Design & DIY

Moving to the cottage? Here’s how to merge your city and cottage decor

Newly designed classic style living room with blue/gray walls, mix of rustic and modern decor Photo by David Papazian/Shutterstock

We’ve documented how the pandemic has forever changed the real estate market, with people spending more time than ever at the cottage. These changes may have inspired some to act on plans earlier than expected–namely, moving from home to cottage for good.

Moving can be overwhelming, especially if you’re heading to a location quite different from your main space. Beyond logistics, there are design plans to consider. Do you switch out your modern furniture in favour of pieces that better fit the outdoor scenery? And what if you need to add a work space? Nancy Nickle, an interior designer with Birchview Design, hears these questions from many clients who are in transition. Here is Nancy’s expert advice:

Purge and declutter at the cottage first, before you do your main property

Usually, the flow of a move requires you to clear out point A before heading to point B, but in the case of moving full-time to the cottage, Nickle suggests the opposite. She says many of her clients feel inspired to refresh their cottage at the outset, a task they may have been putting off. Often, furniture and decor at the cottage tends to be dated, perhaps hand-me-downs that originated at the main home. Nickle advises either giving pieces to friends and family, or selling them and putting those funds towards newer “investment pieces.” What should people hang on to, even in the height of decluttering? “A heirloom piece or a sectional sofa that could look great anywhere,” says Nickle.

Create an ideal vision, and slowly build towards it

It can be overwhelming to look at your possessions as you’re packing up, trying to envision how it’s going to translate to a new setting. Instead, Nickle advises starting from a blank slate, and finding inspiration—either online or from home design magazines—in a solid vision. From there, you can assess which pieces fit into that vision.

Shifting into a more rustic, outdoor vibe can be as simple as finding new pillows, rugs, or blankets with softer colours. A traditional dining table, for example, can be paired with a bench that has a back, or a certain style of chair that better fits a cottage setting, Nickle says. Often, it’s about moving from formal to more casual. “If you’ve got stiff, upholstered furniture, instead of a coffee table, we’d bring in a big ottoman that people can put a tray on, and put their feet up,” she says. Interior design is influenced by the surrounding environment, and Nickle says at a cottage, having nature on your doorstep should impact the “flow” of your space, by bringing in colours and textures that reflect it.

Put together a furniture and room plan with detailed measurements

This seems like an obvious tip for decorating a new space, but from home to cottage, there can be a big difference in the size and layout of main spaces. As Nickle explains, it’s a common source of frustration in a move: you arrive with your existing furniture or get excited about a new piece, and find that it doesn’t fit the way you hoped. She also recommends using a colour swatch for your existing furniture or paint colours, and having that on hand—along with your measurements—when you go shopping. This way, “You don’t stray from your vision by being distracted by something else that looks pretty,” she says.

Consider the home comforts you’d like to accommodate 

If you’re used to going back and forth to the cottage, you may have shrugged off things like slow Wi-Fi or clunky, older appliances. Nickle shares an important adage: “It isn’t home, cottage anymore—it’s all one place. You want to accommodate your lifestyle within that.” Nickle has many clients who end up wanting to bring appliances from home or buy new ones, and that often comes with re-thinking the space.

Another aspect to consider is your potential work station. Nickle’s cottage clients often tell her they’d rather work in a living area, like a screened-in porch or sunroom, than a dedicated office. It’s another motivation, she says, to create a space that fits your lifestyle, but also preserves the laid-back, casual feel a cottage should provide.

Spend time sourcing vintage or thrifted pieces

A major part of Nickle’s design process is hunting for unique finds in the many vintage and second-hand stores throughout cottage country; having older items is part of what makes things look “curated,” she explains. Things to look out for are old paddles, vintage pottery or dishware that can be displayed or used for serving, and wooden cutting boards. “You can find so many things for $10—we use old fans or propeller pieces, because they’ll sit on a console or something, and they’re a cool piece.” It’s a good reminder that redecorating can be done “at a garage sale level,” Nickle says.

Overall, it’s important to keep the same feeling from your main home, which includes personal touches; Nickle gives the example of a gallery wall full of black-and-white photos of a family’s years at the cottage. Ultimately, as she says, “It’s about having things you can look at every day and see good memories.” 

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