The Simplicity of the Cottage Style

In our high-tech, time-deprived, stress-filled lives, Americans are yearning for simplicity and nostalgia. And, an important design trend in our industry the Cottage theme reflects these times.'

More and more, people want to spend time at home. And, whether they are entertaining or relaxing, self-expression in home lifestyle is becoming a high priority. The cottage look is ideal for people who are enthusiastic about their homes and engage in pastimes such as'
collecting antiques and crafts, cooking for enjoyment, and even canning preserves (or maybe just reading about it).'

The trend to a cottage look in decorating takes a simple and fresh approach to styling. Capitalizing on this design trend is a number of magazines, catalogs and retail outlets. Think of the popular Pottery Barn and Ballard Designs catalogs, and slick magazines such as Martha Stewart Living and RealSimple.'

Today, the cottage theme is evident at a very high-end level within exclusive design boutiques, as well as being mass marketed through retailers such as Kmart, which carries the Martha Stewart Everyday Home Collections.'

In fact, one of the biggest catalysts for the cottage theme emergence is Martha Stewart and her corporate empire. Whether or not you are a devotee of Martha Stewart, she is an undisputed American lifestyle guru, and currently has a tremendous influence on trends, retailing and consumer buying decisions.'

The cottage style has definitely arrived. Are you ready to capture this consumer market segment? Here's how to merchandise the cottage look in your showroom.

The cottage theme
The cottage style represents a shift to a more casual feel, lighter in coloration pastel to brighter hues with a fresh handmade or crafted appearance to the accents. It is'
not an austere look. Rather, it shares some of the detail elements indicative of Old World styling, but the cottage style is quite different. Offering a decidedly American Country influence, the cottage design features simpler, yet distinctive detailing compared to Old World.'

Lighter finishes
For your cottage display, consider the cabinetry or wood components to be the backdrop used to solidify the theme. Lighter finishes are important to the motif, and the number one place to start is with a version of white.

There is always a "white kitchen buyer" in the market, and the cottage style will grab this buyer's interest. Soft white variations similar to biscuit or ivory cream would work well. Ideally, the cabinetry, paneling and molding should feature a multi-stepped finish, with the finish rubbed off in key profile areas and edges to create an aged texture. However, if this finish enhancement is not available to you at your price point, a white or cream, solid opaque-colored cabinetry could represent the theme. If painted looks are not an option, then choose the lightest maple wood in a Champagne or natural coloration.'

Door styles
Select a door style and profile that will sell in your market, but be sure it does not duplicate what you already have on the showroom floor. Consider a twin double-, raised- or flat-panel door. A single-raised panel will work, but in all cases, selecting a cope and stick construction is best. Miter door designs are not authentic to the theme, and should be avoided. But, beaded panel doors are growing in popularity and can really enhance the cottage look. An applied moulding or inset door would also be a good option.'

Whatever the door style, mix up the visual texture of the display with the addition of mullion glass doors, plain insert doors with punched tin, gathered fabric or decorative seeded clear glass.

Visual impact
When planning a cottage layout, focus on giving prominence to one or two areas. This is especially needed for L-shaped displays. One way to achieve this is by staggering cabinet heights and using bump-outs. Make bump-outs broader in scale. For example, rather than limiting a bump-out to the space needed for a standard 36" cooktop area, dare to go bigger and wider maybe 54"-60" overall to include roll-trays, or two 18" base cabinets flanking the primary cooking area. This oversized look is very appropriate to the cottage theme, and works beautifully to create a charming cooking hearth space or specialty dish area.

Detailing is essential to completing the design of the cottage theme. Elements appropriate to this look include:'

  • Beaded backs on open cabinetry and end panels.
  • Mouldings that add character, such as a rope motif or a small-scale scallop trim.
  • Wicker basket roll-outs as part of a base cabinet.
  • Little drawers such as vertical apothecary bases.
  • Small niche spaces to display decorative items like colorful dishware, or canisters.
  • Lace and grape leaf patterns.
  • Simple valances like a traditional arch, or straight style with wood onlays, or a specialty cut out.
  • Country sinks that feature an apron front.
  • Feet treatments in complementary skirts to coordinate with wall treatments.
    Adding these textural elements will enhance a multi-step finish and the furniture appearance of the display. And, it is worth noting that the furniture look continues'
    to be a genuine hot button in consumer appeal.'

Display products such as sinks, faucets and decorative hardware should enhance the theme. Materials like aged pewter, bronze, stainless or copper-finished plumbing and decorative hardware work wonderfully with the cottage motif. For whitish cabinetry, select lighter finished items such as a white country apron sink. Have fun with your decorative hardware choices. Using multiple types of hardware is fine maybe a cup pull design or funky, fun utensil pulls. Just make sure the hardware styles are good decorative companions, or from the same family. When in doubt, keep it simple.'

Fresh colors further define the cottage look. Blues, in particular, are a good choice and are becoming a forward, fashionable color for the cottage look. Soft sage green, butter cream and natural wood tones in mid-values also work. Don't be afraid to use a bold splash of color like rust or barn red, but keep from going overboard. Fabric accents are an effective way to begin to bring other decorative aspects of the theme into the area.

Decorating options are plentiful at all price points. Arrange a set of larger mixing bowls, antique milk pitcher, wooden rolling pin, canning jars with fabric tops, fake foods and colorful plates within the display area. Be creative, but make sure the end result is well integrated and coordinated.'

Keep in mind, it is also an opportunity to maximize your products and selling opportunities. The buyer of the cottage theme is searching for a different design direction a cleaner, lighter, airy American style.'

Offering the cottage style within your retail setting provides this niche customer base with a reason to visit your showroom in their search for simplicity and, in turn, it presents a clear marketing advantage for your business.