Not every cottage is a small-scale candidate for a once-upon-a-time tale. But many cottages do have tiny rooms, spaces carved out under peaked gables with dormers, lots of wood, cozy hearths and loads of casual appeal. The right paint colors will help you avoid kitsch and create a warm, welcoming home or vacation retreat that mirrors your decor sensibilities. Savor original details or smooth them over to blend in with your style, considering the flow of colors between closely connected rooms to ensure visual harmony.
The most popular interior color for a beach cottage is the white of scudding clouds and frothy ocean spume. There's a practical as well as aesthetic reason for that. A beach cottage should look like a shell tossed up on the sand -- a casual habitat salt-streaked and bleached. You didn't come to the beach to hole up in a cozy cave and turn your back on the dunes, the ocean and the distant sails. White will bounce light around the entire cottage; serve as a backdrop to show off found treasures lined up along a mantel or windowsill; mix with navy and sky blue for snappy nautical decor; and conveniently mop up in a heartbeat when the finish is eggshell to glossy. White is as traditional as summer linen and as contemporary as minimalist design. Play it safe and sleek with a mainly white-on-white interior.
Pale colors bring the hues of the cottage garden inside and complement chintz, white wainscoting, gingham, built-in cupboards and shelves, fancy molding, and all the cozy details that typify classic cottage style. A country cottage caught in the shifting light from dawn to dusk is never gloomy when the hints of color on walls, trim, ceilings and floors are shimmering pastels. Buttercream yellow warms a kitchen or enclosed porch. Cool watery blue is restful in the bedroom and relaxing in the bath. Lilac and barely blush pink set the stage for a pretty little bedroom. Mint or apricot are lively -- but not too lively -- in the breakfast nook or dining room. Lighter paint opens up cramped rooms, narrow halls and interiors with low ceilings. A cottage painted in pastels is a poetic, whimsical confection.
A hallmark of cottage design is lots and lots of wood -- wood floors, wall paneling, cabinets and cupboards, varnished trim. Exposed board ceilings, overhead beams, fireplace mantels and staircases lend a cottage the warmth of a Hobbit habitat. When the original wood is preserved in all its natural glory, neutral paint colors softly enhance its visible tones and grains. Beige, sand, cappuccino, vanilla, wheat, straw and cream are rich but unobtrusive. Sticking to a palette from nature lets you merge the indoor and outdoor spaces seamlessly. The view of the surrounding trees through the window might be an extension of the earthy, woodsy living room. The hand-hewn dining table on the wide plank floor and walls painted the color of spun honey give you a sunny counterpart to the sunflowers glimpsed through open French doors.
A cottage still has plenty of character when the decor is modern -- but careful color choices update traditional cottage style to welcome your Italian leather sofa and bold abstract art collection. A monochromatic scheme is one strategy that embraces wood floors and trim along with contemporary design. Gray comes in all guises, from a ghostly whisper of palest smoke to the defining statement of pewter or gunmetal walls. Deeper grays focus attention inward, on the room and its furnishings and accessories. Lighter grays visibly expand small spaces. But a riot of color can enliven a modern cottage as well. Highlight architectural details with clear, bright colors -- poppy rather than barn red, chartreuse rather than moss, turquoise rather than teal -- to steer firmly away from any hint of the dated, dreary or dismal.