For many of us, the archetypal image of the cottage home comes from storybook memories of our childhood: the diminutive dwelling glimpsed through the trees at the end of a winding trail, smoke rising from the chimney, roses rambling over a trellis and up onto the thatched roof, leaded windows, an inviting entryway … There’s something undeniably appealing about this image, something that makes the cottage the dream home for so many people, but it’s hard to put your finger on exactly what it is.
After all, also implied in this picture are cramped quarters, a dark interior and a lack of modern amenities. In attempting to define the enduring appeal of cottages, words such as comfort, coziness, charm, simplicity, intimacy and romance readily spring to mind, suggesting that the idea of cottage is as much a state of mind as it is a tangible presence.
To try to capture the essence of cottage appeal, think back to those most special places of your childhood. In your mind, revisit that snug hollow hidden under dense lilac bushes, the ramshackle fort cradled high in the limbs of the maple tree, the attic closet and its secret passageway winding under the stairs, or the bunk bed at the lake cabin draped with thick blankets. What do these places have in common? What did you feel like when you were in them? And what do these places of your childhood memories have to do with cottages?
I’ll answer the last question for you — everything. To me, these hollows, forts and closets all evoke the essence of what the cottage house must be for us. In our childhood, we found or created spaces to fulfill an essential, unspoken need to feel safe and secure from an overstimulating and dangerous outside world. (If you think about it, none of these spaces would have felt this way had they been larger, more open to the outside or more fancily built.) We may be all grown up now, but these needs are still essential to our sense of well-being. Those who understand this also understand the appeal of the cottage house: a magical, almost mysterious place that holds us closely within its lovely boundaries, warming and soothing our work- and world-weary souls.
What seems to be constant is the idea of the cottage as a retreat, the place to go to get away from it all, be it a beach cottage overlooking the ocean, a mountain hideaway, a pastoral retreat nestled in the woods or even a thoughtfully built cottage in town. It’s a place for lounging, for curling up with a good book or for doing absolutely nothing. It’s small enough to personalize and make your own: If you want to hang lobster pots from the ceiling or carve snail shells for drawer pulls, who’s going to stop you?