Opening the cottage every spring always reveals a to-do list of projects. Docks that need a hammer and nail. Screens riddled with holes. Outhouses verging on catastrophic. And interior spaces that look drab, cluttered and dated.
Many long-time family cottages could use a renovation or serious interior-design overhaul, but that’s not always in the budget. Taking some time over spring weekends to spruce things up will have to do instead – and that may be enough.
“We see a lot of cottages. There’s a lot of easy things you can do to make them nicer,” says Lynzie Smith, an interior designer and owner of Amazing Space Interiors in Halifax.
Take a small budget and as much time as you can spare to make your warm-weather paradise even better.
Prepare for a purge
Cottages often serve as a dumping ground for the furniture, trinkets, books and art that family members don’t want in their homes anymore. Some of it’s cute, but often you come to loathe that ship in a bottle or the nondescript nature sketch in the cracked frame. “The cottage can get overwhelmed by stuff,” says Ottawa-based interior decorator Lisa Goulet, who’s a cottage owner herself.
Collect the duck decoys, dusty magazines, crochet tablecloths and incomplete puzzles for garbage, donation or storage. If your aunt’s chintz loveseat takes up space and no one ever sits on it, get rid of it. The place will look brighter and airier afterward, and you’ll gain room for the stuff you actually use.
During a renovation of her own cottage kitchen last year, Goulet filled 12 boxes with extra dishes and glasses – you can probably do the same. Cottage kitchens are the worst for clutter, and all those extra platters and bowls take up precious counter and shelf space.
Wood, particularly pine, can give cottages a cozy and authentic look. But when it’s from floor to ceiling, and the furniture is wood too, spaces look dark and dingy. “Try to break up some of the wood by painting it,” says Smith. “It really helps.”
Wooden cottage cupboards can benefit from a white paint job. Use a sticky primer and good kitchen paint.
Choose neutrals like soft whites or greys, and bravely paint out walls or the ceiling. Smith recently worked on a cottage where they painted the ceiling white and stained the beams dark – it dramatically offset the pine in the cottage.
Wooden cottage cupboards can also benefit from a white paint job. Use a sticky primer and good kitchen paint, or hire a professional to spray them, as the finish will last longer. Add new hardware too, whether you paint or not.
On mismatched wooden furniture, try bright yellow or strong blue. Country antique stores often have inexpensive finds like old dressers and tables that you can gussy up over a weekend with paint and new hardware.
Shop in the city at places like HomeSense or in small-town stores on the way to the cottage to find interesting, colourful decor items like throw pillows, shower curtains and tchotchkes. Buy a stylish outdoor carpet, but use it inside. Smith says on-trend colours coral, aqua and navy really suit cottages.
Improve old sofas by buying an off-the-shelf slipcover or ordering a custom one online (companies walk you through how to measure). Goulet suggests choosing outdoor fabric, as it’s durable and won’t get bleached by the sun. She’s got white slipcovers on her cottage sofas – they brighten the room, and spills wash out in the laundry.
Pull down any dated-looking drapes and replace them with off-the-rack panel curtains. If it’s not a bedroom and there are no close neighbours, get rid of coverings entirely. “I don’t see why you should have anything on the window if you have a great view,” says Goulet. “I like the less-is-more approach to cottage decorating.”