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Cottage Classics
Designs from America's youth, reinvented for life today

Cottage Classics are appealing small buildings, normal buildings from an earlier era reinvented and adapted for life today.  We offer designs and construction drawings to build them. 

The buildings are suitable for a variety of purposes, from a backyard cottage or studio office, to weekend getaway, or a smaller home for those wanting to downsize.

Grounded by America's historic building traditions the designs bridge a gap and recover the appeal of our earlier buildings.  They are well proportioned, handsome, historically competent, and affordable.  Many people would love to build a small cottage like this, but feel thwarted by the conventional custom design and construction process. Standard designs for appealing small buildings and prefabricated options remain surprisingly limited.  

Our designs are not reproductions of specific buildings, but recreations of historic types.  We combine features seen in many good models of a specific type and era. The designs, however, are consistent and convincing-- not cartoons of historic precedents.   

Our view, reinforced by years of restoring and adapting historic buildings, is that once the original character of a building is fully realized its integrity makes quite an impact.  Our historic buildings have a strong presence— at once fresh and timeless.  

Small accessory buildings for single family homes have become popular again.  For decades backyard accessory buildings like a carriage house garage or home office were outlawed by land use ordinances.  The demographic shift to smaller households, more people working from home, aging in place, and increased demand for affordable housing have pushed cities to reassess the benefits of accessory buildings and to allow them again. 

Building a detached backyard cottage suitable for a couple is now possible in many cities.  This will make it easier for younger and older people to live near families and stay in neighborhoods where they could no longer afford to buy.  Unfortunately, we find few examples of new cottages that are well-integrated into historic neighborhoods.  Many close-in neighborhoods were built during the streetcar era (1900-1925).  If new accessory buildings were designed to complement houses of this period they would surely fit in better. 

We are told Americans of the boomer generation are now retiring at the rate of ten thousand a day.  Many of them are considering how they can adapt their existing homes to age in place.  In cities like Seattle detached accessory cottages are allowed if the parcel remains owner-occupied with owner living in either the house or cottage.  This avoids problems typical of multi-family zones, and keeps the single-family character of neighborhood intact. 

Backyard cottages are usually limited to 800-900 square feet.  If well-organized this is adequate for a couple or single person.  Downsizing does not mean reducing one's quality of life.  Living in a shipshape cottage could be more fun, efficient, and easier to care for than a big house.  We could live a larger life in a smaller home.

Working within the conventions to produce a custom building of this size could seem a lengthy and expensive process.  Professional services required to develop the design and construction documents are time-consuming.  For some people, taking advantage of good historic precedents in stock plans could be a better option.

See Cottage Character for our thoughts on the evolution of cottages. 

Sample designs:

Backyard Cape
Car Barn
Shropshire Lad
Greek Revival Cottage
Charleston Single House
Country School
Neighborhood Grocery

HABS photo
On the Cape, Truro, MA, 1890
Lakeside retreat
Greek Revival Cottage
Car Barn
Country School

Coming Attractions
In response to emerging trends we are developing a variety of new designs for cottages and other small buildings based on historic types. Here is a sampling.  Let us know if you are interested in more information. 

Backyard Cape 
This simple garden cottage is intended as a comfortable home for a single person.  Design is based on the iconic New England half-Cape, but with an open plan and bright interior.  The living space includes a kitchenette, bed alcove, bath and laundry.  Footprint and building size comply with typical land use requirements for backyard cottages. This design can also be prefabricated as a kit, and shipped to the site.

Car Barn
This two car (25' x 26') garage with studio apartment above is modeled on a converted barn with loft. These were common features in backyards and along alleys once automobiles became popular, circa 1900-1920.  Upstairs apartment includes a kitchenette, bedroom alcove and bath. There is a separate entrance from the garage with an enclosed stair. The design could make a nice home office, guest retreat, or apartment.  Car Barn can also be built with a one-story shop/studio addition, as seen in drawing.  

Shropshire Lad
This romantic English cottage is modeled on 1920s period revival houses found in our streetcar suburbs. The building footprint is only 29 by 30 feet and can fit a small parcel.  Living, dining and kitchen are on the main floor with two bedrooms and baths above.  Scheme includes an optional one-story "library addition" with vaulted ceilings, bath and closets that could double as a master suite.

Greek Revival Cottage
This 940 square foot one bedroom cottage has a classic Greek Revival recessed porch across the front, and the floor is raised for better light and privacy.  Living-dining room and kitchen are combined into a single space with vaulted ceilings.  The hallway to bedroom and bath includes alcoves for a laundry and study.  This is really a vacation house that could be built in town and lived in year-round. 

Charleston Single House
Design of this 18 foot wide Charleston "single house" recreates a modest version of the city's classic Federal-era townhouse with a calm and symmetrical facade, delicate windows, dormers and pilasters. The narrow two-story end faces the street and allows for a generous side garden.  Floor plans are one room deep for good natural light and cross ventilation. 

Country School
This design for a rural schoolhouse would be adaptable for an office, studio, or cottage industry.  In plan, the entry hall opens to a smaller room with bath on one side, and a tall "classroom" on the other. Large room has windows on three sides and a lantern to bring in daylight  from above.

Neighborhood Grocery
Small independent grocery stores like this were familiar features of pre-1960 residential neighborhoods.  Shopkeepers often lived in an apartment above the store. This design is for a two-story freestanding building with a simple hipped roof and wide overhangs.  Entry lobby is shared, so the two floors can be used separately.  First floor "shop front" has extra-tall ceilings and windows. Second floor could be an apartment, studio or office.  The design could be ideal as a live/work residence in a historic neighborhood commercial district.






Colonial Williamsburg shop
Car Barn
Greek Revival Cottage
Country School
Cornice return detail
12 March 2018
Backyard Cape source
Shropshire Lad source