Rebecca Purdy on cottage design: Something for everyone

Designing for a cottage can be a real challenge. Most cottages that I have designed needed to be multi-family, multi-generational, and multi-functional. Yes, there are a lot of multis in the cottage world! Which is why approaching cottage design from a purely aesthetic standpoint doesn’t usually work.

My experience has been that cottages have to be comfortable, easy to live in, low maintenance and appealing to different generations and tastes. The challenge becomes creating this without watering down the overall design vision so much so that you are left with a bland and boring space. My advice is to have everyone involved in the design come up with a few images of other cottages they love, then try to find a common thread to use as your starting point.

Whenever I begin any cottage design process with a client, we start by determining what stays and how it will be used. There are always pieces that have been in the cottage forever and cannot be left out of the design plan—this is where a cottage gets its character. These will need to be included (but possibly painted!) Go through the big pieces together and vote.

We then move on to colour choices and the feeling the client wants to achieve. Once this is determined, it’s time to pick materials and finishes. And here is the most important part: always think decisions through in the vein of functionality, practicality, and versatility. I know, it sounds boring, but it really isn’t.

For example, ask questions like these:

  • Will you have to send it to the drycleaner or have it professionally cleaned?
  • If a game of Twister got out of control and this got broken, would you be devastated? (I think I just gave away my age…)
  • Could you walk in off the dock and plop down on this sofa without worrying about the wet bathing suit you’re wearing? By the way, this isn’t very considerate, but you always have to prepare for the brother-in-law in the family that does this.
  • Would your grandmother find this nude painting offensive? (Mine wouldn’t, but she’s another story…)
  • If you convert these two rooms into the master bedroom, do you eliminate the possibility of having the kid’s soccer team up for a weekend? (This might actually be something that you want to do!)

It can definitely be daunting trying to make a large number of people happy, especially when people can have such different tastes. Luckily for cottages, eclectic works, and the more eclectic the better, I say! Cottages can easily be a place that makes everyone happy—you just have to be open-minded and willing to make the odd concession.

My goal in styling the model cottage at the Fall Cottage Life Show will be to have something for everyone and to show how it can all work together, just like a cottage should.

Need design advice for your cottage? Rebecca Purdy will be at the Fall Cottage Life Show, October 26-28, 2012, at the International Centre in Mississauga to answer your design questions daily at 3:00 pm and tour the Model Cottage daily at 1:00 pm.