What is a Cottage?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A cottage is a modest structure that is typically one to one-and-a-half stories tall. People have been living and working in cottages for centuries, and depending on regional norms, the precise definition can vary widely. Many people also have very specific associations with the term, and these associations often relate to the typically small size, quaint architecture, and rural nature of the traditional structure.

Chalet-style cottage.
Chalet-style cottage.

The term “cottage” appears to have entered English around the 13th century, and it probably comes from either Old French or a Germanic language. The term may also have been used to describe the dwelling of a cotter, a type of serf in the Middle Ages. By all accounts, the term originally referred to a small dwelling structure, a barn, and an enclosed yard, with the concept of one as a small residence in the country emerging around the 1700s.

Thatched-roof cottage, Wales.
Thatched-roof cottage, Wales.

Early cottages were probably small, dark, and quite unpleasant, and the term carried definite connotations of poverty and hard times for centuries. In the Romantic Era, when country life began to acquire an intrinsic value in the eyes of many people, the structure experienced a change of fortunes, and people began actively building and seeking out cottages to use as vacation homes and sometimes as permanent residences.

Residential cottages can be yearlong retreats.
Residential cottages can be yearlong retreats.

In order to be considered a cottage, a structure must typically be quite small; in some countries, specific legislation actually dictates the size of such a house. Ideally, it has one story, although it may have a second half-story for the purpose of storage. Cottages can be built from a wide range of materials including stone, wattle and daub, or wood, and they may be tiled, thatched, or roofed with shingles, depending on the region.

Many vacation cottages are placed alongside lakes.
Many vacation cottages are placed alongside lakes.

Typical cottages are detached, and most people do not use the term to refer to a modest home in an urban area, even if it meets the definition. Many people think of such houses as cozy, and they associate them with comfort and minimalistic living. Others may think of them as vacation homes, although plenty of people around the world live in these homes by choice or necessity.

Although modern cottages need not be surrounded by the trappings of a working farm, many have at least a small garden. Depending on how one is used, it may have a range of amenities that are designed to make it extremely comfortable, or it may be more simplistic. Many are also deliberately designed to be rustic, with features like plank floors, exposed beams, and hand-carved woodwork.

Cottage suites may include a private hot tub.
Cottage suites may include a private hot tub.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


My grandparents lived in an old stone country cottage for many years. This was nothing fancy by any means, but I loved visiting them in their cottage.

They lived several miles out of town and had chickens, dogs, cats and even a goat or two around.

There was only one floor to this cottage with 2 bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen and living room area. There was a small barn outside and my grandma always had a huge garden where she grew a lot of her own food.

When I think back at this simple lifestyle, I realize they were content and happy. Their lifestyle was so much different than the hustle and bustle of my life today in the middle of the city.

There are many times I wish I could retreat to the quiet of that country cottage.


We live in an urban setting, and I have a neighbor who loves to decorate her home in a cottage style, both inside and outside her home.

One word I would use to describe this style is 'comfortable'. This is the type of home where you immediately feel at home when you walk in.

It is casual, comfortable and relaxing all at the same time. She uses a lot of wicker furniture with light colored, floral cushions.

You also see a lot of baskets scattered about with flower arrangements in them. In season, she has a lot of fresh flowers that she picks from the flower gardens she has surrounding her home.

Her home is quite a bit different than my modern decorating, but I have always enjoyed the comfortable feeling I get when I walk in her home.

I can easily picture her home in a country setting where it would be common to see other cottage style homes.


My grandmother lived in a tiny little cottage in Maine. It was only three rooms. She moved there after my grandfather passed away. They had owned the cottage as a vacation home but she said that once she was alone she did not need much and that she liked the seclusion and the outdoors.

It seemed to suit her. She lived there by herself for almost 20 years. I would go and visit her at least once a month and it seemed like she always had a project. She read a lot and painted and had an amazing garden. She really thrived in that little cottage.

@sunshined - Cottage rental really is quite popular is many places. One year for our family reunion we rented several cottages that were close together.

This way each family had their separate living quarters, but this was much cozier than staying in a hotel someplace.

Even though the cottages were quiet and somewhat secluded, there were many family-friendly activities close by we could be a part of.

The cottages were built and decorated simply, but were very adequate for what we wanted. You felt like you were staying in a home, without the owner's being in the home with you.

We could use the kitchen to prepare our meals to share together. This was a relaxing and fun way to spend our family reunion.

We always try to think of something different to do. Everyone enjoyed the cottages, so I am sure we will rent them again sometime in the future.


Whenever I think of a cottage, I think of a quaint, quiet, romantic place in the country. I am also reminded of many of the Thomas Kinkade paintings I have seen which feature cottage houses.

Of course, these cottages are always surrounded by the most beautiful scenery of flowers, trees, pathways, or rivers and mountains in the background.

I picture a very calm and serene place to relax and live. I find it interesting that the early cottages were dark and poor places to live.

Depending on where you live in the world today, I am sure many cottages are very simplistic and minimal - meeting a very basic need of shelter. These are probably much different than the cottages people like to rent for holiday time.

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