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

Cottage Classics are appealing small buildings, normal buildings from earlier times reinvented and adapted for life today.  We offer designs and plans for their construction. 

The buildings are suitable for many purposes, from a backyard cottage, studio office, weekend getaway, or a smaller home for people who want to downsize.

Designs are grounded by America's historic building traditions and bridge a gap to recover the elusive appeal of our earlier buildings.  They are well-proportioned, handsome, historically competent, and affordable.  Many of us would love to build a small cottage like this, but are thwarted by the expensive 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 found in the best models of a specific type and era. The designs are consistent and convincing-- not cartoons of historic precedents.   

Our view, after decades of restoring and renovating historic buildings, is that when the original character of a building can be fully realized its integrity is quite pleasing.  Restored 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 units like a carriage house garage or home office were outlawed by land use ordinances.  The demographic shift in the U.S. to smaller households, more people working from home, aging-in-place, and increased demand for affordable housing have all pushed cities to reassess the benefits of accessory buildings and to allow their construction. 

Building a detached backyard cottage for a single person or couple is now possible in many cities.  This makes it easier for younger and older people to live near families and in neighborhoods where they once resided but could not afford at today's prices.  Unfortunately, we see very few new accessory units that integrate well into historic neighborhoods.  Close-in residential areas in many U.S. cities were built during the streetcar era (1900-1925).  If new cottages and outbuildings better fit the houses of this period the neighborhood's character would be preserved. 

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 the owner living in either the house or cottage.  The elegance of this simple solution is that it avoids many problems of absent and unresponsive owners typical of multi-family zones, and supports the single-family character of neighborhood.

Backyard cottages are often 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 its care easier than a big house. It is possible to live a larger life in a smaller home.

Building a custom cottage could be a lengthy and expensive venture.  Professional services required to develop the design and construction documents are time-consuming.  For many people a better option could be a stock plan that takes advantage of good historic precedents.

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 small houses and other 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 alleyways once automobiles became popular, circa 1900-1920.  Upstairs apartment includes a kitchenette, bedroom alcove and bath. It has 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 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 "library addition" on first floor 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" creates a small version of the city's revered Federal-era townhouse with a calm and symmetrical façade, delicate windows, dormers and pilasters. The narrow two-story end faces the street and allows for a generous side garden.  Floor plans, like the historic precedent, are one room deep for good natural light and cross ventilation. 

Country School
This design based on a rural 19th century schoolhouse is 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 above the store in an apartment. This design is a two-story freestanding building with a simple hipped roof and wide overhangs.  There is a common entry lobby so the 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 would fit well in a historic neighborhood commercial district and suitable as a live/work residence.






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