Google Answers Logo
View Question
Q: Definition of a 'cottage' ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Definition of a 'cottage'
Category: Miscellaneous
Asked by: yaxu-ga
List Price: $10.00
Posted: 14 Sep 2002 04:55 PDT
Expires: 14 Oct 2002 04:55 PDT
Question ID: 64950
What is the full definition of a 'cottage'?  Specifically, does a
residence have to have a front door opening out into a lounge before
it can be called a cottage?  I've heard this to be true, but I've also
had it disputed...

I am only interested in the buildings, not in any sexual practices,
etc with slang terms relating to cottages.

Request for Question Clarification by grimace-ga on 14 Sep 2002 05:14 PDT

Are you in the US, the UK, or elsewhere? There are very different
architectural traditions in the New and Old Worlds regarding cottage



Clarification of Question by yaxu-ga on 14 Sep 2002 05:16 PDT
I'm in the UK.  I heard the thing about the front door from my father,
who has a mainly Scottish upbringing.
Subject: Re: Definition of a 'cottage'
Answered By: leli-ga on 14 Sep 2002 11:31 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello yaxu

Thanks for asking an interesting question.  It made me think about how
freely we all use the word 'cottage'.  Is there any definition of a
cottage over and above what you'd find in a good dictionary?

The Oxford English Dictionary's primary definition is very
straightforward: "a simple, humble abode".  Nothing about where
cottage front doors lead, though my sympathies are with your father if
he's trying to rule out some of the luxurious country  houses carrying
that name nowadays.  It never seems quite right to see the word
'cottage' on the gatepost of a five-bedroom house with Range Rover and
BMW in the drive.

Nowhere seems to have any more elaborate definition of a cottage than
the OED's.  Cottages have varied so much with time and place. Books
can be written on the local architecture in just one or two counties.

Of course many cottages suiting the OED definition of a 'simple,
humble abode' do have a door opening straight into the living
quarters. Like this one:

"Step across the threshold - grey flagstone sill adorned with ragged
doormat.... Pupils dilate in a desperate attempt to adjust to the

For centuries cottages were homes for agricultural workers who had no
spare resources to waste on an entrance hall.  So most of them would
be very small with the door opening into a living space of some kind –
not necessarily a 'lounge' or 'parlour', possibly a kitchen with a
table and benches.

But there is some evidence that the front door doesn't always open
direct into a kitchen or living room. This is a cold country and in
some areas a porch could be included in the design as a buffer against
winds, as described here, (even though the picture shows one without a

Or like Anne Hathaway's cottage near Stratford, the design might allow
for a small passage inside the door so draughts wouldn't sweep
straight into the rooms.  There's a good floor plan here:

Most cottages do conform to the 'door leads straight into room'
pattern.  Indeed, in your father's native Scotland, the basic
traditional cottage is a 'but and ben' – just two rooms and a door. 
Although I've visited one or two where the door leads straight into
the living quarters, all I could find online is this description of a
weaver's cottage with two steps and an entrance straight into the main
living space:

The only real but and bens in good order have been renovated.  See the
picture here showing a porch being added as part of the modernisation

Coming further south to the Lake District, the floor plan of Dove
Cottage, where Wordsworth lived, shows an entrance direct into the

Wordsworth was only one of many nineteenth century people with
romantic ideas about rural life, pretty cottages and cottage gardens. 
Some Victorians painted pictures of them with roses round the door. 
Others became concerned about providing adequate housing for workers.
The Bourneville Village, started in the late nineteenth century,
includes cottages much more generously designed than the traditional
labourer's home:

In the twentieth century the name 'cottage' appeared in suburban
streets.  Then, as you know, it spread everywhere.  Every holiday
cottage website shows the huge range of buildings that go by that

There can't really be a fixed and detailed definition of a cottage
beyond the dictionary definition because of:

Even sticking to the south of the country, the classic English image
of a thatched cottage can vary between whitewashed stone in Devon and
brick-and flintstone in Suffolk.  Architects and historians discuss
'vernacular architecture' when they want to talk about local building
traditions and what's authentic in a particular part of the country. 
They don't think in terms of there being a basic 'cottage' definition
for the whole of Britain. This article describes how traditions can
vary even between areas in walking distance of one another:

Attitudes started to change in the eighteenth century around the time
Queen Charlotte had a summer house built and called it a cottage:

It's at roughly the same time, 1765, that the OED says 'cottage' could
start to mean "a small country or suburban residence".  And that
definition leaves the door pretty wide open for the full range of
houses that you'll find on holiday websites advertising 'cottages'.

I like your father's rule of thumb for distinguishing a cottage from
other houses and think it's based on an appreciation of traditional
cottages throughout Britain, but there's no evidence that this counts
as an official 'definition'.  It's not the way the word is actually
used today - that's all too clear.  But, more importantly, it's not
supported by the Oxford English Dictionary, and there are a few
cottages out there that don't follow the pattern.

Hope this is helpful - let me know if anything I've written needs

Regards - Leli

search terms: cottage tradition vernacular architecture history "but
and ben"
and names of specific historical cottages
also, unsuccessfully, "definition of" "what is a" etc. + cottage

Clarification of Answer by leli-ga on 14 Sep 2002 13:39 PDT
Thanks for the feedback. Glad you're not too put out at 'losing'!
yaxu-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
A fine answer.  I guess this means I've lost the small argument I was
having, but thank you for the enjoyable and satisfying exploration.

There are no comments at this time.

Important Disclaimer: Answers and comments provided on Google Answers are general information, and are not intended to substitute for informed professional medical, psychiatric, psychological, tax, legal, investment, accounting, or other professional advice. Google does not endorse, and expressly disclaims liability for any product, manufacturer, distributor, service or service provider mentioned or any opinion expressed in answers or comments. Please read carefully the Google Answers Terms of Service.

If you feel that you have found inappropriate content, please let us know by emailing us at with the question ID listed above. Thank you.
Search Google Answers for
Google Answers  

Google Home - Answers FAQ - Terms of Service - Privacy Policy