What makes a real cottage or cottager?

Editor Penny Caldwell

Do you like sparkly white lights or a multi-coloured string? Perfectly coordinated tree decorations or a scattering of mementos collected over the years?

At home this year, DH and I pulled out the sparkly whites, which are trending according to majority rule on our street. Then we layered on our eclectic assortment of ornaments. These include battered paper-plate-and pasta wreaths the kids made in pre-school and decades-old hand-me-downs from both our families. To us, the tree looks beautiful.

We feel the same way about the cottage. None of the furniture matches. Nor do the dishes, or the cutlery, or the wine glasses. The cottage is a well-loved, octogenerian grand dame. We hope our guests won’t be made too miserable by its lack of modern style. We’re especially pleased when they say to us, “This is a real cottage,” though it has occurred to me that they may simply not know how else to respond.

If you believe the writers of letters that occasionally arrive in response to Cottage Life magazine’s profiles of larger or more modern structures, or ones endowed with the comforts of home, not all cottages are real cottages. And their occupants, I suppose, are not real cottagers. Yet, I think back to the remarkable people and their vastly different cottages whom we have celebrated in the magazine this year, our 25th anniversary, and I can’t think of one, no matter its age or what it looks like, that isn’t steeped in the spirit of cottage life. Behind the sprawling multi-generation compounds in Lake of the Woods and the Thousand Islands and the young couple’s tiny renovation on Georgian Bay, the rustic cabins in Algonquin Park and Sault Ste. Marie and the designer’s thoughtful off-grid retreat in Haliburton, behind these and other stories that appeared in the magazine this year is a cohort of individuals who treasure the lake and the land and their own part of it. The six essayists who wrote special pieces for the magazine’s 25th anniversary talked more about their feelings for the cottage than the place itself. As Roy MacGregor wrote in the April issue, “A true cabin has its own face and a beauty beyond makeup.”

 We could say the same thing about Christmas trees.

 As the year draws to a close, all of us here at Cottage Life wish you a happy and peaceful holiday. May the new year bring a world in which we find a way to celebrate our differences.