When the Oxford English Dictionary announces its Word of the Year for 2021, the term ‘cottagecore’ could be a strong contender. Coined around 2018, and particularly influential now, the term romanticises a pastoral, pre-industrial past. It encompasses fashion, interior design and a down-home lifestyle involving learning home-baking, growing your own vegetables and sewing, among other domestic skills. A major cottagecore theme is self-sufficiency, reflecting our growing concern for sustainability.
This international trend is partly rooted in reality. There was a cottagecore moment during Oprah’s interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle when the couple were seen – admittedly at their massive Californian mansion – feeding their chickens rescued from a factory farm. But the trend is also an online fantasy. Ironically, cottagecore fans aren’t nostalgic Luddites evading digital technology but love flooding social media with blissfully bucolic images. The pandemic has boosted the craze as people have sought to escape the bleak reality of deserted town centres. Search for the hashtag #cottagecore on Instagram and over one million images – typically of cottagey interiors, fairytale forests and women in floaty, Victorian dresses reminiscent of Kate Bush performing her song Wuthering Heights – appear.
The pandemic has boosted the craze as people have sought to escape the bleak reality of deserted town centres – Dominic Lutyens
Such ruralist fantasies aren’t new: Marie Antoinette’s faux-rustic hamlet at the Palace of Versailles, complete with cottage and working farm, was her bolthole from formal court life. A desire for informality, equated with country living, is a major cottagecore concern. Then there was the Arts and Crafts movement, a backlash against the Industrial Revolution, which took off in earnest in the 1880s and revived rural crafts. More recently, the Noughties saw a homeware trend for ‘granny chic’ – think vintage crocheted blankets and fringed lampshades – which is in vogue again with the return of chintz.
Now, property trends in the UK indicate a desire for urbanites to embrace country living. New research conducted by Rightmove shows that Cornwall is the most sought-after location in Britain for would-be buyers, while 52 per cent of Londoners are looking to buy new homes outside the capital.
“Property searches in the countryside have surged during the pandemic as many of us long for more space and a closer connection with nature,” says architect Richard Parr, founder of Richard Parr Associates. “The soullessness of cities deprived of cultural life has contrasted sharply with the country where nature has thrived. Open-plan living was once considered desirable but there’s been a shift towards the traditional layouts typical of rural homes.” Parr lives at Easter Park Farm in Gloucestershire, a cluster of 19th-century farm buildings, incorporating his office. Its interiors feature an eclectic mix of Douglas fir, Cotswold stone, recycled rubber flooring and mid-century furniture.
While the cottagecore trend today is manifested in cosy, cottagey interiors in everywhere from homes to holiday lets, interior designers and architects aren’t slavishly mimicking a rustic style but often reinterpreting it in a contemporary way. Design studio Run for the Hills has converted two listed, 18th-century barns on a farm near Cheltenham, Gloucestershire into holiday accommodation. This involved a balancing act between preserving their original aesthetic and giving them a modern feel.
“Our brief was to create a gorgeous getaway that bucked the ‘Cotswolds look’ of monochrome, serene interiors,” says Anna Burles, co-founder and creative director of Run for the Hills. “We added glamour with contrast, colour and brass accents but were discouraged from imposing too urban a feel on these properties. We avoided industrial touches.” The barns’ rustic character was emphasised by retaining its Cotswold stone and wooden beams. Guests convene for meals around a long wooden dining table with “live edges” – the curvy edges on furniture hewn from raw wood. “We also included modern, boho touches, including rattan furniture and jugs with dried flowers,” she adds.
The buildings feature bedrooms under eaves for couples. Other bedrooms have nook beds – beds for children in family suites tucked under sloping ceilings and closed off with curtains. “We designed the guest rooms with particular people in mind,” says Burles.
This sentiment chimes with her admiration for high-profile interior designer Ilse Crawford, founder of Studioilse, arguably another influence on cottagecore: “I’m a big fan of hers – she puts people at the heart of her design.” According to Burles, “cottagecore is about democratising glamour – a form of luxury that’s less exclusive, more welcoming and relaxing”.
Sarah Ellison, founder of interior design studio Frank and Faber, concurs: “Luxury today is more in tune with cottagecore principles. We crave escapism and aspiration without intimidating formality.” She regards Babington House in Somerset, a seminal example of a cool, contemporary country-house hotel that is part of the Soho House group, as a pioneer of “relaxed luxury”. Frank and Faber has designed boutique hotel Number One Bruton in Somerset whose bedrooms boast wooden beams, floral wallpapers in fresh pastels and armchairs covered in marmalade orange velvet. Walls are painted in such hues as rose madder or Colman’s mustard yellow.
She identifies layering as a key strand of cottagecore interiors: “Layering brings a feeling of cosy fireside warmth to rooms, for example with wool, linen or velvet upholstery or a mix of gingham checks, ticking stripes and William Morris chintzes.”
The nearest equivalent to cottagecore in the US is cabincore (yes, there’s a #cabincore hashtag). This gained currency in 2009 when tech executive Zach Klein began posting images of ruggedly rural cabins on Tumblr and garnered a mass following.
Alan Maskin, principal and owner of Seattle-based architects Olson Kundig, has restored and enlarged his own rural retreat – Agate Pass Cabin at Olympic Peninsula, Washington, a 1930s beach cabin once surmounted by a poky attic. Maskin removed the original ceiling on the ground floor to create a 17ft-high living room and added a floor above, which houses his bedroom. The latter has floor-to-ceiling windows that frame sea views. “I normally work in an office with around 200 people and meet clients frequently,” he says. “During the week, coming home to a quiet place is important.”
“The cabin needed refurbishing,” he says. “But I loved its character. I repurposed the wood planks on the original ceiling to make built-in storage and cabinets.” Other elements, such as a wood-burning stove, folksy rugs and laid-back, leather-upholstered furniture enhance his home’s rustic vibe.
Maskin believes cabincore has been fuelled both by the pandemic and, more importantly, by a yearning for stillness and serenity. “We’re seeing a trend in the US among more affluent people for living in rural areas with more space – more social distance, frankly – than city-dwelling usually allows.”
Effect Magazine is brought to you by The Bruno Effect