“In a simple and a peaceful cottage with a beautiful view, you will not be dreaming about the palaces or the heaven, because you already have a perfect thing!” ― Mehmet Murat ildan
To feel welcomed, to feel deeply at home in a sanctuary, to feel ‘cozyed in’, almost as though to be hugged without confinement and instead inspire infinite curiosity to explore and play. To me, all of these ‘feels’ are what comes to mind when I think of the classic English cottage, both inside and out.
Over the next many months and years, I look forward to exploring and sharing elements of the English Cottage aesthetic, the interiors, exteriors and the garden of a cottage because as many of you know, my home, Le Papillon, is what I consider to be a cottage. Perhaps it began with watching Nancy Meyers’ film The Holiday and the cottage I later learned she had built especially for the movie, Rose Hill cottage, or maybe it was the interiors of the many homes profiled in The English Home magazine that I have subscribed to for over 10 years and continue to eagerly await the arrival of each new issue. Whatever precisely drew me to the English Cottage aesthetic I cannot pinpoint, but I always take notice of how I feel in a space, whether I am traveling and staying at vacation rentals, bed & breakfasts, hotels, or even at friends and family’s homes. What makes me feel most at ease? What details attend to my needs to bring me comfort? Where can I truly relax and feel at home even if I am not at home? And mentally I took note, and finally, with my house here in Bend, Oregon, Le Papillon, I have been able to customize, paying attention to all of the details – grand and small that, to me, whilst adhering to the fundamental components of English cottage, create a sanctuary I feel at home, deeply at home when I am here.
There are oodles of interior décor components that contribute to creating the English cottage aesthetic, so I wanted to begin with where I began and what is in my own home, Le Papillon. Below I will be sharing pictures and images that offer the vignette, a close-up look at the details discussed here in today’s episode/post, and for each image, you will have the option of clicking through to tour the entire space and how I pulled it together (explore becoming a TOP Tier Member to gain exclusive access to all tours of my home, Le Papillon). As shared in the title of today’s episode/post, this is part un, and I look forward to sharing many more elements that are in my home in future postings/episodes.
First to begin with the history of the English Cottage and Cottage Garden. As Christopher Lloyd and Richard Bird share in their book about Cottage Gardens, “It has come down to us through the ages [to be] a bountiful yet regulated informality.” While they are specifically speaking about the cottage gardening approach, the same can be said for the interiors as well. Everything that is chosen is thoughtful, intentional, but it may not appear to be so to the untrained eye. They go on to say, “[The Cottage and Cottage Garden] has evolved through common sense, combines need with enjoyment and is entirely unpretentious.”
With that definition in mind, let’s take a look at the first 15 Key Elements I included in my English Cottage-inspired home, Le Papillon.
~Please note, while I give quite a bit of detail in the written post below, I also share even more in the audio version, so please do feel free to tune in wherever you listen to podcasts.
1.Ignore all trends of the moment at any moment
“Ultimately, good taste is a considered point of view, and the courage of conviction even in the face of dissent.” —Fiona McKenzie Johnston
Before we dive in to today’s topic, it is important to differentiate between classic English cottage and Cottagecore, the latter becoming a booming décor trend during the depths of the pandemic, but they are not the same, and the latter is a trend. Similar to the more recent trend that began on social media, the Coastal Grandmother style (both décor and fashion), a trend; however, if something offered by either one of these trends speaks to you, hold on to that. Explore that element and that becomes part of your good taste suggested above in the quote.
The problem with adhering to a trend is that by definition, it will go out of style, and a new trend will replace it. The primary (perhaps more unconscious) reason both of these trends rose to popularity when they did has a lot to do with the times we found ourselves: we were seeking comfort, we were seeking something that brought us calm and certainty during some of the most uncertain and unprecedented times we have ever seen across many different generations. This is not a bad thing. Again, if an aspect of a trend speaks to you, there is a reason, and that is how we hone our understanding of what will work for a long duration of time in our homes as we decorate for the life we love living. Secondly, regarding the problem with trends is that you are not decorating in an approach that honors you, but rather following what others approve of, and in such an approach to life in any arena – decor, fashion, life choices – this is never an approach that will lead to true, lasting contentment.
So we let go of trends and dare to trust that what we know makes us feel good, feel at home, even if magazines or social media says ‘huh?’, and what we also do, and this is key, is understand how good design works. The reason I mentioned the need to not just acknowledge what speaks to us about a trend, but also explore it, is because we must understand the décor principle that makes such a decor detail work in that particular way. We’ll talk about this more in #2, but I have always been drawn to the expertise mixing and matching of prints the English seem to know how to do intuitively, except I know it is learned, and so I took online décor classes and discovered exactly what works and why, along with many other insider tips and tricks, before I invested in items I wanted to have in my home for a lifetime.
2. Wallpaper, prints, large and/or small
The power of wallpaper with prints is that it is an illusion to the eye and actually makes the space feel larger than it is. Unlike with solids either regarding wallpaper or your typical paint job, a solid wall of any color stops the eye. We will talk about this more with upholstery as well, prints while beautiful and artistic, also serve the powerful and necessary purpose in what typically are small in square footage/yards that cottages are.
Long-time readers of the blog know I have wallpapered multiple rooms in Le Papillon (six rooms as of this posting), and I have done so all by myself. I didn’t begin by doing this task on my own however, but am grateful I had a good teacher. So yes, you can wallpaper on your own, just make sure, as I share in this detailed post, you purchase quality wallpaper, and you are half-way to creating an amazing space.
With that said, sometimes the wallpaper will be the guiding detail that determines all other decisions in the room, such as my guest bathroom below. It was my dogged determination to find a space in my house to bring the classic Willow Bough print by William Morris, one of his first creations in 1870, and so when I decided on my guest bathroom, all of the other details had to complement the room that was bathed in willow boughs. However, the wallpaper can also simply complement, and that is what I have done in my foyer by using grasscloth as it provides a warmth due to its texture, but is not the star of the show.
As well, small versus large prints, the large prints as you might imagine lead the way, but the small prints complement what the other stars in the room are. Choose the same color tone as those star pieces, but they need not be the same color, although they can and likely should play off of at least one color in the wallpaper. For example, my next project when it comes to curtains is to add roman shades to my kitchen, but as my house has an open floor plan, I need to pay attention to the colors in the Boot & Basket room as well as the dining room which are situated on either side of my kitchen, so my friend, Veronique, an interior designer, saw the green in the wallpaper, noting the color tone that I need to adhere to in order to work with the Provençal blue in my dining room curtains, and told me to find a print with some in green. That gives me direction of what to work for as the curtains will not be the star of the show, but must complement the details around it.
~Here is a detailed post of 12 British Wallpaper Companies to Know
3. Mixing antiques, vintage, consignment finds with new, but thoughtfully considered new pieces
This detail of cottage decorating is one of my favorites, and perhaps yours as well, the treasure hunting! Of course, and yes, we need to underscore, that clutter is never a comfort, so always letting yourself purchase what is drawing your eye just because is not a great idea unless it serves a purpose and has a home in your cottage along with being something that caught your eye. Cottages are small, and just like the cottage garden, each item does two things – provides beauty and functionality.
Part of the reason it takes time to decorate a cottage is because just because something is beautiful doesn’t mean it is functional and just because something is functional doesn’t guarantee that it is attractive to your eye, i.e. all of the technology and gadgets available for modern living.
Think of it as a treasure hunt and then this searching becomes more pleasurable because when you finally do come across say a newspaper rack/holder that is desperately needed to keep the papers from being strewn across the floor on Sunday morning while you cozy into your reading nook, you will also be welcoming in something that is pleasing to the eye but exercising a function that you need for a tidy home.
Overarchingly, this is why it is necessary to mix old and new items. Yes, you will likely have more old in the form of vintage, antique or consignment, but there are just some things that have to be new, certain chairs or furniture to fit the size or height of people in your home. For me, I needed a long sofa and a deep one, so I customized one as it is the star of the room, and the investment was worth it for years, decades even, of cottage style I love but also comfort I needed. (You can see my sofa in many of A Cuppa Moments video chats.)
4. Remove the over-head lighting
This rule is not exclusive to cottages, but rather how to create a welcoming home. Nobody looks their best under lighting from above (unless you are young and perfect and blissfully ignorant to the benefits of youth). Overhead lighting also creates a harsh effect that is not warm nor soft on the eye. Yes, there will be places in the home or in your working areas depending upon what work you will be doing where overhead lighting is necessary, but even then, customize it so that you can dim it to your preferred brightness.
The only two places I have overhead lighting that go full-tilt bright are in the kitchen and the garage. And in my kitchen, my overhead lighting is on a dimmer. In fact, all of the new light fixtures I have put into my home during my 2-year renovation/customization are on dimmers (advice from British interior designer, Rita Konig – always put lights with dimmers when installing the electric outlets). Even if your home has overhead/ceiling/can lighting, do what I do, and don’t use it and better yet, take the lightbulbs out so that they are never used by mistake. This sounds extreme, but you want to feel comfortable in your house, so add the lamps (we will talk about this in a later point below) that create the lighting you want that is in your control; this possible with table lamps, floor lamps, picture lights and semi-flush, pendant or chandelier lighting.
5. Relinquish the idea of perfection and avoid matchy-matchy
The beautiful puzzle of the English cottage is that when it comes together delights me to no end, and it is the ability to match seemingly different prints and colors in a manner that fits together perfectly, as though they were meant to go together. How do they do that?!
First, let’s talk about avoiding the matchy-matchy. It is completely understand why people (and I count myself among them) do this, it’s safe and it doesn’t ‘break’ any rules or is not harsh to the eye. However, if you are decorating your cottage, you have broken the rule because a cottage is meant to look almost accidentally put together when really it was quite intentional, but there is a playful element, a daring element that reveals a bit about the inhabitants, what you love, what makes you smile, where you’ve been, your favorite color, etc.
Avoiding the matchy-matchy doesn’t mean you can’t do it everywhere, but when it is what you rely on in every room, it doesn’t reveal you. For example, I have two pairs of matching lamps, one in my living room and one in my primary bedroom. For me, they create balance, a solid, subtle foundation because they are placed (especially the living room lamps) in a space that has a lot of different prints, details and non-matching furniture.
So essential, use matchy-matchy not to play it safe, but when it actually provides a value for the décor aesthetic you are trying to create in the cottage. Which brings me to letting go of perfection. A cottage never looks partnered off or symmetrical, but yet it feels balanced. How do you do this? It is easier to learn this skill by looking at whole room pics, so I highly recommend picking up copies of The English Home magazine, but you might have two armchairs (as I do in my reading nook), but they don’t match and have entirely different prints. To the casual eye, this appears imperfect and off balanced, but its in balance because they have the same color tone, and that tone is married in the curtains that stand between them. I still have two chairs, but they don’t visually look the same, but have the same ‘weight’ to the eye.
The perfection is what you want to let go, but what you create that establishes the balance will be perfect to you.
“Be faithful to your own taste because nothing you really like is ever out of style.”—American interior design Billy Baldwin (1903-1984)
A cottage beckons you to sit down and relax. How do we create an aesthetic that speaks this language? Well, ottomans play a powerful role in the symphony of details in a cottage. I once had two friends come to dinner, a couple, and when they walked through the foyer and into the open-plan, after I asked them to pick any seat they’d like to sit in, they said, “I cannot choose, they all look so comfortable. Each one is asking me to sit down and relax.” That is what I hoped I could create. That was the goal even if the English cottage style isn’t their preference, there is a feeling I want to create for everyone who walks in, and that is the feeling when it comes to choosing my furniture.
Ottomans by nature ask you to put your feet up on them, to essential stop doing, and just be. There are so many different styles and sizes, so have fun finding the right ones (yes, plural) for your home. As I look around me, I can count four ottomans or hassocks (smaller and lower to the ground) that are in my house. They all perform a function, but their fabric or finish also work in the space aesthetically. One matches the chair it is paired with but it also is the hassock so my pups use it as a stepping stool to climb up into the chair. I will admit an error on my part because I have another armchair and purchased its matching ottoman. I love having the ottoman, but moving forward I might someday have it reupholstered to not be so matchy because there is too much of that one fabric in that corner. This is how we learn, and if we purchase quality pieces of furniture then down the road when we want to change it up, all we have to do is reupholster, not purchase an entirely new piece. Saves money and is a sustainable approach to decorating.
7. Reupholster furniture you love
Speaking of reupholstering. ☺️ One of the best arguments for purchasing high quality furniture is because of what we just talked about in the conclusion for #6. Likely your tastes will evolve a bit or a lot, but when you have a favorite well-made piece of furniture, you can have it for life. The upholstery may change, but having an ideal cozy chair or sofa or dining room chair is near priceless for an item that you will have to pay well for.
I have reupholstered a chair I inherited from my late Great Aunt and Uncle’s home, a chair made in the 50s, had the cushions redone as well as the fabric to one that worked in my office, and each time I look at it, yes, I love the look, but it also holds many wonderful memories that make me smile. I have also purchased consignment furniture that I love structurally but not the fabric (often this will save you money because sometimes the fabric is what is keeping it from being purchased), and had it reupholstered (my office chair for example that you can see in September ’22’s A Cuppa Moments).
8. Have fun selecting or customizing your pillows, put them nearly everywhere
I once heard a man, he happened to be American, but I think that is important to note, say he would never want pillows anywhere in his house (he had recently finished entirely remodeling his house). Indirectly, he was insinuating that they were feminine and he didn’t want to appear ‘weak’. Long story, but needless to say, I wanted to say (but bit my tongue), you are missing the purpose of pillows dude. Admittedly, when pillows are used just to ‘look good’, then yes, by all means get rid of them. I agree on that, but there is a purpose to having pillows if they are well made and in the right shape for the piece of furniture they are placed in.
For example, on my George Sherlock sofa, which is incredibly deep, you cannot sit upright without having a large 22″ square pillow behind you, and it must be a somewhat firm pillow. So over the past summer, after more than a year of figuring out which fabric would work best in the space of my living room, I had six 22″ square pillows made with five different fabrics. They serve a purpose – the ability to sit comfortably, can be rearranged if you want to lay down, and they also are covered in fabrics that work with the sofa and the space.
~Tour my primary bedroom and learn about the three different sizes of pillows I chose and why I chose them.
9. Curtains, tall, complementary curtains for rooms of cozy-ing-in
There are a variety of different curtains to explore adding to your cottage, and I look forward to touching on many of them in future postings, but today I would like to share with you where to add tall drapery in your cottage: anywhere you want to relax and unwind. Tall curtains, some ceiling to floor, but at least as tall as you and likely taller, and then draping to the ground, soften the space, enable you to change the amount of light that streams through, and finish a room. What rooms am I talking about? Bedrooms, reading nooks, some bathrooms – near a soaking tub perhaps, dining rooms. Keep in my all that was shared about fabrics and mixing and matching prints above, as the same rules apply to finding what is the best fabric for your curtains.
~Learn more about the wool, semi-sheer curtains in my primary bedroom.
~Discover why I chose the linen curtains that hang in my primary bathroom.
10. Table lamps, invest and have fun
As shared in #4 above, once you have removed or no longer use the overhead lighting, you need light coming from somewhere if you don’t have enough natural light, and this is where table lamps and floor lamps come in. Of course pendant and chandelier and semi-flush work well also, primarily in the kitchen, entry/foyer, mudroom, hallways, offices, but additionally to all of these rooms and especially to living rooms and bedrooms, add light that is at slightly above eye level when you are sitting, then add a shade that works in the space aesthetically. Don’t feel you have to use the shade that the lamp comes with if that is the case.
One rule of thumb Rita Konig teaches is wherever someone can sit down, make sure they have a place for their drink and light to read. Again, add dimmers if that is an option with your lamps, but this design detail has been a conscious choice upon moving into Le Papillon, and I have now added 3-4 lamps to the previous other lamps I have had for many years, some I have since changed the lamp shade to work in their new space.
11. A fireplace, wood or gas, adorned with thoughtful classic, signature attention
If you are fortunate to have a fireplace in your cottage, whether it is a traditional wood-burning or a gas fireplace, even if you don’t use it very often or at all, decorate around it thoughtfully keeping all of the ideas shared above and below in mind.
I recently redid my mantle around my gas fireplace because it was modern in its aesthetic. I changed out the title, using a classic cottage choice – Delft tile – added a wooded frame and even added two scones because again, following Konig’s advice, wherever you are going to sit, have a place for a drink and lighting to read a book, as I have two chairs that sit next to the fireplace, I needed a place for a lamp and there is not enough for a table, so I placed the light in the form of scones by each chair.
On top of the mantle, be thoughtful, trying not to clutter, but don’t let it be too sparsely adorned either. Have fun, and change it up when you are inspired to do so which leads me to #12 . . .
12. Strike a balance of intentional bountiful decor, yet not excess
Sometimes cottages without an understanding of how to create cozy without clutter can become overwhelming in too much upholstery or too many ‘cute’ details. That to me is claustrophobic. Be bountiful by the way of, avoid being minimalistic, and so long as each item fits the two requirements – beautiful and functional – you won’t have an excess.
13. Invest in a quality goose or feather down sofa
I mentioned above that I have a George Sherlock sofa. This was a big investment item, but after having lived with a consignment sofa that was not well made for many years and before that a sofa, the best I could afford at the time, for 15 years, I wanted to purchase a lifetime sofa that was both comfort and aesthetically appealing in the cottage aesthetic that I love, so I invested and customized with fabric that works in my space. What does that mean? Plush fillings of down and feather to the firmness of my preference and a structure that will last my lifetime. I may reupholstered at some point waaaay down the road, but I will always keep this frame. It is sturdy and provides the comfort (i.e. space and length) that I need for someone who is tall and hosts dinner parties where many people need to find a seat in a small space that is my house.
14. Upholstered chairs of all types
The upholstered detail is a must, but not everything needs to be upholstered. This is where that balance must be struck. You will want some wood and hard structures – whether in the entire make up of the piece of furniture or in the feet or arms or the chair, table or sofa. Balancing soft and hard surfaces, appropriate to each space calms the eye and also communicates what the use of that space is.
15. Design a cottage that considers what makes your dogs and/or cats feel at home
A cottage without a pup or a kitty is like living life without smiling. Our pets are just part of what makes our cottages feel like our sanctuary. Of course there will be times in our lives when we do not have pets because we know how much they take of our heart and it takes time to grieve and know when or if we will welcome a furry four-legged companion into our lives, but either way, knowing we have a home that our pets will feel as though they are welcomed as well is part of the key essentials to decorating and customizing a cottage.
The first ‘customization’, as I shared in my new book The Road to Le Papillon was for my pups: a dog door installed into an existing solid door. Over the first year of my living in Le Papillon I also added a screen door to my garden porch and small fenced yard that also had a dog door, and there are so many other ideas to consider when making the human home be a pup or cat’s home as well. From having cozy beds for each pet placed in a spot in the home that is with people while we go about our daily routine, creating their dining area to be inviting, attractive to the eye and in a safe but still part of the house spot where they can eat in peace, visit the water bowl at their leisure and not feel rushed, and something that is vitally important to their mental health, just as it is for humans, is to have ample natural light streaming into the cottage as much as possible.
A priority when I purchased my now home was knowing that my pups had direct access to the fenced lawn, although they are never kept outside, and can always come in through the dog door. As well, having a garden for them to toodle about in with me is as much for my mental health as it is or them as we spend many hours between February into early November (if the weather permits), sitting outside, sometimes on the porches, but also on the grass in the shade or out in the sunshine, cutting flowers for bouquets, picking berries together (the strawberry pots are our favorites), and just genuinely feel as though we have our own ‘entertainment center’ of sorts because we have our own garden, no matter how small it is. As I keep it organic, I know they can poke around safely, and always know which plants are poisonous should they want to chew on plants which typically is only when they would be pups.
Needless to say, a home for me is not a home, and in my case, my cottage is not a home without my pups, and it is a true joy and delight to know that they feel just as comfortable, safe and welcomed especially when we arrive home from a long trip, and I observe how they move about almost in a sense of relief to be back in their space because they are a big part of my life and joy.
Norman enjoying his new bed as shared in the episode directly next to my office chair, so in easy reach of petting and staying apprised of where Mom (me) is going.
Decorating the interior of our cottage is a process that takes time, and if the goal is to create a cottage where we feel most at home, that means we must be patient. Perhaps we don’t have a house that is technically a cottage but hope to one day, as I shared in this post, you can always begin purchasing items that will be perfect for a cottage you will live in some day. So many of my current pieces I use and love were purchased years ago (the tulip chair that I reupholstered for example, was purchased more than 20 years ago), and it is this time that creates the cozy, because the pieces are more than just ‘things’; they hold memories and remind us of either people, or times in our lives that were pivotal, powerful and deeply personal to our life story. Such a feeling cannot be purchased on demand to create a cottage that is our sanctuary.
As I sit and type this episode/post, my two pups are snuggled up in the living room with me, yes, after one year since the passing of my sweet boy Oscar and with much thought, examination and especially consideration for what would be best for Norman, we welcomed a little girl into our lives. Not to replace, for she is beginning her own unique life story and journey just as Oscar had his and he will always be held dearly in our hearts. I will be gradually sharing more about her in the coming weeks and months, but if you are a TOP Tier Member, look for a proper introduction in next month’s A Cuppa Moments. Now to this current moment where I find myself in my cottage on a sunny fall afternoon, my gentleman boy Norman is in his favorite chair that was handed down to me from my parents and to them from a friend, and my sweet little girl is nestled next to me on the English sofa I spoke about above draped with blankets I have had from many different chapters in my life and the pillows created after working with my dear friend Veronique and fabric from a small business based in England whose fabric when I saw it, I said, I will find a place for it as it brings a smile to my face when I see it. This is home. This is comfort and cozy and calm, and it took years to reach this point, but it feels as a cottage should, personal to the people who call it home, as though it is made for them to just be, nap, read, rest and enjoy the everyday.
Today’s list was hard to keep to just 15 items, so rest assured there are many more items I will share that focus on the interior décor of a cottage along with the exterior and garden. I look forward to sharing them with you so that you too can create a cottage you love living your life and savoring your everydays. Thank you for stopping by and tuning in.
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~The Simple Sophisticate, episode #341
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