Big Cottage, Little Cottage


I received this email recently asking about what size house qualifies as a “cottage.”


In my recent perusings on “Houzz“, I’ve read that the the term “cottage” properly refers to a single family structure up to to about 1,200 sq. ft. Yet, here we see in “Houzz” a veritable banquet of styles in the excess of 1,200 sq. ft, still called “cottages.” Is this merely a general term denoting “charm” or is their really any validity in a term that perhaps is an anachronism? Your opinion also on house plans via the internet, what comes first  the land or the plan?

Here is my answer:

I think that the term “cottage” is still valid and does refer to a small, quaint, and charming house. But the term has added an additional meaning and has come to be a descriptive word that describes a house that feels cozy and unpretentious. But as you can see on, cottage refers to grand houses, as well. It’s a lot like the term “French Country.” What passes for French Country would never actually be found in the countryside of France. But it does connote a look and style.

This is one example of a big "cottage".
This is one example of a big “cottage”.

I have to admit to being guilty of designing big cottages myself. I recently completed a “cottage” that was over 8000 square feet. In many ways, it did end up having cottage qualities. The rooms were not overly large. The bulk of the house was broken up in smaller parts. And most importantly, I designed the living, dining, and eating spaces, the spaces the owner spends the most time in, to be open to each other and have windows on both the east and west sides of the house. Because you can see out in opposite directions when you are in that part of the house, you feel you are in a much smaller house. It actually has a cottage feel and not the feel of an 8000 square foot house.

My attitude is terms like “cottage” and “French Country” are just terms of convenience. Don’t let them dictate what you design. Design what you like!

To your second question about what comes first, the land or the plan, I say, “Always the land.” The biggest mistake I consistently see in house design is a house that does not respond to its site. Improper orientation, houses forced onto sloped lots they weren’t intended for, and awkward entry sequences are the usual maladies. Start with the land, analyze it, and design your house to fit it and take advantage of what the land has to offer.

I enjoy receiving and answering questions. If you have a question, please feel free to send it to me. Just click “Ask Bill” and your question will get sent right to me.

Bill Hirsch | Architect

Bill Hirsch

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