long working trips to England. Captivated by the English country lifestyle, she frequently explores villages to take in breathtaking homes and gardens. "There is nothing like an English village in June," she says. "English summers are something special."

     

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    Charlwood Charmer

    Take the brick path to a 16th-century cottage in Charlwood, England, that once had a wooden chimney. Wisely, it was replaced long ago with fire-retardant brick. This old gem includes a steeply pitched, false thatched roof and classic Tudor half-timbering details on its facade.

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    Bibury Cottage

    Pink English roses surround a country cottage in Bibury, a rural village and tourist destination in Gloucestershire with many historic Cotswold buildings and tea houses. Note the characteristic front-facing gables and steeply pitched roof.

     

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    British Miami

    One of the first projects for the architectural firm of McCown Design was Fairhope Cottage, an English country cottage...in Miami. McCown added elements to give it a refreshed, class look. Among them:

    • Subtly curved roofline, dormers, lintels made of reclaimed brick, painted brick with thick 
    • Thickly painted brick embedded in sand
    • Lintels made of reclaimed brick
    • Dark accents for the trim, windows, doors, and posts and beams

     

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    Storybook Cottage

    Fittingly, this whimsical cottage with a steeply pitched thatched red roof is in Devon, England, which is known for medieval towns, towering coastal cliffs, and fossils along its Jurassic Coast.

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    Charming English Cottage in Illinois

    A 3,000-square-foot house in Hinsdale, Illinois, was designed by Michael Abraham Architecture to appear as an established quaint stucco cottage. Set on rolling hills, the home is landscaped with native plants that complement its design. 

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    Castle Combe

    Freelance writer and editor Elaine lives in Bath, England, and is an old house and cottage fanatic. This cottage is in Wiltshire's Castle Combe, considered one of the prettiest and "quintessentially English" villages. Since the town receives so many visitors and is often photographed, owners keep their cottages and gardens well manicured.

     

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    Elm Cottage

    This pale yellow early 19th-century stucco cottage, which overlooks Barnes Pond, was originally built for the village schoolmaster. Located in the Borough of Richmond upon Thames, the district of Barnes has many 18th- and 19th-century homes and buildings.

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    Wiltshire English Cottage

    After living in London for 18 years, Laura recently "closed the door on my flat for the last time" and moved to her dream home: a cottage in a tiny rural village in Wiltshire. This charmer has the false thatched roof; leaded, multi-paned windows, and stacked chimneys.

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    Village Beauty

    Photographer Corinna takes stunning pictures of the villages near her home in Wiltshire, England. This particular cottage is her favorite, and has an authentic thatched roof, curved dormers, wood-framed or casement windows, and lovely garden.