The Well-Dressed Cottage

from Creative Home
If your home-décor ideas include new window treatments, see how they add punch to this country-French cottage.

Interior designer Patricia Wood used yards of elegant fabrics, pretty buttons and bows, and sophisticated tassels and pompons to transform a ho-hum summer cottage into the belle of a northern Michigan town.

It wasn’t that the four-bedroom cottage, built in the 1980s, lacked potential. It boasts large bay windows overlooking Lake Michigan’s rocky shore, built-in bookcases, pale wood floors, and plantation shutters that add architectural interest. But its assets needed a bit of a boost, which came in the form of fabric used in creative ways throughout the house.

“When I was really young, I used to make my own clothes,” says Wood, who set about re-dressing the cottage in colorful chintzes and soft linens. “I understand what fabric will and won’t do.”

Two things drove the redo: First was the homeowners’ extensive collection of majolica, with its elaborate shapes and colorful glazes in blues, greens, and yellows. Second was the home’s proximity to the water. “One thing I always like to do in rooms that look out on the water,” Wood says, “is use a lot of blue to make the view blend into the room.”

The large combination dining room and family room on the main level had a pretty start. The previous homeowners had painted the woodwork a creamy white and the walls a vivid, high-gloss lemon yellow, which the new owners loved.

To keep this room lively, the designer liberally mixed and matched patterns in a summery blend of aqua, yellow, and coral fabrics. A blue floral covers comfortable overstuffed couches, side chairs, and ottomans and shows up again on new valances. A coral and white windowpane plaid lounges on a re-covered French side chairs and numerous pillow ruffles. And a yellow-and-blue check appears on a pair of chair cushions at the game table.

Her secret to mixing so many fabrics is simple: “Repeating the same fabrics on different elements in the room, so that you don’t have spots of floral and spots of plaid, is important,” Wood says. “It all comes down to balance.”

Wood’s trick to selecting the right combinations of fabrics is equally logical. “I first find a main fabric that will give us the palette,” she says. “Then I find another fabric that comes in several colors that we can mix with the main fabric.” In the living room, that main fabric is the turquoise floral that covers much of the seating. To complement it, she chose the windowpane plaid in three different color combination – coral and white, aqua and white, and yellow and white – which she used in different places around the room, such as on toss pillows and on the bergere by the fireplace.

Like any dressmaker, Wood pays attention to the subtle embellishments that turn the ordinary into something extraordinary. Living room pillows are finished with playful ruffles, cording, or both, and the valance is adorned with a fabric bow. “I think one of the things that helps make a room look finished and put together is a lot of detail,” she says.

As layer upon layer of formal fabrics merged with the homeowners’ antique cupboards and tables, colorful pottery collection, nubby woven rugs, and rush-seat chairs, the cottage’s cheerful French-country personality began to emerge. “It’s definitely a cottage look, and it’s very summery,” Wood says. “But it’s pretty sophisticated for a cottage.”

The handsome study was also influenced by the homeowners’ majolica collection, which in this room shows off deep greens, golds, and browns. Fabrics make a big impact here, too, in the form of a large-scale crane-and-rabbit pattern that adorns the sofas, couches, and valances. The fabric’s deep greens tie it to the majolica on display, and its blues to the water just outside. Plump pillows and wood furnishings create a kick-up-your-feet atmosphere.

Once upstairs in the master bedroom, romance reigns. Sticking to her own rules, Wood first chose her dominant fabric: a large pink-and-green floral that suits the green carpet. The fabric – on the bed linens, hanging in panels, and shirred on the windows – creates a veritable rose garden. A skinny-stripe fabric – which she bought in both green-and-white and pink-and-white colorways – shows up on the dressing table skirt, pillows, and curtains. But even after bringing in the dramatic four-poster and curvy white bench at the foot of the bed, the room still seemed incomplete. Wood chalked it up to the white walls, and up went a tiny-print pink wallpaper.

“The room didn’t envelop you,” Wood says. “This way it does, like a gift-wrapped present.”

Careful tailoring keeps this room from being overly sweet. The pink-and-green cushions on the bench have a deliberately flat, tailored look, and the dressing table’s top is tightly shirred. “It gets back to balance,” Wood says. “The shades are fussy, but the bed’s tailored. You have to balance the fussiness with something tailored to keep it from being too overdone.”

The story of fabrics, colors, and collections played out in this cottage by the lake ends like all good decorating fairy tales should, with homeowners who love their cheery summer retreat.

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