Reader question: How to get that cottage look?

I received an email from a reader named Lynsey who is building a house on a knoll in Texas (sounds like heaven) and wanted suggestions for exterior finishes. Here are a few things she wanted me to consider:

  • She doesn’t want the house to look like a long, boring rambler of a ranch. She likes a cottage or farmhouse look with a little European flavor thrown in.
  • She likes rock but is trying to choose an additional finish option that isn’t as expensive.
  • She wants to love the windows and is open to exploring all her options.
  • She is also planning on window boxes (smart girl).

She sent this rendering of her future home:


What a fun project! If I were building a cottage, I know exactly what I’d do on the outside: painted stucco.

Can’t find the source—if you know it, tell me!

It is extremely common for historic houses to have painted stucco, and if you were to cruise around Europe, you’d see stucco as a finish of choice there too. Here’s a shot from Spring City of a beautiful historic house:

Why not plain ol’ tinted stucco? Well, you could do that. But for a real plaster look and a real aged depth, painted stucco will give it to you every time.

A rendering of a 1925 English cottage in stucco

We had our addition’s stucco tinted to match our house, and besides that the color was slightly off, the texture was totally different from the original part of our house, which has painted stucco. So we saved for a few months, bought exterior paint when Sherwin-Williams was having one of their (somewhat frequent) 40 percent off sales, and hired a painter to put it on our brand new stucco. It made all the difference in the world.

If brick is less expensive than stucco where you live (though I’d be surprised), I love painted brick too, even for a new house. It’ll give you the same feel as painted stucco.

If rock is really on the wish list, I would add it strategically to “connect” different sections of the house, making it look like the home has been added onto over time. And with window boxes, this thing is going to sing!

To push the European feel a bit more, I’d consider adding at least one arched window to the façade. Take a look at the next two photos to see what I’m talking about:

via—if you want to see a bunch of beautiful stucco houses with a cottage feel, see Jack Arnold.

Trim painted a color besides white will also give you a rich look.

If you love metal roofs, I’d choose a warm shade like brown, tan, or taupe to complement the stucco. I’d steer clear of any “tin” shades that look industrial. There’s nothing wrong with asphalt shingles either; just choose the color carefully.


As for window styles, those without mullions will always be safe, but windows with traditional mullions—you know, like a simple all-over grid—could look great too. I’d steer clear of anything trendy—little grids at the top to look like a faux transom or leading, for instance. Go classic and you won’t regret it.

I’m not going to comment on how to achieve the farmhouse look you can get better advice elsewhere, like Pinterest. But because farmhouse style is so common nowadays, I’d seriously consider a different exterior look. Farmhouse style is awesome, but the market is so saturated with it that in 10 years, you’ll be able to pretty accurately pinpoint when all the farmhouses were built. In other words, your house might feel dated before it’s dated. But if you LOVE it most, you should do it!

Bottom line: You should always do whatever makes you happy. And thanks for asking my opinion. I had so much fun dreaming with you, Lynsey!

Want a second opinion on your home project? Leave a note in the comments.

3 thoughts

  1. Nothing evokes cottage charm quite as instantly as climbing roses for me. Fabricate a wrought iron or wood trellis against an area of the house where you have a chunk of negative space to fill (or pillars) and let nature embrace your home. I purposely planned an expanse of blank wall on my new home under some transom windows just so I can have a place to trellis up some variegated euonymous and climbing roses!


    1. We must be birds of a feather—I have euonymus and climbing roses planted around my house’s foundation. You are right; plants can add a ton of character to any house, and now’s the time to start planting!


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