Since the Victorian era, cottage style has been one of America's favorite looks.
The soft floral fabrics, white bead board, and easy-going wicker furniture speak of family getaways, eras gone by, and relaxed days measured by lemonade refills. It's a nostalgic look that somehow also seems to reflect current style movements. Perhaps that's why it endures, changing with the times while remaining rooted in the past. What is cottage style today? Let's tour Ann Porter's Los Angeles cottage for an update. She co-owns the popular store, The Gate House, which furnishes homes coast-to-coast with cottagey charm.
Honesty, combined with romance, is the key to Ann's decorating style. Fresh as her garden, Ann's rooms bloom with vintage floral fabrics fashioned into the simplest of treatments. (What could be less fussy than curtain panels hung from metal rods and paired with bamboo blinds?) Ann sweetens spaces with the real thing -- big, fluffy hydrangeas straight from the garden. The look is charmingly nostalgic, but never at the expense of function.
The living room's eclectic, English-country feel comes from pairing rather formal chairs with a more humble reproduction coffee table. The sideboard under the window was once a dark wood dining-room fixture. Bright in a coat of white paint, the sideboard has shorter legs to lower it and let the garden view shine.
Blending items that you love is easy if you stick to consistent themes. Ann has a collection of tarnished silver trophies and imperfect pastel-color pottery. They would seem at odds with each other until she filled them both with fat, floppy roses, put them on a tray with scuffs and nicks, and balanced them with mismatched pillar candles. The overall look is one of timeworn warmth. A whimsical touch, an iron hotel sign, makes a creative canopy for Ann's full-size sofa.
Don't expect to go into one store and buy a cottage look for your home. It's a style that is most successful when it evolves over time with pieces of many different origins -- both humble and high-class. In her dining room, Ann's colorful tableware came from a garage sale, the daisy painting from a flea market. A floral curtain valance is tossed across the table. And vintage fabric remnants, stained or damaged parts discarded, make pretty little pillows.
Ann's cottage has charming original elements, such as the kitchen's mosaic tile countertop. But even if you live in a bland white box, you can add furnishings, window treatments, and paint colors that conjure a quaint cottage. Ann stamped her own imprint on the kitchen with an icebox she turned into a display/storage area by removing its upper doors. The shelf is trimmed with fabric that came from a bright 1940s tablecloth.
Soft streaked color on the walls couples with the gently curved forms of the headboard and birdcage stand to heighten the romantic mood in the bedroom. The blue glazed walls that Ann "just hand-brushed every which way for texture and translucence" visually recede, allowing the room to brim with furnishings and fabrics without seeming too stuffed. A cottagey color palette typically consists of soft pastels that appear faded and soft, but it can also include the bolder pinks, greens, and blues of a 1940s tablecloth.
Displayed atop Ann's grandfather's oak dresser is a space-enhancing mirror framed within a salvaged ceiling tin. She propped it against the wall to keep things casual. On the other side of the dresser, she balanced the tin with a delicate bird scene and a cluster of small vases set upon a tray bordered by recycled wood.
Trays are one of Ann's favorite decorating devices. On a wicker bedside table, she uses a slim tray to corral a collection of small French clocks, freeing up the back of the table for taller items, including a lamp, a potted orchid, and a stack of books. The iron and crystal lamp features a new shade of handmade paper infused with pressed flowers.
Ann's textural mix combines rough terra cotta, smooth silver-plate, hard wood, soft petals, and nubby wicker. All are present in a dining room display that pairs a small cabinet with a white-painted shelf. Ann's mother painted the fisherman scene, which bridges the gap between the two.
A $75 bargain, Ann's gilded Italian side table in the living room acts as an ornate frame for a lush still life of accessories: a small silver ice bucket filled with blowsy garden roses, an antique blue pottery vase, books, and a small découpaged box.