21 Welcoming Guest House and Cottage Ideas

Tan guesthouse with large windows facing tiled patio

The Spruce / Christopher Lee Foto

When company comes calling, where will they stay? Unlike the traditional guest room, a detached guest house is the perfect solution for hosting friends and family at your house but not in your house. It allows you and your company opportunities for privacy between activities planned during holidays and visits. A guest house doesn't have to be elaborate: If it's big enough to include a bedroom or even a bed or sleeper sofa, along with at least a half-bath and maybe a mini-fridge for drinks and snacks, that should keep everyone happy. If it has extras like a living room, stove, wifi, shower, and a porch, nobody will complain.

Guest houses are also known as guest cottages, guest sheds, mother-in-law houses, and granny flats. From modern and prefab to classic cottage and Victorian, small houses built behind a main home need to pass local building codes and guidelines and should be built by a contractor. Often, these small structures are smaller versions or a nod to the larger home's architectural design. Get creative: A guest cottage can be made from a kit, vintage trailer, shed, or even a shipping container. Don't forget to roll out the welcome mat and include nice touches like extra bedding, toiletries, and fresh flowers from the garden.

Let's take a look at diverse styles and sizes of guest houses and granny flats from Massachusetts to New Zealand.

  • 01 of 21

    Allwood Solvalla Guest House

    allwood solvalla guest house

    Perhaps no guest house has grabbed as much attention, like, ever, as Allwood's Solvalla Studio Cabin Kit, which somehow went viral and was covered by NBC's Today Show, and the online versions of Maxim, House Beautiful, and People, among others. The Solvalla is offered on Amazon and has sold out intermittently since becoming an overnight sensation. Allwood spokesperson Robin Pekkala isn't sure why the Solvalla was chosen by Amazon over others to promote. The Solvalla has been sold in Europe for a few years and Allwood added it in 2018.

    "The unique feature is that it has equal parts closed interior and open patio with a roof," says Pekkala. Each of Allwood's kits include wood components, windows, doors, and hardware. A concrete foundation is not required; cinder blocks and gravel or treated timber and gravel will suffice. You'll also have to buy roofing material for your Solvalla guest house, preferably shingles, tile, or tin.

    "Of course, if you want a bathroom or kitchen, then you will have to add those, too. But we do not promote this small model for that purpose," says Pekkala.

    Not surprisingly, the Solvalla has been great for Allwood's business, even when the kits are sold out. "Customers are starting to buy the larger models we sell as primary residences because it is so much cheaper and faster than building a traditional home," says Pekkala.

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  • 02 of 21

    Mini Guest House

    mini guest house
    Darren Kerr Photography

    Based in Australia, Baahouse specializes in small-house architectural design—a sign that petite homes aren't just a trend. Baahouse teamed with Saunders Building Company to create a multigenerational compound near Brisbane for a retired couple and their family who wanted something modern, stylish, and large enough to accommodate their needs and lifestyle.

    Working with Baahouse's existing Lincoln Design 2B, the firm designed a tropical pair of homes that take advantage of the steep site, using hardwood outriggers, handrails, and vertical timber. Blending with the landscape, the modern homes emphasize the indoor/outdoor lifestyle with connecting decks and sliding glass doors that capture sub-tropical breezes. 

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  • 03 of 21

    Whimsical and Charming Guest Cottage

    charming guest cottage
    Shawn Maestretti

    Laurette McCook enlisted Shawn Maestretti Garden Architecture to create an art studio/guest cottage surrounded by an English garden in memory of her late mother. Maestretti's challenge: to recreate a garden with flowering plants inspired by landscapes of the Pacific Northwest in the hot, dry Los Angeles area. A charming backyard cottage was built, along with a path of decomposed granite (DG) and Santa Barbara cobblestone. A vessel became a central water feature, which added moisture and a soothing sound to the garden.

    But when it came to softscape, the client was clear: she did not want water-wise succulents. Maestretti introduced her to other drought tolerant plants, like various lavenders, salvias, and the colorful African daisy (Arctotis 'Pink Sugar'). The result is a lush xeriscape garden that evokes memories of McCook's mother and is a peaceful place for relaxation and reflection.

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  • 04 of 21

    Pennsylvania Farmhouse Cottage

    pennsylvania farmhouse cottage
    Dear Garden

    An old farm estate in Pennsylvania's Bucks County was restored by Dear Garden Associates with sheds, retrofitted farm buildings, and updated hardscape features. Slopes became terraces, with gardens and paths linking to them. The European style house features a charming guest house with a small "cigar patio". Plants were chosen for their colors and textures and include viburnum, purple smokebush, yellow spiraea, hosta, sage, and ribbon grass. 

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  • 05 of 21

    Beachy Guest Cottage

    beachy guest cottage

    Wishbone Construction

    In the Sydney, Australia, beach community of Maroubra, Wishbone Constructions built a granny flat for his clients' sons, who were growing and required more space and privacy. Measuring about 16 x 19 feet with a 4-foot spotted-gum deck, the flat includes a living/sleeping room, bathroom, and kitchenette. Wishbone fulfilled their clients' request for a bright coastal design with a high ceiling and lots of light. With an eye to the future, he flat can be rented out for additional income when the boys leave the nest.

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  • 06 of 21

    Wooden Hawk House

    hawkhouse small house

    Alex Wyndham

    Santa Barbara-based Alex Wyndham designs and builds small and sustainable houses in which the owner can commune with nature. Wyndham's HAWKhouse is rustic, yet with its pitched roof the tiny house seems to be inspired by exuberant designs of the mid-20th century. Like what you see? For a reasonable fee, plans can either be sent or downloaded.

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  • 07 of 21

    Poolside Guest House With Pergolas

    beautiful guest houses

    Dan Gordon

    Pergolas supported by columns flank both sides of a breathtaking guest/pool house in Weston, Massachusetts, designed by Dan Gordon Landscape Architects. A fully equipped kitchen opens to the pool area, where guests can enjoy a seamless transition from indoors to outdoors. Lighting was subtly designed to make the pool and house an alluring focal point in the evening. 

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  • 08 of 21

    Austin Pool House

    poolside guest house
    Photo by Whit Preston

    On those hot Austin nights, guests staying at this modern "flat" only need to walk a few steps to jump in the pool. Rick and Cindy Black Architects overhauled an estate in Travis Heights that included renovating a 1940 bungalow and a smaller building on the property. The guest house was designed with flexibility in mind, and can serve as an office, extra living space, retreat, or a pool cabana. Black Architects incorporated principles of universal design and an eye on future needs in the guest cottage, such as wide doorways, a roll-in shower, and low entry transition. Risiginer & Co were general contractors on the project.

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  • 09 of 21

    Victorian Guest Cottage

    victorian guest cottage
    Lou Ferraro

    Having built the main house in 1998 and a guest suite in 2003, Cuomo Construction was enlisted again to create a fabulous backyard pool/guest house. Like the primary structure, the smaller version is Victorian and also features a complete kitchen. Reproduction details include columns, fish-scale shingles, and ornate carved-wood details both inside and out.

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  • 10 of 21

    Micro Winery Guest House

    Micro Winery Guest House
    Rob Karosis Photography

    The owner of a production facility for a small vineyard and micro winery in upstate New York hired Crisp Architects to design and build a barn-like structure that was utilitarian but attractive. The winery is also a guesthouse that accommodates up to six people. 

    Chamberlain Construction of Millerton, New York, assisted Crisp in creating a stunning building that features board-and-batten siding, asphalt shingles, and handmade copper light fixtures by local craftspersons. 

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  • 11 of 21

    Cozy Pavillion Guest House

    guest house designs

    GreenHeart LLC

    Tucked at the rear of a shady backyard at a house in the Washington DC area is a six-sided mahogany pavilion created by Green Heart Garden Designs. A flagstone patio leads to the quiet spot where the owner enjoys reading, listening to birds, or playing cards out of the rain and away from mosquitoes. Inside, the tiny house features ipe flooring, a standing-seam metal roof with skylights, and a futon that converts to a bed for overnight stays.

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  • 12 of 21

    Treehouse Guest Haven

    treehouse guest house
    Brent Moss Photography

    The ultimate guest house for the adventurous would have to be this treehouse designed by Green Line Architects of Colorado. Green Line's resident treehouse expert, David Rasmussen, designed and built this amazing structure with log columns as the primary support, since the actual trees on the property aren't strong enough to hold up a building.

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  • 13 of 21

    Farmhouse-Style Guest House

    guest house ideas
    Schappacher White

    A romantic-looking farmhouse-style guest cottage has French doors, curtains, and a mosquito net to protect visitors from unwanted guests. Designed by Schappacher White, the house on New York's Shelter Island includes a wet bar and a bathroom.

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  • 14 of 21

    Music Studio and Guest House

    Music Studio and Guest House combo

    Photo by Matthew Mallett

    A freestanding music studio and guest house are connected by decking and vine-covered pergolas for a cohesive design by Statkus Architecture of Victoria, Australia, 

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  • 15 of 21

    Christchurch Granny Flat

    christchurch granny flat

    Fraemohs Houses

    Guest houses are called granny flats everywhere from Australia and New Zealand to Southern California. Fraemohs Homes of Christchurch, New Zealand, designs homes of all sizes that are sustainable and made of solid wood. The Karamea is a two-bedroom chalet-style "sleepout" that includes a bathroom and kitchen, all packed into about 700 square feet (65 square meters). The house can come pre-built or you can opt to assemble it yourself.

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  • 16 of 21

    Oahu Contemporary Guest House

    oahu contemporary guest house

    Barker Kapelle

    If you don't use your garage for anything but storing "stuff", you might want to consider decluttering and turning the building into a guest cottage. Barker Kappelle Construction transformed a garage on the Hawaiian island of Oahu into a contemporary retreat. It's now a backyard mini-resort, complete with kitchenette, bathroom, exterior storage, poolside shower, and large patio to relax and enjoy tropical breezes.

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    Mid-century Modern Guest House

    midcentury modern guest house

    G Family Inc.

    That pitched roof and overhang look like a petite version of a Mid-century modern tract home. Designed and built by G Family Construction in Marin County, California, this guest house features clean, simple lines and big windows for such a small house.

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  • 18 of 21

    Little House in the Big City

    Little House in the Big City
    Andre Rothblatt

    In the backyard of a house in San Francisco, Andre Rothblatt Architecture built a classic shed-style guest cottage with a gable roof, shingles, and a glass door and window for natural lighting. Note the old-fashioned weather vane.

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  • 19 of 21

    Best Little Guest House in Texas

    Best Little Guest House in Texas
    Judy Herbert Ainger

    Judy Ainger is a do-it-yourselfer, designer, and house flipper from Tyler, Texas, who blogs about her projects @vintagestreetdesigns. Her guest house boasts that big Texas attitude while maintaining minimal square footage. 

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  • 20 of 21

    Cottage Behind a Cottage

    cottage guest house
    Goff Architecture

    A cottage-style guest house sits behind a larger cottage at a property in Rhode Island. Designed by Goff Architecture, the guest cottage measures a compact 200 square feet and includes one bedroom, a full bath, a built-in wardrobe, and a screened-in porch at the back. The exterior is clad with Eastern white cedar shingles and painted trim. 

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  • 21 of 21

    Classic Batten-and-Board

    Classic Batten-and-Board Guest House

    WLC Remodeling

    WLC Remodeling of Baltimore designed a charming backyard guest house that features classic batten-and-board siding with a fresh coat of white paint. Surrounded by a lush garden with lots of blooming perennials, the cottage blends in with the landscape.