Cottage Reno

Cottage Make-Over Tips



From the West coast to the East Coast, I think most Canadian’s would agree the ultimate summer past-time is cottaging! That being true, one might say the second favourite past-time is searching for that ultimate summer cottage to call your own, but often the reality of what’s available or affordable can look more daunting than dreamy.   In honour of Canada Day I’ve compiled my top 10 favourite ways to update and transform a dated, dysfunctional drab cottage interior into your dream retreat, without the need to take a sledgehammer to it.


1.  Tame the Wood:  Wood on wood on wood, topped with more wood,,,is simply too much wood. Everything in wood looks like a sea of brown (or orange).  If you love wood,,,,,then paint some of it out,  this will in turn highlight the natural unpainted wood so it can be appreciated for all its beauty, not drowned out.

2.  Clean Sweep:  Remove wall to wall broadloom and replace it with a light to medium coloured character grade wood plank or natural stone tile like slate. These will be durable, forgiving, easy to clean and age well.  Layer natural fibre area carpets and flat weave kilims for added comfort and coziness.

3.  Unobstruct the Views:  Strip the windows of fussy ruffled fabric or boxy valances and heavy dark coloured blinds.  Replace with retractable rollup blinds, shades or swing open shutters.  Alternately or additionally add simple cotton or linen drapery panels on a dark metal or wood rod  that fully open to reveal the outdoors.

4.  Counter Points:   Many old cottages have plastic laminate, tile or plywood counters that are chipped and stained.  A new wood counter will add instant quality and substance.  Custom made ones can vary greatly in price point depending on species, joinery and edge details but you can also find ready made and easy to install basic solid wood countertop material at most building supply stores. Perfectly suitable and charming for Kitchens and bathrooms. 

5.  Sinks:  a simple swap out can add more function and style, replacing a small kitchen sink with a larger size can make clean up a breeze (or hide the mess til later), or swapping to a smaller size can net you more precious counter space.  Adding a second sink makes the kitchen doubly functional for two cooks or family gatherings.  In bathrooms, replacing a stained or retro coloured sink with a new vessel or drop in style is an affordable, easy install even onto an existing counter.  

6.  Faucets & Hardware:  
A new faucet and cabinet knobs are an instant update to a kitchens or bathrooms.  Look for styles that will enhance your cottage character and evoke vintage or rustic charm.  Large goosneck spouts, industrial pulldown sprays, classic bridge style or convenient single lever high arcs. Spluge on solid brass cartridges and you won’t be replacing these anytime soon. 

7.  Appliances:  Replacing older mis-matched appliances is not only an aesthetic upgrade but the newer models are more multi-functional, energy efficient and space saving.

8.   Light it:  replace generic looking lighting with simple vintage or rustic style fixtures to enhance your cottage character.   Evok rustic or coastal charm by selecting fixtures with aged or painted metals.  You can add wall sconces, pendants and swing arm task lights without hiring an electrician - just use plug-in style fixtures that can be mounted to walls or ceilings, all you need is an outlet nearby.  

9.  Shelf it:   The easiest and most affordable solution for adding storage without the cost of built-ins.  Install wall mounted shelving and brackets or ready to assemble shelves to not only organize but add purpose and function to any unused area.  

10.  Neutralize it:   If you want a relaxing, calming, serene space that lets the outdoors be the main attraction,,,then paint over any loud, bold, intense hues on the walls in lieu of a light neutral palette that will compliment your view of the great outdoors and not detract from it.

11.  Panel it:  I couldn’t stop at 10 without including my final and favourite way to add instant character and durability to walls and or ceilings - add v-groove panels, shiplap or beadboard panelling.  When painted with an enamel paint its also a great inexpensive alternative to tile around a bathroom or kitchen sink and provides a sturdy backing for installing hooks and shelves (see tip no.9!).  

To see how I applied all of these strategies in this family cottage make-over check out the links below for individual before & afters:




Photos By:  Carol Reed

Cottage Ensuite: Before & After



Cottage Ensuite - After  |  Carol Reed Interior Design

This client's cottage in Kawartha, Ontario, underwent a complete facelift that included updating 5 bathrooms a kitchen, a bar and a kitchenette.  (You can check out links to previous before and afters of this cottage at the end of this post).  One of the biggest issues to address when planning the updates was that not only did the bathroom finishes look dated, but the style of the bathrooms looked more suited to a suburban house rather than a lakeside cottage.  Dated or not there was a lot of quality there in custom built-ins and solid materials.  No question it was built with every comfort of an all season urban home, as its located in a premium area of high-end cottages.  The main objective in this 'gentle' reno was to work with what was there but infuse a more modern cottage style - while retaining a high quality level of finishes.  I felt this could be accomplished through a series of strategic changes as opposed to gutting everything and starting from scratch. 

For the master ensuite I recommended leaving the walk-in glass shower untouched except for replacing the faucet set from polished brass to brushed nickel and I also recommended leaving all the floor tile which was a neutral taupe ceramic.  This then put the focus of the facelift on the feature wall, a large double vanity that was the centre of attention when you entered the room.  We would also remove the wallpaper and all the wall mounted polished brass accessories leaving us with a very neutral base to work with and allow most of the budget to be directed where it would have the most impact.

Ensuite Vanity - Before
The Before:  The existing long double vanity was superb custom quality and was in excellent condition.  It sported a peachy/tan corian countertop, oval sinks, polished brass faucets (although it doesn't look brass in the photo, all the fixtures in the room were brass), painted knobs, a frameless wall to wall mirror and a dropped bulkhead with recessed pot lights. The vanity was made from solid woods, the framed cabinetry had inset flush door fronts with a bead detail and raised moulding.  There was loads of storage and counter space and each end of the vanity had countertop mounted cabinets that extended all the way to the ceiling - the only negative was it was all very dated looking and lacked that cottage style  the new owners were looking for.


This is what I envisioned for the new finishes and fixtures, keeping in mind everything had to be readily available from the small local town nearby or available for quick delivery from an out of town source.


Cottage Ensuite - Finishes & Fixtures Concept  |  Carol Reed Interior Design

The starting point for the fixture replacements was the hardware.  The pine doors throughout the cottage were all updated with new distressed bronze lever handles that gave them a modern country look.  Continuing with this aesthetic, I introduced new bronze knobs and wall sconces to add contrast and vintage charm to the vanity wall.  For the plumbing fixtures we looked to the shower set first - because we were only replacing the trim not the rough-ins we had to work within the same mfg's product line in order for the new trim to be compatible.  The finish options were chrome or satin nickel, easy choice, the darker 'patina' of the satin nickel is a much better pairing with the bronze so satin nickel it was in a classic bridge style faucet and gooseneck shower head.

Ensuite Vanity - After
The After:  The entire vanity was refreshed with a new coat of paint in a crisp warm white, new low maintenance cararra look engineered quartz counters, new rectangular undermount sinks add a contemporary vibe, satin nickel bridge style faucets add a vintage country vibe as do the oil rubbed bronze hardware which also adds a sharp graphic contrast and ties in with the oil rubbed bronze lever handles on all the existing interior doors.  Other key updates to the vanity wall included; removing the bulkhead with pot lights, replacing the sheet mirror with a pair of framed mirrors above each sink,  installing a crown moulding and breadboard wallpaper on the wall between the upper cabinets and flanking the mirrors with new bronze wall sconces with parchment shades. Painting out the mirror frame, the beadboard paper and the crown moulding the same as the vanity unified the wall and cabinetry to read as one continuous built-in.


Ensuite Vanity - After
On this visit last Spring I was there to do a final walk-thru and make a list of recommended accessories and finishing touches, what would really finish off this room would be a graphic black and cream geometric patterned area carpet and a large woven towel hamper.  (Those should now be in place for this coming season. ) I'd also like to see a more rustic cache pot or planter with something less formal than orchids so we will work on that….


Ensuite - Before
The wallpaper and brass towel rods were removed and all the trim work was painted in the same white paint as the vanity.  



Ensuite Vanity - After

The walls received a new coat of paint in a dark brown/grey, similar but lighter shades of this found in the tile.  This dark colour really anchors the room and it neutralizes the pre-existing wall and floor tiles in a way that a light colour on the wall wouldn't have done.   The earthy colour also added a natural organic tone to the space and really accentuated the painted woodwork and all its charm.




Projects like this can be much more exciting to work on in ways that designing from scratch or all  new aren't, also evident in the way people are so drawn to Before & After story's.  Its literally a transformation before your eyes, making something out of nothing per say.  Taking a space that is uninspiring and working with it rather than ripping it all out - this is when vision and seeing potential really comes in to play and when the true value and power of design is realized.

For more Before and Afters of this cottage reno check out the following links below for older posts:








All Photos by:   Carol Reed