What is the Difference Between a Cottage and a House?

Earlier this month we thought we found our forever home up north. That deal didn’t work out but we’ve learned a lot from the experience. As with most real estate deals, either buying or selling, one of the steps for determining the right price is to look at comparable properties. One of the things that made us chuckle a little bit was the agent’s use of “that’s not a cottage, that’s a house house” to include or exclude a recent comparable listing. Then we thought it might be a good idea to define the differences to be sure we were using the right lingo as we continue our search for a home. We thought we’d share our thoughts on the differences here, just in case you’re looking for real estate in cottage country too.

Here is our list of 5 key differences between a cottage and a house.

  1. A cottage focuses on outdoor living vs. indoor living.

Often a cottage owner will spend more time fixing or creating outdoor features than they will spend inside. There’s a much higher tolerance for … ummmm … how do I say this politely … half-assed/that will do repairs inside. If you’d like to be polite, you may call them quirks. We’re a great example of this: we built a deck out back and a shed for our gear long before we renovated the kitchen. Those funny smelling kitchen cabinets with sketchy shelves NEVER would have lasted so long in our city home. I bet they wouldn’t have lasted the first year in our “house house.”

  1. The cottage kitchen is more likely to be functional rather than gourmet.

The reason our cottage kitchen with the aforementioned sketchy cabinets lasted so long is because … well, we knew it would be a big job to renovate and going fishing was a much easier activity. While our new kitchen still isn’t a chef’s dream, it is much more functional and I LOVE IT! Unless you’re a real foodie, you spend most of your week in the city either making meals or thinking about making meals. Cottage time is relaxation time so most of the main cottage meals are quick and easy to prepare. At the cottage you don’t need all the gadgets and space that you need in the city. We don’t even have a dishwasher at the cottage! (Although Brian was asking why we don’t as he was doing dishes this weekend.)

  1. A cottage may not have full (or any) laundry facilities.

As most cottages are used only for one week or a weekend at a time, it’s not that much of a hardship carrying laundry back and forth. Most cottages will have a laundry line of some sort for wet towels and bathing suits but that’s about it. I have to admit, it sure would be nice not having to cart towels and bedding and clothes back and forth. But I think about spending my weekends dealing with cottage laundry and my weeks with work laundry and then I’m okay with consolidating my laundry midweek. Besides, the top I want to wear tomorrow would inevitably be in the wrong place if I had segregated laundry.

  1. Cottage bedrooms & bathrooms can be much smaller.

Most of us are spoiled with large bedrooms and bathrooms in the city. Who would dream of not having space for your 4 year old to sleep in a queen sized bed and 500 toys? Only one bathroom and it has only one sink? A travesty! At the cottage, the last place you want to be is in your bedroom! At the cottage you’re more likely to want a float in the lake than a long bath. Besides, it’s harder to have those memory-making sleep-overs with the cousins all closely stacked in bunk-beds in a room the size of a boathouse. And who doesn’t like retelling stories of Aunt Betty banging on the washroom door begging the person inside for mercy?

  1. Most cottages aren’t built for cold weather.

We’re not too sure what sort of insulation really is between the walls at our cottage but we do know that it’s better than most. In fact, many traditional cottages don’t have betweens to their walls! Typically in a cottage, the main rooms will have supplemental heat sources – just something to take the chill off – rather than a forced air furnace like a “house house” would have. Cottages built for colder weather often use a wood stove or electric heaters as heat sources. Given that many cottages aren’t “house house” sized, these are perfectly reasonable heat sources. Beware: electric heaters can get expensive to run if the temperatures dip too low.


The bank may not be happy to find that your cottage has: no foundation, shared well or septic services, and it does not front on a municipal road. From our experience working with banks and real estate agents when purchasing our cottage, and in our search for our forever home, it might be good to note here that if you plan on mortgaging your dream cottage, items like that in your description could exclude you from a traditional mortgage altogether. So, with those 5 (uh 6!)  key differences between a cottage and a “house house” in mind, and knowing what you are willing to live with & without, are you really searching for a cottage or will you be asking your agent to find you a house in cottage country? I think knowing the differences and telling your agent which you’d truly prefer will go a long way towards an easier search. Our search for a “house house” continues! P.S. We dutifully acknowledge that times are changing and our (society’s) standards for cottage is definitely changing. When you begin working with an agent to purchase your cottage, we strongly suggest you provide them with YOUR definition of a cottage.

The Cottage Wife

In addition to hiking, biking, reading and writing, I like to focus on making as light an impact on the land possible, while still living a modern life.

6 thoughts on “What is the Difference Between a Cottage and a House?

  1. Hi my name is Cheryl, I moved to a semi rural area 3 years ago, I always wanted to live in a cottage but money wouldn’t buy the typical chocolate box cottage so we settled for a cute terrace in a quaint little road. I’ve added flowers, pots, trellis and roses over the door. I’m not sure if my little house is a workman’s cottage or a terraced house but to me it’s my little cottage because it’s probably the nearest I will get to my dream cottage and I love it ?

  2. My Great Aunt (born 1887) left me her house. I had to rent it out. From the beginning I have refered to it as a cottage without quiet knowing why other than listing it in newspapers & later on craigslist. It was built in 1929 on a very large lot. During the depression she hired men to build stone walls & plant trees. Her flowers & trees still feed butterflies, & birds. She worked as a school teacher. She had the coziest house I have ever seen with windows to view the yard in all its beauty.
    I long to live there.
    Thank you for your story.

    1. WOW Priscilla it sounds amazing! Perhaps you could create elements of that place where you are now. Find an item or two that give you the same feeling: a potted plant or maybe a picture of butterflies or birds. And I hope you get to live there – because that would just be awesome!

  3. Hello Carol,

    What a great post! I completely agree with your description of a cottage. When my husband and I first bought our little cottage (built in 1929) on a very small lake, my sister wanted to know where I was hiding the blender that she needed for her daiquiris! While suppressing my laugh, I sweetly told her that “this is a cottage, not a house.”. SInce our place had only 1 bed and 1 bath, we did break down and add on a second bedroom and bathroom(I have 6 sisters!!). My favorite part of the cottage was the gazebo – a beautiful old gazebo, 18 ft. across, which was built before the cottage with tree trunks in all 8 corners.

    We have now sold the cottage and purchased a lake house (3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, central heat, 3-car garage). However, I really miss the simplicity and coziness of our little cottage.

    1. WOW Thanks Marcia! We’re just starting to look for our “forever home” up here. My fingers are crossed that we’ll be able to carry the simplicity and feeling of the cottage with us.

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