For seven years now, crisp white shiplap and subway tile, rustic wood floors, exposed beams and industrial-style lighting have reigned supreme.
Popularized by Joanna and Chip Gaines in their HGTV series, Fixer Upper, “farmhouse style” exploded onto the home design scene in 2013 and had many homeowners dazzled by its fresh, bright design.
But designers are pointing to an emerging style that just might have you trading your Rae Dunn mugs for earthenware, your stark white sofa for a buttery leather couch and your grey walls for something warmer.
It’s called “modern cottage” style.
Now, here in Nova Scotia, a cottage could mean anything from an old “camp” by the lake to a multi-million-dollar secondary home right on the ocean. But modern cottage style takes its cues from old English cottages.
Straight out of a fairy title, these cottages had a stony exterior, small rooms with arched doorways, quaint little front gates and fireplaces perfect for cozying up in front of with a warm quilt and a cup of hot tea.
But you don’t need to live in a tiny stone home, nestled in the woods, to enjoy the same comfort and charm. In fact, husband-and-wife blogging team Chris and Julia Marcum are turning their home into a modern “cottage” – and it’s more than 5,000 square feet.
“You don’t have to live in the country or on land or have a stone pathway to start implementing a cottage vibe. A cottage is a retreat, an escape from the world,” writes Julia on their popular home design blog, Chris Loves Julia. “I adopted a ‘modern cottage’ style for our home because I was so drawn to the traditional elements and warmth of a cottage, mixed with modern pieces.”
The modern interpretation of “cottage style” is darker and moodier. Shortly after the Marcums moved into the mammoth Idaho home, they painted the walls white with contrasting trim (Farrow & Ball’s Lamp Room Gray). The Phase I kitchen makeover included painting the cabinets a moody charcoal green (Thunderous by Sherwin Williams) and painting the window sashes a dramatic black.
As they fill the home’s many rooms, each new purchase is giving their readers a better idea of how to combine old and new to create a modern cottage vibe – like the soft grey spindled beds in their daughter’s room, paired with black and white floral wallpaper and sloped ceilings.
“To me, a modern cottage is one that pairs a super traditional sofa with a modern lamp (or visa versa). An antique rug warms up a cool credenza. Clean lines [with] warm woods. An antique painting hung on the wall mixed with a modern abstract,” writes Julia. “It’s all the charm of a cottage paired with some of the simplicity of modern design.”
More than 5,000 km away from the Marcums’ modern cottage, Nova Scotian interior decorator Krystal Kristiansen reads their blog and loves their take on cottage style.
She describes modern cottage style as a way of taking the eclectic cottage styles of old, and bringing them together in a contemporary way.
“It’s 60-80 per cent mis-matched, well-loved items – woven baskets, layers of blankets, quilts, pillows, rugs and furniture pieces with a vintage vibe – and 20-40 per cent clean, contemporary lines,” explains Kristiansen, who lives in Enfield.
With Nova Scotia’s farm fields and ocean views, Kristiansen says this is an ideal climate for modern cottage design.
“We have a lot of older homes on the market with more classic ‘cut up’ floor plans, and those are the homes that renovate perfectly into a cottage aesthetic,” says Kristiansen. “Not to mention, we’re surrounded by amazing thrift and antiques stores. There’s inspiration all around us.”
Farmhouse style gave our homes a comfortable, lived-in feeling, but Kristiansen says people seem to be ready for a darker, more soothing approach – trading stark bright whites for creamier tones, and pulling in tans, browns and dark mossy greens.
“We’re starting to see grey walls painted over with warmer neutrals. Wood tones and buttery brown sofas are coming back. Everything is warming up,” says Kristiansen.
Of course, if you drank the Gaines’ Kool-Aid, don’t despair that you’re stuck with a farm-fresh home that’s going to look dated. Farmhouse style’s classic basics – wood floors, white kitchens, black lighting – aren’t going anywhere.
“White kitchens will never go out of style, but I’m seeing people take chances and shifting a bit to darker kitchens now,” says Kristiansen. “Earthy greens or black cabinets are a favourite of mine.”
There’s also the matter of timing. Since it takes longer for design trends to work their way into the homes of most Atlantic Canadians, Kristiansen says we’re only just starting to see hints of modern cottage style – and it’s likely going to be a slow transition.
Luckily, modern cottage style doesn’t involve anything as complicated as ripping plywood into strips and nailing them to your walls for that must-have shiplap. Kristiansen says all you need is a blank (warm) canvas, and suggests painting your walls a creamy white – like her go-to shade, Benjamin Moore’s Vanilla Milkshake (OC-59).
When you’re ready to fill the space, she suggests looking for antique pieces, family heirlooms or “anything English cottage.” Olive trees are popular in modern cottage decor, especially in whitewashed terracotta pots.
While interior decorating in the ’90s and early 2000s were all about warm, rich tones, the emphasis over the last 10 years or so has been on cooler tones – especially grey – and Kristiansen says we’re already starting to switch it up again.
“I think we’ll continue to see the warming of furniture and finishes, as cooler tones slowly disappear,” says Kristiansen. “I also think we’ll continue to shift from all-white kitchens into bolder colours and lots of character and patina. What’s old is new again.”
Easy ways to incorporate modern cottage style into your home
• Warm white walls with contrasting trim
• Dark, moody paint colours (cabinets, whole rooms, etc.)
• Antiques and family heirlooms, paired with modern elements
• Cozy touches like a basket of quilts
• Stonework – exterior stone, stone fireplaces, etc.
• Comfy overstuffed or buttery leather furniture